Malaysia’s "Me, too!" mentality
Writer: Lee Hwok Aun
Published: Fri, 25 Mar 2011
Murderously deforested Sarawak goes to their state polls soon. The world remains transfixed on the frenzy to cool down Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plants. And the Malaysian government refuses to impose a moratorium on its plans for nuclear energy.
Er, what’s the link?
Exploiting nuclear energy, like pillaging our forest, is a trouble-sure, self-destructive, “Me, too!” project. Others have done it, and
so shall we. This is the line spun by our federal government on our “right” to deforest as much as fast as we please, most vehemently by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, while Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud has preferred to conspire in the shadows.
Malaysia holds the dishonourable distinction of being the world’s largest exporter of tropical logs, mostly from Sarawak. In 2006,
we exported more than Indonesia, which, in second place, has a forest cover that is four times ours; and number three Brazil, which has 23 times more forested area.
We could have said “not me” and done things differently: managed our forest resources responsibly and sustainably from the
start. Instead, we pointed to countries that have had their glory days of deforestation and huffed that we will have ours, too.
Then we will get rich and declare ourselves developed.
The Najib administration has not convincingly demonstrated that future energy needs offer no alternatives to nuclear power, or
come up with a credible plan for reducing power usage and investing in cleaner and safer technologies.
One cannot help but notice the growing list of countries planning to go nuclear.
There’s Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bangladesh – peers as well as subordinates in terms of national income
level. Perhaps a greater itch is caused by the nuclear ambitions of neighbours Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Many are saying, if the Japanese can’t avert crisis, what more us? While that has elements of truth, it misses the fundamental problems and systemic risks associated with nuclear energy.
One argument that will be trotted out is that nuclear energy is “safe”. The number of major crises is few, most prominently Three
Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and now Fukushima.
But even if Japan escapes catastrophic meltdown and mass fatalities, there are solid grounds to reject nuclear power. Anything
related to nuclear fission is exceptional – exceptionally dangerous to humankind. We are dealing with radioactive material that can cause untold damage – and the worst hit will be communities who cannot afford to live safe distances from the power plants.
Only two atomic bombs have ever been detonated on human settlement, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Does that make nuclear weapons more palatable? The cold war doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” (splendidly acronymed MAD) held that nobody would be the first to use it because the enemy will retaliate and both sides will be annihilated. Yup, that worked – as long as there was an arms race.
A parallel logic applied to nuclear power Penang Economic Monthly is a monthly magazine dedicated to socio-economic issues in Penang, offering reliable socio-economic data as well as informative articles on the arts,the industry, culture and social issues that are relevant to today’s generation of Malaysians.
A parallel logic applied to nuclear power would be that the potential disaster is so bad, no one will let it happen. Actually, everyone will hope that the disaster happens to someone else first.
Wikileaks’ release of cables from the US embassy in Tokyo is now widely known.
Taro Kono, a member of Japan’s Lower House, claimed that “Japanese electric companies are hiding the costs and safety problems associated with nuclear energy”, and have suppressed development of alternative energy sources.
Further compounding the problem, nuclear power contains a lethal mix of huge costs – to build, operate and dispose waste – and political protection. Greg Palast, an investigative journalist and former regulatory agency researcher, reports that American power company Stone & Webster lied about its “Seismic Qualification” at its Shoreham plant in New York in 1988 – two years after Chernobyl!
They were failing that requisite test, and it would have cost a financially calamitous one billion dollars to change that result, so
the company fraudulently passed itself. Two engineers blew the whistle on their employers.
If not for them, and for the existence of regulatory oversight and intrepid journalism, we might have never found out.
The nuclear industry has grown in sophistication and extensively engages in politicking, through lobby groups like the academically named Nuclear Energy Institute. It makes you wonder what may be shrouded from us about current hazards.
So what do we do? Halt this hurried lurch toward nuclear power. Like rampant logging, don’t do it just because others have done it or are doing it.
Emulate the right things. Why don’t we look at advanced economies’ energy-saving measures, efficient transport systems, excellent education institutions, democratic practices, and high levels of critical and creative expression, and scream, “Me, too!”?