Do we need Nuclear Power Stations for Sri Lanka?

Ceylon Today newspaper published on 1st January 2023 reported an interview with the new Russian Ambassador, proposing two new mini nuclear power stations of 55 MW each for Sri Lanka. During his seven weeks of posting in Colombo, three rounds of talks with Sri Lankan authorities have taken place, and is now in the process of arranging a high-level delegation to discuss the matter.

Nuclear technologists claim that nuclear energy as a “Green Energy”. This is correct only during the power production period, but carbon dioxide is emitted during (i) uranium mining and purification, (ii) long years of building the power station with metal and concrete, and (iii) de-commissioning of the power station at the end of its lifetime. In total consideration, nuclear energy is “Not a Green Energy”.

Average nuclear power plant building takes about 5 years to be commissioned and costs ~2-4 billion US Dollars. Mini Nuclear Power stations may cost less, but will be in the same order of magnitude. UK experience with Sellafield nuclear power station with its current de-commissioning shows that the total time taking for decommissioning is at least 30 years due to radio-active surroundings and the cost is running many times than that of commissioning cost. Nuclear waste processing has to continue and at present this is not satisfactory. Authorities who agree to this kind of expensive projects must consider about the decommissioning cost after the lifetime of the power stations. By this time decision makers are out of their offices and the general public at the point of de-commissioning will be left to bear the unbelievably high costs. The life cycle of a nuclear plant starts from the time works starts to build it and ends at the point of de-commissioning, when it reaches the end of its life cycle.  Sadly, those promoting nuclear plants only talk of the setting up costs and the lack of carbon emissions when producing energy, but do not refer to the enormous costs of de-commissioning.

In addition to the un-solved nuclear waste issue, latest three nuclear accidents highlight the dangers of power generation using nuclear fission. Three-mile Island/USA (1979), Chernobyl/Ukraine (1986) and Fukushima/Japan (2011) accidents are the latest but there were three more nuclear incidents prior to these in the USA. Countries like USA, Japan, Ukraine/Russia with highest security couldn’t prevent these nuclear accidents, but it is impossible to establish this kind of high security in Sri Lanka in the current situation. When Fukushima accident happened in 2011 due to a natural disaster (Tsunami), the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel made the decision to close down all 17 nuclear power plants in Germany. This is because, she was a scientist with a PhD in Physics, and she understood the damage it could do to the people in her country. This is a good example for authorities who make major decisions for their countries.

A tropical Sri Lanka is blessed with numerous indigenous and safe energy sources in the country. A technology mix with Hydro, Bio-Mass, Bio-Gas, Solar, Wind, and fossil fuel can easily power Sri Lanka. With a well-planned strategy, renewables can be accelerated and the fossil fuel can be gradually phased-out to solve the energy issue in the country. As with the rest of the world, moving towards electric vehicles, use of petrol and diesel will also be reduced.

Due to all these reasons, Sri Lanka should not consider Nuclear Energy as a suitable power source, since it is likely to create huge security, financial and technical problems in the coming decades. These will be in addition to all the other existing problems affecting the Sri Lankan economy and its social fabric. Therefore, all Sri Lankan professionals who live within and outside the country, and the Sri Lankan general public must urge our authorities to consider all points mentioned above before making further progress.

To download above writeup in English, Sinhala & Tamil languages, please click here.