When I read that Germany closed half their nuclear power plants on 31 December 2021 and the last three of its 17 plants will be shut down on 31December 2022, my interest was aroused and I read up about nuclear energy to enhance the little I knew.
We, in Sri Lanka, are now in for power cuts, already experienced limitedly. When drought prevails and water in the up country catchment areas reduces, the production of hydro electricity is greatly lowered. We then resort to thermal power but at a heavy cost since fossil fuels have to be imported. Coal power plants produce most of our energy but they are carbon producers and so injurious to Earth. With the present economic crunch and non-availability of foreign exchange to import extra amounts of petroleum products, power cuts are a necessary evil.
When Patali Champika Ranawaka was Minister of Energy in the last Government, he proposed that Sri Lanka should go nuclear and a plant be constructed. Addressing the 54th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency held in Vienna he proposed this idea. With change of Government that proposal was aborted.
“Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions to produce electricity. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion reactions. Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear power plants.” (Wikipedia)
We know that physicists were very much engaged with studying radio activity since its first discovery in 1939. Unfortunately its development and use were channeled to warfare since WW II started the same year. The final disastrous result was bringing victorious-in-the-East Japan to its destruction by the use of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the war ended and countries rising up, even defeated Germany and Japan, nuclear power was harnessed for peace time use, mostly to generate electricity.
Nuclear power is said to be a clean energy and is the second largest source of low carbon emission; the first being hydro electricity. Excellent are solar and wind power too. The debate on whether nuclear power is classifiable as a non-renewable source of energy or as a renewable source is still on-going.
It is debatable whether nuclear energy is a renewable source similar to solar and wind power, or non-renewable like fossil fuels coal, gas and petroleum products. It is considered renewable since the material used to generate nuclear power – mainly uranium – is found considerably in the earth and such a very little is used to provide massive amounts of energy. But technically it is a non-renewable source.
I quote once again from the Internet: “Nuclear power reactors do not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions. Unlike fossil fuel-fired power plants, nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or CO2 while operating. However the processes for mining and refining uranium ore and making reactor fuel all require large amounts of energy.”
The huge defect in the use of nuclear power is the danger of reactors producing leaks or other inherent dangers where destruction is so very vast in volume and area covered. We have examples staring us in the face – the Russian plant at Chernobyl leaking in 1986 killing 28 workers and injuring 15 others and affecting many European and Soviet countries. But on the other hand the overheating in the nuclear plant in Fukushima Japan caused no deaths.
According to newspaper columnist Gwynne Dyer, the burning of fossil fuels adding to the carbon ratio in the atmosphere is far worse than the potentiality of a leak of a nuclear plant accident.
However, most persons fear the installation of nuclear power plants as we did when India was to install such on its southern tip. If a vote is taken in Sri Lanka most will vote against nuclear power plant installation, I feel sure. Countries giving up nuclear power generation intend developing renewable resources instead, but that takes time. What we should do, blessed by nature with plenty of rain, is further develop hydro-electricity generation.
I well remember the vast dam built in Inginiyagala under D.S. Senanayake’s Gal Oya project which was multipurpose: prevent annual flood destruction; open up land for cultivation and resettling of people with the construction of the massive wewa – Senanayake Samudra; and generation of hydro-electric power. This last was on a small scale and for localised use. The major hydro-electric power generation was in Norton Bridge. We have walked through the tunnel as it was made to carry water to fall on turbines placed lower down to generate electricity.