Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 16 January 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Solution in nuclear-based energy mix:

Powering Sri Lanka

The Government of Sri Lanka is planning to establish a Knowledge Intensive Economy and transform the country into an emerging global economic hub. Utilising our innovative human resources, strategic geographic location and prevailing socio-political stability, we can easily establish an industrialised economy.

Writer`s profile

Prof. Gunawardana is a product of the University of Peradeniya. He is Pro Vice Chancellor at the International University of Management and Governing Council and Member to the National Planning Commission in Namibia. He served as development expert with the United Nations, WFP, UNICEF, World Bank, GTZ and DANIDA in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia and Namibia.

His research interests and publications are linked to Nuclear Energy, Economic Growth and Information Technology. His research and writings on nuclear energy could create a good response among policy-makers and intelligentsia in Africa and other developing countries.

But a reliable supply of electricity is fundamental to realise that goal. “When it comes to economic growth, the vital commodity is always electricity.” (Peter Huber and Mark Mills. Bottomless Well. 2005). Anyhow, to survive and thrive in Knowledge Intensive Economies, all nations should be embedded with reliable and green energy infrastructure.

Our power profile

Dependence on fossil oil (imported)-driven power generation and accelerating O and M costs marked by the aging power utilities are the key challenges in our power sector. Sri Lanka’s electricity generation is heavily dependent on thermal sources that emit carbon dioxide (CO2).

In 2008, the installed electricity generation capacity was 2,500 Mega Watts (MW). The thermal and hydro power plants generated 1,293 MW and 1,205 MW. Presently, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and bio-mass add insignificant amounts of electricity to the national power supply. As per Table 1, the new thermal and hydro power plants will generate 750MW in 2013.

The construction timeline of a Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) [i.e. Westinghouse APR 1400 reactor/design life 60 years] is around eight years and will cost nearly US$ 5 billion. The technology to build nuclear plants is expensive, but the cost of electricity production is lower than that of thermal power generation.

If we can initiate the construction process of the NPP by 2013, it will add 1,400 MW to the national power supply by 2020. In addition to the thermal, hydro and nuclear power sources, the proposed Sampur coal-fired power utility will add another 1,000 MW. The aforesaid developments in our energy sector are critical to ensure Sri Lanka`s energy security and economic prosperity.

Power demand


Access to electricity in 2009 was 88 percent of the population; 12 percent of households still don’t have access to the power grid. The Sri Lanka Electricity Board is planning to ensure 100 percent coverage by 2015. The National Socio-economic Development Agenda, which is known as the Mahinda Chinthana Development Policy Framework (MCDPF), wishes to establish a Knowledge Intensive Economy.

Sampur cal-fired power plant

Victoria reservoir

The nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, India

Therefore, during the next decade, the electricity demand for power-insensitive industries, service sector and households will grow tremendously.

In relation to the anticipated economic growth, the demand for electricity will increase by eight percent per year. The power needs for the next decade could be forecast in the following manner.

Hence, to maintain a long-term sustainable GDP growth and global competitiveness our power supply mix must be restructured according to the growing demand.

Nuclear based energy mix

The foundation of the proposed Nuclear-Based Energy MIX (NBEM) is nuclear power. Table 3 explains the composition of power sources related to the proposed power supply mix that can meet the national demand by 2020.

A reliable and low-carbon power mix is vital to establish and operate an industrialised economy.

The writer assumes that our hydropower plants can maintain their current generation capacity through a technologically advanced operate and maintenance system.

Moreover, the proposed Sampur coal-fired power plant will generate 1,000MW. And, renewable` (i.e. solar, wind, bio-fuel and municipal solid waste) contribution to the national power supply will be around 500MW.

By 2020, the Nuclear-Based Energy Mix will generate 5,400 MW and will meet the projected demand (5,398MW). Even though our CO2 emitting thermal plants generate 47 percent of power, by expanding hydropower plants, strengthening renewable power sector and introducing clean coal technology, we can reduce carbon emissions and establish an eco-friendly energy sector.

Global nuclear power

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), countries may have different reasons for considering nuclear power to achieve their energy needs such as lack of indigenous energy resources, the desire to reduce dependency upon imported energy, the needs to diversify energy resources and carbon emission mitigation.

Accidents at the reactors in Russia’s Chernobyl and America’s Three Mile Island damaged the credibility of nuclear energy in the last century.

But, geo-politics, economics and global warming re-invited nuclear energy to generate clean and reliable power. Its revival is significant in highly industrialised countries. Presently, there are 440 nuclear reactors in the world and they generate 16 percent of global electricity needs.

The share of electricity generated by reactors in some countries is as follows: France=78 percent, South-Korea=38 percent, Germany=32 percent, Japan=30 percent, USA=20 percent, UK=19 percent, Russia=16 percent, Canada=15 percent, India=3 percent and China=2 percent.

Currently, Asian countries house 109 nuclear reactors and are planning to build more. For instance, China has planned to construct 30 reactors and India is powered by 24 reactors. As of today, India is constructing a massive (4,000 MW) nuclear power plant in Kudankulam.

Security concerns

The spent-fuel of nuclear reactors is classified as High Level Waste (HLW) and hazardous for tens of thousands of years. International Atomic Energy Agency’s safety guidelines ensure the safety of nuclear power generation. Also, modern safety measures for the disposal of HLW and waste recycling are technically proven.

Nuclear wastes can be sealed in corrosion-proof canisters and buried 500 metres under solid rock. Reactors are not atomic bombs.

Modern technologically advanced reactors (i.e. APR 1400- Westinghouse) generate less nuclear wastes and possess auto-shutdown mechanism that protect the plant from earthquakes and technical mishaps. Anyhow, few nations keep more than 15,000 nuclear weapons that can eliminate the entire human race within few minutes. Unfortunately, some souls fail to understand that threat.

Next generation energy-mix

John Rich, President of the World Nuclear Association, once said: “Humankind cannot conceivably achieve a global clean energy revolution without huge expansion of nuclear power”. John McCain, US Presidential Candidate, said, “We are too dependent on foreign oil and we should dramatically increase nuclear energy”. These two statements summarise the energy strategy of the highly developed countries. Hence, Sri Lanka should not miss the bus. Let us establish a “Nuclear-Based Energy Mix” by accommodating renewables and emerge as a rich and highly developed country.


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