Monday, May 10, 2010

Powerful Ambition

From my earliest youth, I have always hated going to the dentist. As a boy, I can still remember myself in the dentist's chair, looking up into that bright light above. I see it all in my mind right now—the ugly-looking belt running round and round on the pulleys while the dentist is using the drill; the sound of it is enough to make me faint!

Years later, as an adult, when I visited a dentist in Brunei, things were a bit different. There was no scary belt running on pulleys, making loud noises. But I was still scared, I don't know why.

The dentist had to take an x-ray of my teeth. He put something into my mouth and then aligned the machine close to my face. He then said, "OK, hold it, don't move," while slowly walking away towards the door. "Hold it, please!", he reminded me from the doorway. "Yes, that's it... good." From the other side of the closed door, I heard something clicked, and a moment later the dentist came back into the room and said, "very good!" I remember thinking to myself, "Wow! am I gonna die because of the exposure to the radiation?" It hardly seemed worth doing the x-ray thing on my teeth!

Actually, practically everything in the world is bombarded by radiation all the time. It is difficult to know for sure what level of exposure can be considered "safe". And as we all know, medical science is in many ways forever changing. One day, someone will tell us that so-and-so is good for one's health; another day, someone else will tell us that it's dangerous for one's health. New studies are conducted all the time and many things which are told to be good may eventually become not so good, and vice versa.

A specific level of exposure to radiation which was once considered "safe" may no longer be "safe" today. And tomorrow, perhaps an even lower level may be set as the standard for "safety".

In its ambition for clean energy, Malaysia is dreaming of its first nuclear power plant by 2021. People like me who know very little about nuclear power plants are worried about this ambition. If indeed Malaysia has the people who can manage a nuclear power plant, I suppose that is very good. But after such a long time producing our beloved Proton cars, I have to say that I seriously doubt it. I occasionally drive my wife's Proton Waja, and I hate it when I keep forgetting that I'm not supposed to wind down the windows because they simply can't be automatically wound up back to their original positions.

Nuclear power appears to be the best answer to our energy needs—it does not pump carbon dioxide into the air and thus wouldn't add to the problem of global warming. That is the main reason why many Sabahans are against the coal power plant proposed by the state government. The coal power plant is of course detrimental to the people in terms of their health well-being, even though it may be good to solve the energy needs and keep some people's pockets very healthy. But that's the problem when decisions are made by politicians who only hear what they want to hear from the so-called scientists who are all out to please them. A leap into the past, that's what it is about the proposed coal power plant.

But unfortunately, I am also not so comfortable with the nuclear power plant. A small mistake can lead to an accident which can cause harm to many, many people for years to come! The remedial costs may far exceed the kind of savings that the nation is trying to achieve. Lives may be lost, and prolonged medication on those who survived (but not very much so.)

If it's a matter of the coal power plant, maybe it's not so bad because it's gonna be constructed on the east coast of Sabah. So I guess I can say I'm far away from its negative effects. Of the people of Sandakan, Tawau and Lahad Datu, well, God bless you all! Who knows, maybe those people would make themselves heard in the next general election.

As for the nuclear power plant, it doesn't really matter where exactly it is constructed. If there is an accident, probably this whole region will be in big trouble for a long time to come.

But if there is no accident? Well, I would imagine that there is still the problem of waste disposal. Do we just bury the by-products? Or do we just dump them into the sea? How effective is the waste management?

Maybe the Malaysian government shouldn't be too ambitious at the moment. Perhaps it's better if they could complete and fully utilise the Bakun Hydroelectric project first, and see how things go from there. Solar and hydro may not be the cheapest sources of power, but I suspect much safer than the coal and nuclear power plants.

Unfortunately, I am not very knowledgeable in all these very complicated sciences. I would be pleased if any of my readers who know more about them, would be kind enough to enlighten me?

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