KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s war on smog is about to get a new twist. A big one.
The government wants to create man-made cyclones to scrub away the haze that has plagued Malaysia off and on since July. “We will use special technology to create an artificial cyclone to clean the air,” said Datuk Law Hieng Ding, Minister for Science, Technology and the Environment.
The plan calls for the use of new Russian technology to create cyclones — the giant storms also known variously as typhoons and hurricanes — to cause torrential rains, washing the smoke out of the air. The Malaysian cabinet and the finance ministry have approved the plan, Datuk Law said.
This latest strategy follows other unsuccessful attempts to banish the gray haze that has beset Malaysia and its neighbors for months. Previous Malaysian efforts included spraying water from the tops of tall buildings in Kuala Lumpur, and “cloud-seeding” — in which airplanes sprinkle clouds with a salt solution with an aim to inducing rain. Malaysia also has sent teams of firemen to Indonesia to help fight the forest fires responsible for the condition.
The smog has been exacerbated by the El Nino weather effect, which has delayed usually heavy seasonal rains. In late September, air quality deteriorated to the point that a weeklong emergency was declared in Sarawak state. Children and asthmatics were hospitalized with breathing difficulties, and people were forced to walk the streets wearing surgical masks, handkerchiefs and even brassiere cups to cover their nose and mouth.
The haze lifted somewhat last week, but experts have warned that a change in wind direction might bring it back. Malaysia also is worried that a recurrence next year might jeopardize the high-profile Commonwealth Games to be held in the capital in September. During severe bouts of haze, doctors warn people not to exercise outdoors.
Speaking after meeting with a Russian delegation, Datuk Law told reporters that a Malaysian company, BioCure Sdn. Bhd., will sign a memorandum of understanding soon with the Russian party, which he described as government-owned. A demonstration would follow. Malaysia need pay only if the test is successful, Datuk Law added.
The minister was coy about the specifics of the plan, declining to reveal the size of the cyclone to be generated, or the mechanism. “The details I don’t have,” he said. He did say though, that the cyclone generated would be “quite strong.” He discounted the possibility of damage to the environment.
Datuk Law also refused to disclose the price tag for cyclone creation. However, since Malaysia will pay only if it works, he shrugged off worries of failure. “There’s no harm,” he said, “since it doesn’t cost us anything.”
Indeed, Datuk Law said the price for the cyclone technology should compare favorably with cloud-seeding. Malaysia has conducted more than 250 cloud-seeding flights since early September, using a fleet of eight planes. Cyclones should work out to be cheaper, Datuk Law said, “considering the size and the volume that can be cleared.”