Friday, 29 May 2009

UPM student replies to Dr Mahathir

Below is a UPM student Muhammed Daniel's reply to Dr Mahathir's blog posting on nuclear as alternative source of power production. See this.

Dr Mahathir,
As a student studying physics at UPM who grew up to admire your Vision 2020, I am very disappointed that such a good leader for Malaysia and developing countries has swallowed the unscientific anti-nuclear propaganda pushed by the green environmental movement. I have become convinced for some time that a Nuclear Malaysia is the way to achieve vision 2020 and beyond. However, I could not see a clear way forward. Last week I attended a public lecture at UKM by one of the founders of South Korea‘s peaceful nuclear program, Professor Dr Jong H. Kim. I came away from the talk convinced that South Korea’s 50 yeary peaceful nuclear program is the very best example for Malaysia to follow.
According to Prof Kim, “In the 1950’s we were a devastated and torn nation, we were destroyed by the war between North and South Korea.” Today, Korea is the 13th largest economy in the world, 6th biggest nuclear power producer in the world with $20 000 US per capita income. Not bad for a country who came 177th after the war in terms of economic power. In 56 years, they’ve not only managed to rise from the ashes of war but became a major player in the world economy.
How did they do it? Was it through efficient policy making? Help from the super-powers after the war perhaps? The key, according to Prof Jong was nuclear power.
This was due to the fact that economic growth is directly proportional to nuclear development. How so? More electricity enables more factories to be opened and a higher standard of living for the population. This in return generates diverse science and high technology driven sectors coupled with a comfortable living environment for the masses. The world we live in today is highly dependent upon electricity. We only have to imagine what our lives would be without electricity if there was a blackout for only a few hours. Long term security and resource availability is one of this century’s greatest concerns considering oil reserves in Malaysia will deplete within 20 years time (41 years for the world’s oil reserves) while the world’s coal supply is expected to deplete within the next 155 years. For uranium the picture is better with 233 years left if the current trend of world energy consumption persists. We have to remember that used uranium can be enriched to plutonium. If we combine this into the equation nuclear power can last a whole lot longer, up to 2000 years according to reputable estimates.
During the 1970’s, 77% of Korea’s power was from coal. In the 80’s, 10 years after the opening of Korea’s first nuclear power plant, Kori-1, nuclear power amounted to 9% of the total power produced. This figure shot up to 49% of power generated by nuclear in the 1990’s. Now here’s where it gets very interesting. During the 1950’s after the war, Korea’s GDP per capita was a meagre $876 US. Since the beginning of the nuclear power era in Korea during the 70’s, the figure rose to $1597 per capita. In 2007, the GDP was at an astonishing $20 000 per capita! Prof Kim merrily told the astounded audience that this was because Korea had 20 nuclear power plants. Each nuclear power plant essentially contributed to an increase of $1000 US per capita of GDP.
Where does Malaysia fit into all this, I began to wonder? Prof. Jong later shifted his lecture to the Malaysian aspect of it by describing the difference between our GDP and per capita income. Despite the fact Malaysia’s GDP is 1/5 of Korea’s, an interesting point to note is that our per capita income now stands at $15 000 compared to Korea’s $20 000 US. Not too bad, considering we got this far without having nuclear power. Imagine what Malaysia could do if we had nuclear power!
To put the case hands down for nuclear power, Dr Jong showed a final slide comparing the land in square miles required to build various alternative forms of energy. Top of the list for land requirement was biofuel. The land size of corn required to meet energy demands was bigger than Korea itself! Then came hydroelectric power which floods huge areas of land. Next, came generation of power through wind with 40-70 square miles of land required. Fourth place was photovoltaic cells i.e solar power with 40 square miles and last but not least nuclear power with 0.4 square miles of land required. It struck me yet again that the greenies are crazy. From these land use figures, nuclear is by far the most environment friendly source of power.
During the question time I asked how nuclear energy affected the monthly household electricity bill in Korea. Prof Kim said the electricity bill was greatly reduced and stabilised. For example, in 1950 prior to Korea’s nuclear age, their electric power output was 0.33TW hour and later rocketed up to 403 TW hour. A greater than 1000 fold increase in electric power output! Korea is not at the mercy of the oil and gas supply and demand equation because they rely upon heavy elements such as plutonium and uranium. This enabled the price of electricity to be scaled down due to its huge power output.
The important question of nuclear waste was also raised. “Korea initially had problems finding a suitable place for it. In the end we simply asked any regions of Korea which wanted to have the nuclear waste facility to submit their entries. Four areas submitted their entries where the winner went to the area with an 80% resident approval for building the nuclear waste management facility.
The safety aspect of nuclear power raised important questions from the audience. Prof Kim’s response was straightforward, “The technical aspect of it has long gone been solved. It is relatively safe. If it wasn’t safe why would Korea build not only one but 20 nuclear power plants? What’s left for other countries is only the political will power to do so. We in Korea believe that in order to achieve something, we must have a strong will power to do so. We had a strong will considering our nation is now divided into two. It left a great impact on us to improve ourselves. If a plane was to be questioned on every single detail of it’s security, surely it won’t fly. The same goes with nuclear,” he assured us with a smile.
A professor from UPM asked whether the acceptance of nuclear power in the South was because of North Korea’s involvement in using nuclear for military purposes. “Not at all, I’ll show this satellite photo at night showing the difference between the South and North Korea,” he simply said. Indeed the difference was startling. The south was dazzling with countless dots of lights around the country while the North was pitch black with an exception of one dot. Yes, literally ONE dot. That one dot apparently Prof Kim joked belonged to the residential area of its “dictator”. Nevertheless, it clearly states the difference between a country that used nuclear for peaceful purposes and a country that used it for military purposes.
If South Korea can be recognised not only as a major economic power, but a major nuclear power producer isn’t it time we make more of a name for ourselves than merely rubber, palm oil, and the Petronas Twin Towers? Our Asian neighbours have done it. Vision 2020 is only 11 years away. What are we waiting for?

Muhammed Daniel

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