President Sirisena during his first official visit since becoming President, entered into a bilateral on nuclear energy with the Sri Lanka’s neighbour India. The bilateral agreement signed on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy 16th February 2015, envisages transfer and exchange of knowledge, expertise as well as capacity building and training of personnel on several areas relating to the use of nuclear energy. These include basic and applied research in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, production and utilisation of radioactive isotopes for use in industry, agriculture and water management, nuclear security, treatment and management of radio wasters as well as the use of radioactive isotopes for health care including nuclear medicine.
The discussions on this cooperation began with India as early as 2012, with three additional bilateral consultations between the two countries held 2014. All activities under this agreement is expected to be in complying to standards and guidelines set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Further, it is expected that the Sri Lankan government will reach out to other countries in it’s use of nuclear as an energy source, and an MOU has already been signed by Sri Lanka with ROSATOM, a Russian state owned atomic energy company while another is said to be ready for signing with Pakistan to establish cooperation for the development of nuclear applications.
New Policies for Nuclear Energy
Using nuclear energy in Sri Lanka will be governed by the Atomic Energy Board (AEB) of Sri Lanka, a statutory body functioning under the Ministry of Power and Energy and established by the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Act No.40 of 2014. Its mandate includes fields that can make a significant contribution to the development of medical, agricultural, industrial, as well as energy and environmental sectors in Sri Lanka.
November 7th, 2014 the law establishing the Atomic Energy Authority (AEA), the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority Act, Number 19 of 1969, was repealed, and the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Act, No.40 of 2014 was adopted. This established two institutions: the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board and the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Regulatory Council. The Act also empowers Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board (AEB) to carry out activities to promote and encourage the use of nuclear science and technology for national development purpose. And the Atomic Energy Regulatory Council is set up for the regulation of practices involving ionizing radiation, the safety and security of sources and the Non- Proliferation of nuclear weapons and the safeguards.
Use of nuclear power is permitted only for beneficial and peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology in health, industry, environment and agriculture, for national development within Sri Lanka.
While nuclear energy is without fossil fuel emissions it has its own demons. One of these being the risk it poses in case of an accident, as well as the question of disposing waste.
The task of ensuring protection from these is allocated to the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Regulatory Council. This includes adequate protection of individuals, society and the environment now and in the future, against the potentially harmful effects of ionizing radiation, for the safety and security of radiation sources. This is to be achieved through the establishment and maintenance of a regulatory control system, including the adoption of standards, licensing system, inspection and enforcement to govern all practices involving ionizing radiation.
Restriction of nuclear power for the use of peaceful and beneficial means ensures that Sri Lanka fulfills its international obligation under international instruments in the field of nuclear energy, including that of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Safeguards Agreements.
No to Nuclear
While nuclear energy is without fossil fuel emissions, incidents of the past such as the Chernobyl disaster is a souvenir that when things go wrong with nuclear energy, they go really wrong. in the Chernobyl incident there were thousands of deaths, with an estimated cost of the consequences of that accident at 350 billion dollars. The accident has further caused permanent contamination of food and water leaving behind consequences that are faced even today. Prior to putting up a nuclear plant it will be necessary to check the protection which is prepared, and the risk assessment of a potential accident, how it would impact the people and country’s environment, as well as how the country has the capacity to address such an issue.
In addition to this, radioactive waste generated through a nuclear plant is also an issue that needs to be addressed. Radioactive waste is highly dangerous, and has impacts such as causing cancer and genetic mutation. This again highlights the need for a clearly planned process of on where this radioactive waste will be dispatched, and what will become of it.
Clean Energy Not Risky Energy
Addressing energy issues can deliver long-term benefits only if they focus on reducing impacts on the environment, and not merely displace humanity’s damaging impacts on the environment. Nuclear energy is still unsafe – for both humans and nature which highlights the great need to address the energy issues based on renewable energy and not nuclear energy.
With the risks that nuclear energy poses, replacing fossil fuel based energy sources with nuclear energy is only a way of replacing one fundamental environmental problem with another. The dangers that result through use of nuclear power is visible from history, which is not too long ago as well from examples such as accidents at Chernobyl, Russia, in 1986 and at Tokaimura, Japan, in 1999.
Invest in Renewable Energy
President Sirisena’s election manifesto speaks of a shift to renewable energy. And the implementing of this policy would be a solution which is long term than the nuclear plants which will be put up in the country.
A shift to nuclear energy can be seen as not the best solution on economic grounds as well, on general terms. Investment in a nuclear plant can divest the money that could be invested in renewable energy which would be a better solution to the energy crisis in the longer term. Nuclear energy provision could add up additional costs as well, which include an opportunity cost that is even bigger than the actual investment, need to maintain large power grid systems, displacement of investment in more efficient small-scale power supply and energy services.
With the risks above highlighted, and the impacts on the economy it is obvious that nuclear power is not the best solution for Sri Lanka to address energy issues which will cut the impacts on global warming. The solution needs to be renewable energy, and investment in that sector with the objective of phasing out on fossil fuel dependency of the world.