KUALA LUMPUR--Malaysia is seeking a PR agency to help it build public support for nuclear power, as part of a plan to make the country nuclear-ready by 2013.

The Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation (MNPC), a government body formed in January to spearhead the deployment of nuclear energy, is understood to have shortlisted three firms for the sensitive project. It is understood that a formal pitch is yet to take place. A source involved in the process said that fees had not been confirmed, but were expected to be in the seven-figure range.

The assignment comes amid public concern about nuclear safety, spurred by the ongoing crisis at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan.

In addition, Malaysia faces more localised negative sentiment. In the Eighties, a rare earth plant was linked to at least seven leukaemia-related deaths, and clean-up operations are still ongoing.

Currently, there is widespread public opposition to the construction of a US$230 million rare earth plant in the Malaysian state of Pahang, spurred by opposition political parties and environmental groups. The project, owned by Australian company Lynas, is on hold while a UN group completes a public safety investigation into its impact.

The Malaysian government believes that nuclear power is necessary to help the country meet an anticipated shortfall in its energy needs. The country is running out of gas, and a new hydropower project will only provide sufficient power for East Malaysia, and not the remainder of the country.

Accordingly it is hoping to develop a nuclear power plant within the next decade, with the site identified by 2013. According to briefing notes obtained by the Holmes Report, PR counsel is being sought to ensure that stakeholders are able to make an informed decision about the proposed plan by that date.

“The bottomline: Malaysia has to be nuclear-ready and get [the] mandate of the public by 2013, when the government will make the final decision and reveal the site,” reads the brief.

Boosting public support for nuclear power to above 50 percent is a priority, along with managing concerns and issues. The brief indicates a substantial research component that will assess public opinion regarding nuclear energy and use these findings to devise a strategy to improve perceptions and support.

The appointment is for an initial 24-month period, to be renewed on a yearly basis thereafter.

Malaysian government unit Pemandu did not respond to request for comment; national day celebrations are underway in the country this week.