12
Mar
17

Nuclear power for Malaysia? – NO THANKS Again!

Nuclear lessons for Malaysia (Part 2)
Ronald S McCoy

Radiation is invisible and cannot be recalled. In a nuclear crisis, there will be many questions about radiation. As the Japanese people are now discovering, it is a nightmare trying to make sense of the uncertainties.

  1. How do you know when you are in danger?
  2. How long will this danger persist?
  3. How can you reduce the danger to yourself and your family?
  4. What level of exposure is safe?
  5. How do you get access to vital information in time to prevent or minimise exposure?
  6. What are the potential health risks and consequences of exposure?
  7. Whose information can you rely on or trust?
  8. How do you rebuild a healthy way of life in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster?

These questions are difficult to answer, and they become even more complicated when governments and the nuclear industry maintain tight control of information, technological operations, scientific research, and the bio-medical lessons that shape public health response.

Nuclear energy is not cheap, clean or safe. And yet, vested interests in the government and the nuclear industry are attempting to override common sense and reason. They continue to trumpet the imaginary virtues of nuclear power and play down the enormous cost of nuclear power, the problem of nuclear waste, and the risks of an accident.

Nuclear reactors, like nuclear weapons, do not forgive mistakes of judgment, simple negligence, human error or mechanical failure. Malaysia’s poor record of industrial safety and its bad maintenance culture underlie concerns about public safety in the event of a nuclear accident.

The nuclear industry has a history of making misleading claims about nuclear safety that have often confused and misled the uninformed. Genuine debate and critical examination have been avoided, evidence ignored, opponents silenced or marginalised, and critical issues of public health and welfare have been answered with standard bland platitudes.

Nuclear power plants produce lethal radioactive waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years and that of uranium-235 is 731 million years. We are talking about radiation forever.

No country in the world has been able to safely dispose of its nuclear waste, which is accumulating in pools or casks alongside nuclear reactors in forty-four countries, waiting for a solution. Finding satisfactory underground geologic repositories has proved to be an intractable problem.

Nuclear lessons for Malaysia (Part 2)
Ronald S McCoy

Vexing questions

Radiation is invisible and cannot be recalled. In a nuclear crisis, there will be many questions about radiation. As the Japanese people are now discovering, it is a nightmare trying to make sense of the uncertainties.

  1. How do you know when you are in danger?
  2. How long will this danger persist?
  3. How can you reduce the danger to yourself and your family?
  4. What level of exposure is safe?
  5. How do you get access to vital information in time to prevent or minimise exposure?
  6. What are the potential health risks and consequences of exposure?
  7. Whose information can you rely on or trust?
  8. How do you rebuild a healthy way of life in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster?

These questions are difficult to answer, and they become even more complicated when governments and the nuclear industry maintain tight control of information, technological operations, scientific research, and the bio-medical lessons that shape public health response.

Transparency and accountability

Transparency and accountability do not sit well with an industry addicted to filtering and censoring information. It explains why there is no clear consensus on the local and global health consequences of Fukushima.

There is no safe threshold for radiation. The claim that exposure to low-level radiation does not pose a risk to health is a myth, generated by governments and the nuclear industry. During the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, scientific findings on health risks from nuclear fallout that contradicted the official narrative were censored. Scientists with integrity were discredited, punished or blacklisted.

In 1994, the US Advisory Commission on Human Radiation Experimentation concluded that the literature on radiation and health during the Cold War was heavily sanitised and scripted to reassure and pacify public protests.

Decades of official censorship have reinforced the false core message: Human beings have evolved in a world where background radiation is present and is natural, and that any adverse health effect of radiation exposure is the occasional and accidental result of high levels of exposure.

There are other sources of conclusive data that allow a very different interpretation of the health hazards posed by a nuclear disaster. These include several declassified records of US and Soviet human radiation experiments, Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission records, long-term research on Chernobyl survivors, and proceedings of the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal.

From these records, some important facts have emerged. For example, nuclear fallout and radioactive contamination of ocean and land ultimately enter the food chain and the human body, and therefore represent significant health risks.

Chronic exposure to radiation does more than increase the risk of cancers. It threatens the immune system, exacerbates pre-existing conditions, affects fertility, increases the rate of birth defects, and can retard physical and mental development.

Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis demonstrates the degree to which the state prioritises security interests over the fundamental rights of people and their environment.

Japan’s response to Fukushima mimics the responses of other governments to catastrophic events, such as Chernobyl and Katrina. It has been to control the content and flow of information to prevent panic and mitigate the inevitable loss of trust in the government, reduce legal liability, and protect nuclear and other industry agendas.

It is more than likely that the Malaysian government will behave in the same manner in a similar crisis. We still remember its disgraceful attempt to cover up the 1992 illegal and reprehensible dumping of radioactive thorium near Bukit Merah New Village by Mitsubishi’s Asian Rare Earth company.

There are many lessons to be learnt from Fukushima, not least of which is to recognise that nuclear energy is exceedingly dangerous and carries unacceptable, unnecessary risks to human health and the environment. In Malaysia, there must be strong public demand for transparency and accountability and an end to all plans to opt for nuclear energy.

Misleading information

Nuclear energy is not cheap, clean or safe. And yet, vested interests in the government and the nuclear industry are attempting to override common sense and reason. They continue to trumpet the imaginary virtues of nuclear power and play down the enormous cost of nuclear power, the problem of nuclear waste, and the risks of an accident.

Nuclear reactors, like nuclear weapons, do not forgive mistakes of judgment, simple negligence, human error or mechanical failure. Malaysia’s poor record of industrial safety and its bad maintenance culture underlie concerns about public safety in the event of a nuclear accident.

The nuclear industry has a history of making misleading claims about nuclear safety that have often confused and misled the uninformed. Genuine debate and critical examination have been avoided, evidence ignored, opponents silenced or marginalised, and critical issues of public health and welfare have been answered with standard bland platitudes.

Nuclear regulatory bodies have too often acted out of expediency and ignored the health and protection of the public.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons

Nuclear power is directly linked to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Member states of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have the “inalienable right” to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. All civilian nuclear energy programmes provide a convenient cover, as well as the training, technology and plutonium necessary for the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

That was the route taken by India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to become nuclear weapon states. A typical 1,000 megawatt reactor produces enough plutonium each year for 40 nuclear weapons.

The government of Malaysia has consistently opposed nuclear weaponry and supports the abolition of nuclear weapons. Unless circumstances change dramatically, I feel confident that policy will not change.

Radioactive nuclear waste

Nuclear power plants produce lethal radioactive waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years and that of uranium-235 is 731 million years. We are talking about radiation forever.

No country in the world has been able to safely dispose of its nuclear waste, which is accumulating in pools or casks alongside nuclear reactors in forty-four countries, waiting for a solution. Finding satisfactory underground geologic repositories has proved to be an intractable problem.

After 20 years and US$9 billion of investment, the Obama administration has declared that the proposed repository site in Yucca Mountain is “not an option.”

When questioned about nuclear waste, the nuclear industry argues that spent nuclear fuel should be reprocessed or ‘recycled’ into fresh fuel. Only the French experience with reprocessing has been technically successful, but economically it has been a failure.

If medieval man had ventured into nuclear energy, we today would still be managing his waste, assuming we had survived. Nuclear waste is not a legacy we should bequeath future generations.

Cost of nuclear energy

Cheap nuclear power is a myth. “Too cheap to meter” was the false slogan in 1954. Forbes business magazine has described the failure of the US nuclear industry as “the largest managerial disaster in business history.”

After 50 years of substantial government subsidies, nuclear power remains prohibitively expensive. Even among business and financial communities, it is widely acknowledged that nuclear power would not be economically viable without government subsidies.

In the United States, the most important subsidy comes in the form of loan guarantees, which promise that taxpayers will bail out nuclear utility companies by paying back their loans if and when their projects fail.

The nuclear industry’s opaque methods of accounting make it difficult to determine the full economic costs of nuclear energy. Costs are often buried in generous government subsidies or conjured into debt legacies for future generations.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad claims that it could build a 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor for RM1 billion, but there is no mention of other costs. Real costs, such as operating costs, accident insurance, maintenance of reactor security, nuclear waste management and decommissioning costs, are buried in the nuclear industry’s creative, opaque methods of accounting

Capital costs remain a critical problem. Objective data on nuclear economics do not exist. Examination of the limited number of published capital cost estimates shows that the estimated capital cost of a new nuclear power plant has escalated rapidly since 2005 and that estimates are largely derived from manufacturers of reactor systems.

It follows that it is extremely risky to accept a manufacturer’s estimates and to sign a contract that does not specify a fixed cost, and yet some purchasers do exactly that.

The only relatively reliable data on the costs of nuclear power come from the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Finland. Within this limited data base, we know that cost overruns and construction delays are customary and that no nuclear power plant has been built within budget or a contractual time-frame.

As recent as May 29, 2009, two financial reports in the business section of the New York Times exposed the risky economics of nuclear power by highlighting two fiascos: the virtual collapse of Canada’s global flagship, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and the problems facing the French company, Areva, over the construction of a new third generation pressurised water reactor in Olkiluoto, which is four years behind schedule and more than US$2 billion over budget.

Both companies were overtaken by cost overruns, amounting to billions of dollars, and long delays in completion schedules extending into decades.

A recent study in the United States, which focussed on business risks and the cost of building new nuclear power plants, identified several significant risks. The cost of capital for building new nuclear power plants has been rising much faster than inflation.

Major construction delays result in cost overruns of billions of dollars. Long lead times for construction also result in a “premium risk” which increases the cost of capital. In the end, to keep afloat, new nuclear plants will have to impose high electricity rates which will make consumers very unhappy and the economy less competitive.

After more than 50 years in the business, the nuclear industry cannot attract private funding or liability insurance, cannot demonstrate an ability to build new reactors within a contractual time-frame and budget, and cannot deal with its radioactive waste.

Instead of investing billions in nuclear power, it would be far wiser and more justifiable to commit Malaysia’s limited resources to research and development of renewable sources of energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency.

Conclusion

The Malaysian government has approached the crucially important issue of nuclear energy in its customary authoritarian manner and its embrace of the private business sector. It smacks of a domineering, arrogant, undemocratic, corrupt government that has been in power for too long.

There has been no attempt to engage the people of this country in a balanced, rational, informed dialogue on a form of energy that is dirty, dangerous and expensive.

Contrary to what the government may believe, going to the polls periodically is not democracy, when freedom of speech and freedom of the press are constrained and people are intimidated by arbitrary laws, such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Internal Security Act, and by the large number of custodial deaths.

In the same way, funding of vested commercial and political interests in the local nuclear industry to disseminate misinformation about nuclear energy to captive audiences cannot be equated with public education about one of the most dangerous forms of energy. Everything is being done to persuade the public that nuclear energy is good for the economy, the climate and the country.

Malaysians must wake up, cast aside apathy, stand up and insist on their democratic right to have an honest, comprehensive national debate and a national referendum on nuclear energy, with independent oversight.

I call on the people of Malaysia to form a people’s coalition to mount a national campaign against the introduction of nuclear energy.

DR RONALD S McCOY is the founding president of Physicians for Peace and Social Responsibility and the co-president of International Physicians for the Preventive of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

…source
Nuclear lessons for Malaysia (Part 2)
Ronald S McCoy
Apr 20, 2011 – Malaysiakini

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