In Greek mythology, there was a Titan called Prometheus, the brother to the more famous Atlas. Good olde Prometheus was a cunning bloke who fortunately for us, loved and championed human-kind. To cut the myth short, he stole fire from the almighty Zeus to give it to men.
It was mankind's greatest gift (or discovery).
Zeus was pissed off and punished Prometheus for his ‘crime’ by chaining him to a rock in the Caucasus, the region where Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia are.
Zeus ensured that each day a huge eagle ripped into his liver - oUCh! The liver would, by Zeus will, grow back again, so that it would be eaten again the following day - perpetual torture until he was rescued by Heracles (or if you like the Romanised name, Hercules) hundreds of years later.
The myth showed Prometheus as playing a pivotal role in the early history of humankind. Providing fire to men was probably the principal one.
Fire, as we know, is a good servant but a bad master. It’s an old English saying which means that fire is very useful when it is under one's control, but very dangerous when it is not.
Likewise with nuclear power! But somehow the word ‘nuclear’ strikes terror in many people’s hearts, and some greenies have exploited that fear by stressing only on its bad points while conveniently disregarding its usefulness.
Elizabeth Wong once wrote an article in Malaysiakini describing all the adverse factors of Malaysia adopting the use of nuclear power. At that time I didn’t have the opportunity to rebut some of her points because I was caught up with some far more demanding issues.
Also, I was then reminded that leaving control of nuclear power development in the hands of our corrupt and incompetent bureaucratic wonders might not be a good idea, thus I wasn’t motivated to write on my support of nuclear power as a better solution to our energy needs than hydro-electrical systems.
But I am alarmed by today’s Malaysiakini - Bakun to supply power to peninsula via undersea cable!
A few major countries like the USA have already removed, and some are also contemplating doing the same with their hydro-electrical systems.
While the advantages of a hydro-electric scheme may be attractive the disadvantages aren’t so immediately apparent.
For a start, a hydroelectric system like the one being developed at Bakun will dislocate large numbers of people as had been the humongous case for the Chinese 3-Gorges Dam across the mighty Yangtze River, which was developed with 3 objectives: to produce clean electricity, prevent China’s perennial deadly floods downstream and enhance navigation for boats.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about the enhanced navigation brought about by the 3-Gorges Dam:
The freight capacity of the river increased 6 times and the cost of shipping reduced by 25%, compared to previous years, which reduces carbon dioxide emission by 630,000 tonnes. Comparing to highway transportation, the amount of fuel that Three Gorges Dam project saved between the year of 2004 and 2007 is equivalent to 4,100,000 tonnes of standard coal. Thus it reduces carbon dioxide emission by 10 million tonnes.
OK, so there’s some greenie benefit.
But 1.24 million Chinese had to be relocated. An added issue for China's relocation plan was corruption, where officials pocketed the government funds allocated for compensation of 13,000 farmers relocated. Not unlike some cases in Malaysia, the money mysteriously disappeared after it was sent to the local government. The farmers have yet to be compensated.
But the far more significant issue is that, a large dam like Bakun will flood a very large area upstream, and adversely muck up, if not destroy the ecological system both upstream and downstream. The aqua ecosystems, birdlife, and other mammals will be seriously affected.
My uncles would constantly lament the building of the Ayer Itam Dam, which has screwed up the Ayer Itam river ecosystem. Worse, under the BN State government, some tributaries to the river have disappeared in the 90's.
One which was particular loved by my mateys and me was (once) a bubbling cool crystal clear brook which cascaded underneath the Bukit Bendera funicular rail track before becoming a stream flowing through Hye Keat Estate and then meandering by the Zoo Road mosque to join the main Ayer Itam river.
I was told that a ‘factory’ (of what? but would have to be one approved by the State) has siphoned off the waters of the entire brook upstream of the funicular rail track. The Hye Keat Estate stream is no more.
As a toddler, I was taken there by my uncles to catch all sorts of fish in the Hye Keat river, which we Ayer Itam locals would called:
- ‘aw tiam’ (black spot – a sort of barb about the size of our palm with a noticeable black spot around its dorsal fin - could it be ikan bagoh or menderu?),
- ‘peh teeo’ (white something – ‘teeo’ means ‘to fish’ but I don’t think it’s this meaning - but could it be 'teeow' which means 'strip' or a unit description for a fish, as in 'se-ekor'?),
- ‘ikan teen’ (carp),
- th’or sart’ (catfish),
- ‘layhoo’ (I am ashamed to say I can’t recall both the Malay and English name for this ubiquitous fish which can be caught in most Malaysian streams, rivers, and mostly in the padi fields – it has sweet flesh and Chinese use it in rice porridge – it’s a very hardy fish which won’t flop over and die when one leaves it out of water, and can remain quite alive for hours in a fishmonger's basket). Afternote: thanks to Xiean, the fish is snakehead fish (channidae) or ikan haruan.
Uncle told me they are all gone from the river and streams (what stream? they are now only huge dry drains) around the Ayer Itam village, save perhaps for some 'ikan teen' at the spot near the foot of the Dam (around the mosque astride the stream).
Future generations of Penangites will lose knowledge and the pleasure of being acquainted with our flora and fauna heritage because of the Ayer Itam Dam.
The Dam should have been required to release a minimum quantity of water to ensure the flora and fauna dependent on the river flow were not endangered. But I doubt this is likely to happen in the future.
So to end this post, I would like to remind Malaysians that fire may well be a bad master but is a damn good servant, otherwise Prometheus wouldn't have been prepared to suffer hundreds and hundreds of agony to bestow on us the wonderful gift of fire, essentially the gift of life.