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Nuclear power generation to combat oil price hikes


Sri Lanka might be forced to adopt more costly power generation alternatives such as nuclear power generation in order to combat the recent escalation of prices in oil, coal, gas and other energy resources according to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

Accordingly, the CEB is in the process of establishing a Nuclear Power Generation Study Project in order to host a series of discussions on the development of Nuclear Power to meet the energy needs in Sri Lanka with the participation of Sri Lankan experts in the fields of medical science, atomic energy, nuclear engineering, power generation, economics, environment preservation and disaster management. Although experts agree that a dialogue would be a good starting point, they also caution on the costs and dangers of implementing a nuclear energy programme.

Asoka Abeygunawardena, the Executive Director of the Energy Forum, a non governmental organization, told The Sunday Times FT that even though the CEB is only planning on exploring the possibilities of a nuclear power project, actual implementation of such a project will take at least ten to fifteen years. "It won't happen in the short term," he said. Previously, a nuclear energy project was also considered but there was not enough energy demand. Over the past 20 years or so, Abeygunawardena explained that demand has increased and there is potential that Sri Lanka has some of the raw materials needed for such a project such as thorium, a chemical element that is widely considered to be an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium.

Worldwide, Abeygunawardena said that the belief that nuclear energy is the future in catering to global energy requirements has somewhat lessened due to some social concerns and the potential for accidents. He also said the economics of nuclear energy is quite confusing but that some countries such as France are going ahead because they feel it is financially sound.

Energy expert Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya is supporting the CEB initiative in starting a dialogue on the potential and feasibility of a nuclear energy programme. On the plus side, Siyambalapitiya said a nuclear power generation programme can help stabilise energy costs and can be cheap in the long term in helping to manage energy prices. Sri Lanka is currently importing all its energy needs.
He also cautioned that as a small country, there is limited land space so location might prove to be a contentious issue. Siyambalapitiya also said it is a large investment and that raising finance could be difficult.

He said that although safety levels are high, in case of an accident, the clean up and health care costs will be enormous, several times the GDP of Sri Lanka. He added that most countries have taken about twenty years to develop their nuclear energy programmes but that the dialogue is a good starting point. Siyambalapitiya also suggested that it would be advantageous for Sri Lanka to tie up with a major nuclear power such as India if it does develop a programmes, adding that India would probably be interested given the fact that although developed for peaceful purposes, nuclear programmes also have defense related and other purposes.

The CEB proposal states that the escalations in the costs have resulted in a sharp increase in the cost of energy needed for economic activity and development. Furthermore, the CEB states that power generation alternatives may be adopted due to the further depletion of hydro resources in the country and intervening dry periods affecting hydro generation.

The CEB states that even at present, more than 60 percent of electricity in Sri Lanka is derived from oil and other thermal sources releasing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Further, the CEB states that the high cost of oil imports has burdened the national economy and the escalation of energy prices has adversely affected many energy intensive industries and production processes with a sharp impact on the economies.

Due to increasing dependence on thermal energy while the cost of fuel imports is sharply rising, it is observed that the cost of energy critically needed for economic activity in Sri Lanka is becoming a significant proportion of costs needed for other resources giving an adverse impact on the national economy.

By Natasha Gunaratne

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