Malaysia’s energy security: Exploring the nuclear option

The depletion of non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels has raised global concerns.

Malaysia has taken steps to address this, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In September 2023, the Malaysian government drafted the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR) as part of the National Energy Policy 2022-2040 to expedite Malaysia’s energy transition. The revised target of achieving 31 per cent of renewable energy by 2025 is challenging, to say the least.

This article will discuss three main issues in exploring the nuclear option as an essential energy resource for Malaysia’s social and economic development, its viability and impact, and recommendations for Malaysia’s transition to a renewable energy mix. It will suggest policy changes, vis-a-vis its feasibility and environmental impact, relaxation of market regulations, and in addressing public perceptions in dealing with misinformation, and apocalyptic narratives.

The primary energy source in Malaysia is fossil fuels, which is depleting over time. Nuclear energy, with a capacity factor of 92.5 per cent, is the most reliable option for Malaysia’s energy security. However, the question as to whether nuclear is reliable for a stable social and economic development, remains.

Energy security is crucial for Malaysia’s economic growth and social development. Focused initiatives by the government can guarantee a stable and uninterrupted energy supply, which is vital for sustaining economic activities and driving economic growth. A secure and affordable energy supply enhances the competitiveness of industries, supporting economic diversification and export-oriented industries. Investing in energy security can promote energy equity, reduce energy availability and affordability disparities, and accelerate innovation in clean energy technologies.

Diversified and secure energy from non-renewable and renewable sources can make Malaysia less susceptible to external energy price fluctuations and supply disruptions, enhancing its resilience in times of global energy market volatility.

The Malaysian government acknowledges the importance of public engagement in decision-making processes, particularly regarding nuclear energy. Safety concerns related to nuclear energy, particularly after the Fukushima disaster, have prompted thorough safety assessments and engagement with the public to address concerns, and build trust.

Implementing a nuclear energy programme in Malaysia requires significant upfront investments and long payback periods. Due to urban population growth and economic expansion, Malaysia’s energy consumption is expected to double by 2050. The country has proven oil reserves, mainly from offshore fields in the South China Sea.

However, production levels have declined over the years, and Malaysia is a net exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Nuclear Malaysia, the Malaysian Nuclear Agency, has the expertise, competencies, infrastructure capabilities, and prior experiences to offer technical assistance and adequate sophisticated infrastructure to users adopting nuclear technology.

Preparations are being made to establish Malaysia’s inaugural nuclear power facility, with Nuclear Malaysia as the Technical Support Organisation (TSO), functioning as a technical support entity. Higher learning institutions in Malaysia have years of experience offering nuclear-related courses, proving their capability in nuclear energy research and applications. A research paper confirmed that Malaysia’s policy guidance and implementation have successfully decreased its excessive reliance on crude oil/petroleum as its primary energy source, partially substituting it with a dependency on natural gas on the supply side.

Nuclear power as a substitute for fossil fuels can be considered viable. However, conducting a thorough and data-driven assessment is crucial to making informed decisions on the best energy mix to achieve energy security, reduce carbon emissions, and support sustainable development goals. It is important to involve experts, engage the public holistically, and consider various scenarios to arrive at the most suitable energy strategy for Malaysia’s specific context.

Adopting nuclear power in Malaysia’s energy mix presents challenges and benefits. Safety concerns are significant, even though the country is geographically stable and not prone to external risks like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and typhoons.

A stable government is crucial for successfully cultivating Malaysia’s nuclear energy mix, and reducing electricity subsidies from RM22 billion yearly to RM1 billion starting in 2025, is essential.

In conclusion, Malaysia faces a critical juncture in pursuing a sustainable and secure energy future. While adopting nuclear power offers the potential for energy security and reduced carbon emissions, it must be approached carefully, addressing all safety concerns, through robust public engagement, and after weighing in its economic feasibility.

To navigate this complex landscape, Malaysia should prioritise comprehensive safety assessments, engage experts and the public in transparent discussions, and explore various energy scenarios.

Additionally, policy reforms should include the relaxation of market regulations, addressing public perceptions, and gradually reducing electricity subsidies.

Ultimately, a balanced and diversified energy strategy that combines nuclear power with renewable sources is the most promising path to ensure a stable social and economic development, while safeguarding Malaysia’s energy future in an era of depleting fossil fuels and global environmental concerns.

Colonel Mohammed Rizal Zakaria is an officer in the Royal Signals Corps of the Malaysian Army and is a Course Member of the National Resilience College, PUSPAHANAS, Putrajaya, Malaysia.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.