How do the current oil prices impact the advancement of nuclear energy?

The current oil prices have an influence on the advancement of nuclear energy. In our report to the Economic Council in June 2015, we highlighted that nuclear energy is moderately competitive compared to unsubsidized gas. However, one important factor is the high upfront investment cost associated with nuclear energy. If the owner-operator of a nuclear plant can secure a low-interest and affordable loan, nuclear energy remains an attractive option. According to an IEA-OECD-NEA report, nuclear energy remains competitive at interest rates ranging from 3% to 7%. For instance, Bangladesh is moving forward with its nuclear project, supported by a loan from Russia covering 90% of the project cost with an interest rate ceiling of 4%. Vietnam has also signed an agreement with Russia, although the political will and electricity demand are more compelling in Bangladesh. The chosen project site in Bangladesh has been designated since 1965, and Russia will provide the safest plant with EU-compliant design and double-walled containment buildings.

How have you moved forward with ratifying the necessary international and national instruments?

At the international level, Malaysia has already ratified the Convention for Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. However, further steps cannot be taken at this stage, as the necessary bill needs to be passed by parliament. We have convened a meeting with stakeholders from various ministries to discuss this matter, and we are committed to obtaining approval for the bill in 2017. It is important to clarify that this law is not a green card for nuclear energy, as it is commonly misunderstood. Instead, it replaces Act 304 of 1984, which already had a provision to develop nuclear energy. With new international standards and best practices, a new act is required. We maintain close dialogue with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and recently hosted an IAEA Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in Malaysia. The INIR mission assessed the state of preparedness of our nuclear program, evaluated the recommended 19 issues from the IAEA guidebook, identified areas of progress, gaps, and necessary actions to be taken. The government will then make decisions based on the mission’s findings.

How advanced is Malaysia in nuclear energy compared to other ASEAN countries?

Vietnam is currently ahead in terms of nuclear energy development as they have obtained parliamentary approval to proceed with two nuclear projects, one in collaboration with Russia and another with Japan. The Fukushima incident impacted nuclear plans in several countries, causing some delays in project timelines, but they have not been completely abandoned. Thailand also considered nuclear energy, but due to political uncertainty, they have postponed their plans until after 2035. In Malaysia, we have made adjustments to our original plan, and it is unlikely that a nuclear power plant will be operational before 2030. Apart from the legal and regulatory framework and government commitment, we also need to study funding and financing options to support the development of nuclear energy.

What is your roadmap toward 2030 to move toward nuclear energy in Malaysia?

Our roadmap toward 2030 involves several key steps. First, we need to make necessary preparations to secure the passage of the bill in parliament. It is important to note that Malaysia has already utilized nuclear technology for non-power applications in areas such as medicine, agriculture, and industrial inspections, so the technology is not entirely new. Signing nuclear conventions, particularly the Convention for Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, is crucial as it ensures access to nuclear and radioisotope materials necessary for medical applications. Second, we must continue engaging with the public and educating them about nuclear technology and its workings. Third, selecting and acquiring a suitable site for the nuclear power plant is essential. Additionally, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) needs to be established as the owner-operator of the plant, separate from the Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC) to avoid conflicts of interest. The MNPC should function as a non-profit company serving as the designated Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organization (NEPIO), as recommended by the IAEA.

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