Thursday, August 17, 2006

When my husband upsets a whole neighbouring country...

The other day my husband, Noramly, went back to Kuala Lumpur to give a talk on nuclear education and public information at a seminar in memory of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear bombings. He is, btw, the Chairman of the Nuclear Licensing Board for Malaysia - the regulatory body that keeps an eye on all nuclear energy applications for peaceful uses in the country - everything from x-ray machines upwards. He was at one time a Deputy-Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

After the seminar during question time he was asked about what is required if Malaysia goes nuclear - which questions he answered. We didn't expect the furore that started up, particularly in the blogging world from our neighbour Singapore! Apparently it worries them to have a nuclear reactor anywhere nearby.

The most extraordinary comment was from someone who apparently decided there was some terrible symbolism at announcing Malaysia was going nuclear on Singapore's National Day!

"...do I see announcements regarding a potentially dangerous source of energy made on Singapore's birthday? Ironic, I didn't know that our neighbouring country's leader (sic) are not so smart that they dont realize the potential implications on announcing such information on certain dates. I'm not implying anything here, but to make such a controversial announcement on another neighbouring nation's birthday, think about it!"

Boy, have a news for you, my blogging friend. First of all, my husband is not exactly one of Malaysia's political leaders. Secondly, he made no such announcement. He merely answered questions along the lines of - why would Malaysia have to go nuclear and how many reactors would that entail if it did? Thirdly, he had absolutely no idea that it was Singapore's National Day, and would have thought it utterly irrelevant had he remembered. Singapore, alas, is not central to the concerns of most Malaysians. Sorry about that.

As usual, there is much emoting when it comes to nuclear issues. And very little common sense.

Do I want to live down the street from a nuclear power plant? Nope, not particularly. (I actually do live within spitting distance of a nuclear research reactor when back in KL - and have lived there for 20 years). But I would much prefer a nuclear reactor down the street than a coal-fired power plant, which kills far more people, and creates far more health problems and environmental damage. The truth is that a nuclear power reactor - one that is not designed to produce nuclear weapons - is clean and one of the least environmentally damaging forms of power that there is. The waste is easily stored and monitored, if only people would be sensible rather than emotional about it.

People, however, want to able to live in their energy hungry world and yet refuse to live with the consequences. People who live in, say, sunny California use clothes dryers, for heaven's sake. Lord, we even use leaf blowers instead of good old fashioned rakes. We use power like there was no tomorrow, continue to selfishly bring too many kids into the world already bursting at the seams, but no one wants to acknowledge the consequences - that sooner or later our present (polluting) sources of power won't be available to us. Use solar power, they say blithely, without ever having studied the difficulties and disadvantages of that; use wind power, hydro power...etc etc. Yep. Are you aware that a dam in Malaysia silts up in 20 years because of the tropical rainfall? What then? Are you aware how much land and biodiversity you drown when you build a dam? Where is your sense in all this?

Ignorant people refuse to study the problem unemotionally. Yes, I do know about Chernobyl. I was out picking raspberries with my children in the Vienna Woods the day the plume of radioactivity blew into Austria, unknown to us all at the time. But I am pragmatic and unemotional. If you want to live the way you do now, you have to take the risks that go with it. If you don't want risk, then stop using up the world's resources the way YOU do now. Weigh up risk and advantages and disadvantages and your responsibilties, and make informed decisions based on facts. Not on the idea that nuclear = bombs and is therefore bad. Not on the idea that a country like communist Russia - where they built cheapo reactors without containment, for god's sake!! - is the norm.

The future of our world depends on making decisions that are wise, and no wise decisions can be made by people using their emotion responses rather than the facts. I am not - note - saying that everyone should go nuclear. But as an environmentalist, I think it is the best option for some countries and - yes - for the world's environment. I certainly don't recommend building reactors without containment. I don't recommend throwing nuclear waste into the ocean as happened in the past. I want common sense and I want facts and responsibility. Then I'll decide.


16 comments:

prabvoodoo3dfx said...

Firstly Thanks for your take on this, it is honour that the wife of the chairman of the Malaysian nuclear Agency took the time and effort to reply to the rambling of mere teenager and clear whatever misconceptions that I may have.

However, I would like to correct some things that is stated in your blogpost... I'm quite attached to the Singaporean blogosphere and to my knowledge, I haven't exactly seen much talk in the Singaporean blogosphere regarding this and there certainly isn't much of a uproar or "upsetness" in Singapore as implied by your post.

The post made by me in my blog are purely my own thoughts and are not the thoughts of my fellow Singaporeans.

On the other hand, I have always looked upon nuclear energy as an excellent source of energy, provided it is maintained and well contained. My concerns regarding the nuclear is the possibility of it being used as weapons in the future, NOT of it leaking etc as I'm sure no country would take such risks. I'm definetly sure any country which decides to go nuclear would have stringent safety regulations in place and hire experts like your husband to look into such things.

However as said by you, your husband is no political leader and the fact that the nuclear energy can be used for weapons in the future is definetly not in anybody's hands.I'm not implying that it would be used as weapons in the future but the possibility is still there. Any country can use a civilian nuclear power programme as cover to develop weapons.

There are countless countries out there which suffer economically and socially due to a nuclear arms race, The nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan is a good example.

I'm sure if you were to think in Singaporean's point of view, you would be worried too. After all, we are a tiny island with no natural resources and relying on Malaysia for most of our needs.

With the reason uproar caused by Iran and claims against it that it is developing nuclear weapons using it's civilian nuclear programme as a cover, I'm sure any person on the street would have double thoughts over nuclear programmes.

Thus, I hope I have clarified my point of view regarding this and once again Thanks for taking your time to reply to my post.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, Glenda.

I agree completely with what you say. Re-newable sources of energy are of course better, but it is not likely that they will become available within the required timeframe if the world is going to continue using energy they way it does.

We also need to make better use of the resources we have and being more efficient with the energy we have would certainly help but this will also take time and cooperation on a global scale.

Just my 2c.

Phillberrie from the Purple Zone.

KarenEMiller said...

Hear hear and likewise ditto, Glenda.

If I hear one more Greenie have a dummyspit tantrum about the evils of nuclear power, using the spectre of Chernobyl as their justification, when Chernobyl was an abberation born of the corrupt Soviet system ...

The Europeans have been using np for a long time and it's been fine. It's a sensible solution. But god forbid we question the fundamentalist green movement which counts on emotive emotional hysteria rather than scientific objectivity.

Glenda Larke said...

Sorry prabvoodoo...I was talking a bit tongue in the cheek there, I will admit. But a google turned up so many Singaporean comments that we were kinda take aback. If it is any consolation to Singapore, I am reminded of a situation after Chernobyl when European countries got together to discuss contingency plans for nuclear accidents within their borders. One of the things discussed was evacuation to other parts of the country concerned.

The representative from Luxembourg, a tiny country without nuclear power, but bordered by French nuclear plants, rose to say his piece. "Perhaps someone would like to explain," says he, "just where would we evacuate Luxembourg to?"

And you are falling into a common misconception - it is not actually possible to use an ordinary power reactor as a cover for a nuclear arms programme. Inspections alone make this impossible. And Malaysian is a party to IAEA inspections. And there are other factors involved too - the kind of reactor, and the type of fuel used. Which in Malaysia's case all has to be bought overseas, and is therefore subject to international scrutiny too. (I'm no nuclear scientist, and really I ought to get my husband to answer this bit - but he would probably get fearfully technical.)

Anyway, these are all issues that your generation needs to give serious consideration to - because my generation has - alas - left you with a seriously mucked up world to live in.
And I am glad that you are thinking about it.

Thanks for dropping by, Phil. And Karen, dear, calm down...lol.

Tropical Dragon said...

Way to go Ramly! *removes tongue from cheek* And way to go Glenda. That was such a sensible piece of information.

I ditto what Phillberrie and Karen said.

Barb

KarenEMiller said...

I know, I know. *g* But honestly ... it's precisely this kind of wilful, deceitful, scaremongering propaganda put out there by ideologically blinded green activitists that puts me into orbit.

We can't even *have* a sane and rational debate about the issue in Australia because of this crap. And I do get really really really pissy about it.

Yanno. In case you hadn't noticed. *g*

Anonymous said...

Glenda, I would be most interested then to know what you and the good Dr think about Dr Helen Caldicott and her stand to be against use of nuclear. Ina.

Glenda Larke said...

Ina, Noramly's opinion is his own, and you will have to ask him...

But Dr Caldicott is, I think, fairly typical of the anti-nuclear lobby. Well-intentioned, but impractical, and muddling weapons with power generation. They have been scared by nuclear history - and it is a pretty unsavoury history too. Hiroshima, the cold war, irresponsible testing even quite recently (in my own back yard when I was a kid, quite close enough for us to suffer the fallout where we lived), irresponsible behaviour by nuclear facilities and irresponsible waste disposal, a history of cover ups... All these events are enough to scare most people, me included.

But I am a rational, thinking human being and I have to see a larger picture and weigh what is happening elsewhere. I see a world where the burning of fossil fuels is already bringing about the end of the world as we know it.
The ice caps are melting for a start. That alone is going to change the world drastically.

I see that technology in the nuclear field is not the same as it was in 1950. Or 1980. Or even 2000. And we shouldn't judge it by the past, any more than we should judge modern medicine by what they were doing back in the 1950's. (A lobotomy anyone?)

In theory I would love to have a world with a steady or even falling population, powered by wind and thermal power and tidal energy - oh yeah? Tell me when any of those things are going to happen? And even they have disadvantages. When is nuclear fusion going to be an alternative to nuclear fission?

And that leaves us with the alternative of nuclear energy. I am absolutely against nuclear weapons and I consider any nation that deals with such things to be committing a sin of colossal hubris, and worse, against the human race. But the only way forward that I can see is nuclear power. It is clean, and waste is easily stored and monitored.

An irony is this: the more passion people direct to the anti-nuclear lobby, the less openness there is. And alas, human beings are such geniuses at burying their heads in the sand and pretending everything is all right. It's not, and the anti-nuclear lobby should shoulder some of the blame for that.

As an environmentalist, I see only one way forwards that contains SOME hope for the world: the nuclear way.

Our problem is our desire as individuals to have our cake (electricity) and not accept any responsibility that goes with it.

russell said...

Not often do I find myself disagreeing on environmental issues with someone I respect like Glenda. But, like many people not specifically aligned with the ‘ideologically blinded green activitists’ I find myself concerned with the rising tide of opinion that would have us embrace nuclear power.

Few people confuse the generation of electricity with the creation of nuclear weapons. Objecting to both does not mean that one can’t tell the difference between them.

The western world sees energy as a right, the necessary grease for a technological consumer society. Energy is not a right. That kind of thinking leads to Iraq. We need to learn to be supply-driven, not demand-driven. We need to say: ‘Here’s how much we can generate; let’s limit our use to that much.’ We need to get smarter, not greedier. This process works as a collective (governmental) decision that devolves to individual responsibility. If I can only use x amount of energy, how do I conserve it? I put lagging on my hot water cylinder. I install solar panels. I buy goods without packaging where possible. I’m careful because I don’t want to go without. I learn, and my kids learn, that we live in a finite world.

Even if nuclear power were totally safe (and scientists the world over do not have a great track record in safety issues — their main philosophy has always been ‘suck it and see’ — I have the geothermal report in my office from which that is a quote) and there was no issue with waste, I would still object to the wholesale installation of nuclear reactors. We need to learn our lessons. We need to learn how to limit our insatiable hunger for energy.

There are (conservatively) 15 million deaths each year directly attributable to starvation. Twenty-eight per minute. Three-quarters of them are children. When will technology produce enough food for everyone?

Now, in fact. The issue of world hunger is not technological, it is one of distribution. Scientists experiment with genetics to improve crops, but social scientists study human organisation and can help explain why food doesn’t get to the people who need it. It’s just that we don’t want to listen. Same with energy. We don’t need more toys in the sandpit, we need to learn to share them.

Here’s what would happen in New Zealand if we built a nuclear power station. Exactly the same as when we went hydro, and when we went geothermal. I know this because I conducted a government-funded two-year study of the consequences of large-scale development projects on the environment. We’d find some ‘waste-land’ to build it on. It’ll probably be indigenous land, because ‘waste-land’ is all they’ve been left with. It’ll have to be close to a river for cooling. Great: dump the coolant, the arsenic and the cadmium into the river, which is used by the local community. Then, because of the indigenous people’s isolation, charge them a hundred times as much as city dwellers to be connected to the national grid. Explain away the high local rates of cancer as ‘not statistically significant’.

There will be environmental and social effects from building large-scale nuclear power stations that have nothing to do with the ‘nuclear’ aspect. Access roads. Canals to get water to and from the site. Displacement of local communities. Dumping of non-nuclear toxic waste associated with the project (whatever the contemporary equivalent of asbestos or PCPs is) to be dug up in twenty years’ time. Visual and noise pollution.

Final point, I promise. In 1998 New Zealand experienced a severe, if short-lived, power shortage, sparked (heh) by a fault in Auckland’s power transmission. In the three months the crisis lasted the country saved 20% of normal power usage by turning off unnecessary lighting, commercial lighting, and other simple conservation measures.

There are good, sensible alternatives. Accept that demand has to be limited. Let those who have studied the benefits and costs of alternatives such as wind and solar power, such as geographers who can advise as to where they might best be sited, get on with the job. Local solutions for local communities, and no more disastrous large-scale, wasteful and damaging developments of any kind.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Russell, in most respects, I don't disagree with you at all. I just am so cynically depressed about the political and individual will when it comes to really really DOING anything on a scale that will make a difference to our consumption of polluting fuel or any other of the world's limited resources - whether it be by cutting our population growth or turning off the lights - that I can't see any other way out except to use a fuel that I see as less damaging to the environment.

If you know a way to curtail growth short of bird flu, I'm with you...

Malaysia is running out of oil. There are no more places suitable for hydro. We are running out of gas. Hi-grade coal has to be imported for powerplants. We have a windless climate and no tides to speak of. And a people who believe they have a right to have as many kids as they like, backed by a government that agrees with that. Where does such a place go from here?
When I first came to Malaysia, the idea of having an aircon in the house or the car was almost unheard of except for the mega rich. Most houses - including my own for 12 years or so - never had a washing machine. Now Malaysians of all walks of life are finding the joys of aircons and all mod cons. Ask them to reduce their consumption and they will laugh at you. And I don't know how to persuade them otherwise. In fact, I gave in and got an aircon myself. I'm tired of fighting when all around me no one seems to care.

Anonymous said...

Oops...Anonymous was moi!

Glenda

russell said...

So here's my cunning plan. We shouldn't wait for the government to do anything. Smart energy saving devices such as solar panels, windmills and heat pumps should be marketed as consumer devices. Sexy must-have items. We've educated the western world to desire consumer goods. Imagine if this worked.

Governments could kick in and subsidise these devices to the extent that they would have spent money on wasteful alternatives. The government could also give individuals discounts according to how much they save on their previous year's receipted energy usage.

This the answer is a combination of the local and the central, the individual and the collective, as it should be.

As for Malaysia's specific energy issues, I confess I know little. I do understand that different cultures will require different solutions.

Glenda Larke said...

I hope your plan works. I hope basically that the world as a whole suddenly gets the message that is being screamed at them by the environment itself. I wish the world were peopled by folk like you Russell - if it were, we'd have a hope.

But I sit here in a haze that is cut visibility and quadrupeled the number of respiratory illness turning up in emergency wards in Kuching. All caused by open burning by people who don't give a damn. Who probably can't afford to give a damn because 2 national governments haven't bothered to teach them the first thing about land management and modern principles of agriculture. Because no one has pointed out to them that it may not be a good idea to have 10 kids when you have an annual income of less than 1000 USD.

As an environmentalist, I feel overwhelmed...and I can't see that there is a viable alternative to going nuclear. Not while human beings emulate cartoon ostriches with their heads stuck in the stand.

chocolatetrudi said...

I suspect the idea of persuading people to consume less is a pipe dream. So is the idea that anything but desperation (running out of traditional energy sources) would give the alternative energy market the backing it needs. And so is the idea that any country could use nuclear energy responsibly and safely. More likely they'd use it irresponcibly and unsafely, just to different degrees.

So I can't help but wonder to what degree, in a country that Glenda describes in her post about the burning forests and how Nobody there is responsible. I'm sure the same Nobody would prove to be responcible if there was a nuclear power plant accident. That's the way the world works, be it third or first.

Glenda Larke said...

Hey, Trudi, you are treading on Ramly's toes - he's the Chairman of the Nuclear Licensing Board of Malaysia, remember! The reactor in Malaysia has been up and running for twenty years or more and they haven't been stupid yet.

The whole idea of modern nuclear containment is that even if you did have idiots in charge - such as at Chernobyl - the resulting mess would be contained. And there is an international policing body that comes around inspecting.

All of which does tend to make things safer than, say, places like the Bhopal factory in India. Wanna bet - the next huge fatal accident won't be in the nuclear business. It's a helluva lot better policed than just about anything else.

I think i want to go and live on Pitcairn or somewhere. Nowhere else is remotely safe from what we are doing to the world, and even there it's just a matter of time...

chocolatetrudi said...

Apologies to Ramly's toes! I'm not treading on his specifically, I'm just pessimistic about the whole human race's ability to do anything safely and sensibly for, say, more than a generation or three. Or that more than just a few people would ever live frugally for the sake of other humans - let lone that scary nature stuff.