Can we be without nuclear power?
Posted on April 14th, 2011

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.

 Justice Weeramantry, Former Vice President, International Court of Justice and President, International Association of Lawyers against nuclear arms has in the name of humanity called for the need to halt the construction of new nuclear reactors, among other suggestions. He has said that the environment is being threatened as never before. He has rightly added: “Failure to take these steps will result in the commission of crimes against future generations and a gross betrayal of the trust which we owe to our children”

 The repeated failure of nuclear plants suffice to convince any sane thinking person that nuclear plants is not the way ahead. We have had many disasters to talk of. Today it is the blasts in Japan which spell radiation disaster. Radiation will spell many diseases that will cause tremendous suffering and in addition, radiation could enter the seas and the soil, bringing in contamination of crops, cattle and milk. The effects are unthinkable. In the wake of the earthquake and the 33 ft. tsunami and the explosions at nuclear plants at Fukushima, people in a radius of 20 Km were evacuated. Earlier, we have had the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 where radio active clouds blew into the atmosphere. Disasters have become frequent. It is not necessary to talk any more than consider the fact that all authorities that plan and establish nuclear plants have so far failed to find how to dispose of the nuclear waste! The authorities concerned are requested to consider solving the riddle of how to get rid of the nuclear waste before proceeding any further. Forcing a poor, highly indebted Third World country to take that waste on condition of payment or for foregoing its foreign debt is not a solution.

 The question that burns in me is as to why we are creating disasters ourselves.

 In connection with the 2004 Tsunami in my research I found a few Papers which mentioned that immediately before the Tsunami, there had been oil explorations in the sea beds adjacent to the areas in the Indonesian seas where the Tsunami struck. The Governments in their bid to find oil had given tax concessions to multinational companies that drilled the seas for oil and it could be that the depth charges used caused the tectonic plates to move.

 In the case of nuclear plants we are actually acting in the dark ourselves in our attempt to get at cheaper sources of power.

 The sources of power is something that I can speak about.

 Wind Power

Coming from a country that was prone to power cuts I did a study of wind power utilization and have been an ardent advocate. My Papers include:

“The Energy Problem of Sri Lanka” in my book How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka,”¦ (Godages)2006

“Candle in the Wind,” in LMD, May 2002

“Pay the Wind in Dollars” in The Island, October 2007

“Wind Power: The Solution for South Asia’s Energy Crisis” in Asian Tribune,17/12/2007

“The Wind Turbines of Spain, France and Portugal’ in Lanka Web, August 25, 2009

 My interest was due to the suffering I underwent in power cuts in Sri Lanka and also in my travels in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

 I was actually stunned when I first saw the five thousand wind turbines at Altamont Pass in California jn action. Actually I gazed at them for a while unable to fathom why Third World countries have failed to copy. I have been at a later date amazed to see the manner in which wind power has been harnessed by Portugal and Spain. In fact when I crossed the Pyrenees by road from Spain to France I saw pylons crossing into France and investigating into it I found that Spain provides power to France earning valuable foreign exchange.

 What I have also been struck with is the fact that the wind power at Altamont Pass in California and in every site I saw in Spain and Portugal where the wind has been used to get not hundreds, but thousands of turbines moving is far low in velocity than a dozen or more sites known to me in Sri Lanka. The velocity of the wind in all those places is far less than at Madugoda on the Mahiyangana- Kandy Road, at the Ramboda Pass, at Ohiya, where when I stayed at the Forest Department Circuit Bungalow, I was worried that my car would be blown away. These are only a few of the places where I can vouch for the fact that there is ample wind power to provide all the power that Sri Lanka requires. I can make this statement without any reservation because I have worked in the Nuwara Eliya, Kegalla, Ratnapura and Kandy Districts, with frequent travel by road and have been struck with the velocity at which the wind blows. On many occasions I have had to drive hogging the wrong side of the road on hair pin bends, even getting onto the drain in order to avoid being blown off. Many vehicles have actually been blown off the road in our hill country.

 The wind power in the hills is far more than the wind power on the coastal belt in any country. The wind power at Hambantota where we have established a few wind turbines is only 5 miles per hour. A velocity of 15 mph is classified as good. This can be compared to some 30 to 50 miles per hour velocity in the hilly areas and at Hyde in North Dakota the turbines are fitted with an automatic device to shut down at a wind velocity of 56 mph. In my endless travels in the USA, Canada, Portugal and Spain, I have never seen any wind turbines on the coast at sea level or near sea level. In Portugal I have seen wind turbines on hillocks by the coast, not at sea level.

 Another important factor is the cost. In the USA, the cost of wind power is established at around 5 to 7 cents per kwh. This is equal to Rs. 6.00 to Rs 8.00 per kwh. It is found that Sri Lanka pays far more- even as much as Rs. 25.00 to thermal suppliers. When one considers that the cost of construction in the USA is far more than in Sri Lanka it should be possible to get wind power at less than Rs. 8.00 per kwh.

 It is my opinion that Sri Lanka’s attempt to build up wind turbines at the sea level at Hambantota and now in the Puttlam area is actually sabotage. Perhaps I happened to be the only person who has been talking of sabotage taking place in the planning and implementation of development programmes. The recent publication of “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins proves that there have been attempts by multinationals who work with the approval of the Developed Countries to force countries to accept Aid Packages that have been drafted using false statistics, to make the Aid go back to the donor country while leaving the country indebted to that extent. There is a concerted attempt by Western Developed Countries and their protƒÆ’†’©gƒÆ’†’© the IMF to subjugate our countries. In the old days they used force of arms to conquer; now they use other methods of making countries indebted to subjugate them.

 Many are interested in the spin offs that can accrue from large Thermal Plants. In the case of wind turbines it is basic workmanship which leaves little occasion for spin offs. Wind turbines are simple in construction- there is a massive concrete foundation, a pillar of concrete or even a pylon made with angle iron(found in Portugal), with the blades- made of fibre glass and the turbine motor. The cost is far cheaper and more feasible than obtaining power from Thermal Plant but the Thermal Lobby is strong. It has also been established that many people can be found employment as masons in the construction of foundations and the pillars, welders and fibre glass workers in making the turbine wings. While touring Spain I came across many vehicles transporting turbine wings. It is only the motor that has to be imported. It means employment for thousands. It also means that we do not need oil or coal to create power, which means saving foreign exchange.

 Many think that the construction of the wind turbines is a difficult task. The turbines I have seen perched at various vantage positions in Spain and Portugal belittles this statement. With my experience of building large storage facilities and of many structures, including bridges and irrigation structures, I can make a definite statement that wind turbines can be erected in our hill country. Our engineers have done far more difficult tasks.

If only we follow the USA, Spain and Portugal in investing in wind turbines we will be able to supply power to India within two to three years. But today there are plans afoot to lay an underwater cable to get power from South India. I can make a firm statement that setting up a few hundred wind turbines is an easier, cheaper and a quicker task that laying that underwater cable to India.

 I am fairly certain that in the case of power, the use of wind power and solar power is held up, shown to be uneconomical and unworkable by those that are interested in ensuring that our country will continue to import oil and coal. That is a big lobby led by the IMF- to make all our countries indebted and this they do by giving us the wrong advice. It has been established that many countries have been made indebted by he policies of the IMF. For details see my book:How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka,”¦ (Godages)2006

 Solar Power

 While it is an established fact that solar cells and panels can be successfully manufactured, and the prevalence of sunlight is undoubted, what holds up the use of solar power is the high cost of solar cells.

 The manufacture of solar cells is entirely in the hands of the Private Sector. Research is conducted in various universities and the successful findings are fed to various companies that follow them up and obtain patents. Once patents are obtained no one else can engage in their manufacture. The patent holder or the manufacturer keeps a fantastic profit margin.

 I am certain that if solar panels are available at a reasonable price, it can be effectively used to obtain energy. Already acres and acres of solar panels are common sights in countries like Spain and the United States. Thus the feasibility of producing energy from solar cells has been proved.

 What is needed is the manufacture of solar cells and panels by a non- profit organization. Universities in every country is the home of research and it would behove if research in solar cell manufacture is entrusted to one of our Universities. Once the research is successful patents should be obtained and the manufacture of solar panels for sale should be entrusted to a non-profit making institute- like a community cooperative or a State sponsored institute attached to a University.

 It is a sad fact that monetary gain is holding up development today. Patents for the manufacture of various products are held by companies that control the manufacture. However, the manufacturers with their motive being profit, a fanciful margin of profit is kept. It is this process of subjecting development tasks to making a massive profit that is holding up the use of solar power to provide energy. In case a non-profit making concern conducts research, finalizes a model that can be manufactured at a reasonable cost, then the model can be marketed at a reasonable price.

 Development should not be held to ransom. The need for sources of energy is paramount. It is due to the fact that easy sources to get power and energy are not available that countries resort to getting nuclear power. If solar cells and solar panels are available at a reasonable price we could do away with nuclear power altogether and therein lies the necessity for some personage to take the initiative to get research cracking on solar cells.

 It would behove of President Rajapaksa to take the bull by the horns and to set up a non profit organization to conduct research into making solar cells. This could also be a task for our University at Katubedda. This will enable the making of solar cells at a reasonable price.. This will a great contribution to many countries.

 Currently the Ministry of Higher Education is hoping to bring up our Universities to international standard. What more than to get our University at Katubedda and another University to concentrate on solar energy. These Universities will shoot up to get a place within the first ten universities in the world.

Garvin Karunaratne

14 th April 2011

 It is my contention that wind power and solar power can be harnessed for the full needs of all countries and this could call a halt to nuclear expansion. If only we can research and produce solar panels cheap we will be making a great contribution to the world

3 Responses to “Can we be without nuclear power?”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    Good article by Gavin as usual. If some one is promoting nuclear power in Lanka, that person may be after some kick backs such as commission, Tours or what ever and is prepared to sacrifice future generations. Sri Lanka has sand, (Silica) which is the raw material for silicon based PV cells. It is now exported to Japan. Joint ventures could be formed to manufacture PV cells in Lanka. Wind and hydro are other sources of energy as well. Bio fuel is also a useful source of energy. The potential is enormous if GOSL organise a system to deal with energy requirements.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Lankans and others in the tropical belt have been using Solar energy quite naturally for eons, in drying of food, laundered clothes, etc. etc. Now we need to harness solar energy and keep it stored in batteries. Highly efficient batteries need to be developed too, and that is yet another field to explore.

  3. De Costa Says:

    Australians are digging out the aborigini’s land and selling Uranium to rouge country India. They are diggning everywhere. Arabs are drawing out billion tons of oil. Some idiots are drilling miles into crust and sucking gas out. BP has done the same drilling in ocean.
    They are killing mother erath. Mother earth will not die easily. She will take revange.
    Obviously these action will have reations and we are seeing it right now!

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