Nuclear Energy To Meet Future Demands In Sri Lanka Engineering Essay

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1. One of the key elements in the development process of a country is efficiency in production of electricity by effective energy platforms, which can suit to present context locally and internationally. In this scenario, energy production has become one of the key issues in Sri Lanka more than ever now, as Sri Lanka was able to eradicate terrorism setting a very good foundation for an accelerated development. At present Sri Lanka uses hydro and fossil fuel as the main power generating platforms and biomass and wind power in a limited capacity. Although the government is in the process of establishing coal power plants, scientists have indicated the negative environmental effects by the same.

2. The hydro and thermal power-generating systems are frequently affected by variations in weather patterns and prices of crude oil respectively. The increasing oil prices have severe consequences on the cost of production of exports of Sri Lanka thus affecting competition in the international market. Further, investors are hesitant to invest in Sri Lankan economy due to the high cost of electricity. Apart from that, higher electricity prices contribute to increase the cost of living of the people in Sri Lanka.

3. In this context, this paper will analyse the importance of nuclear energy as a low cost, environment friendly and an effective means of producing electricity to meet an ever-increasing energy demand in Sri Lanka. In order to establish a firm basis for this paper, the author has consulted the relevant authorities of Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) and Sri Lanka Electricity Board (SLEB).


4. The aim of this paper is to examine the potentials of use of nuclear energy to meet future demands in Sri Lanka.


5. Discovery of radioactive elements such as radium in the early 20th century and the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932 were milestones in the development of nuclear science. The works of Frederic, Irene Joliot-Curie and Enrico Fermi during the 1930s led to an increase in the effective use of radioactivity. The discovery of nuclear fission in late 1930s by a number of German and Austrian scientists pave the way for further development in nuclear science. Many scientists in countries like the United States of America (USA), Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), United Kingdom (UK), France, and Germany requested support from their respective governments for nuclear fission research, on the eve of World War II. [1] 

6. In 1942, the first man-made reactor, known as Chicago pile-1 was established and the Manhattan project of USA led to create world's first nuclear weapon which was used in HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI in Japan. [2] After World War II, scientists of USA and USSR had acquired and developed new nuclear technologies, which released waste heat that could be used for production of electricity. Thus, the feasibility of using nuclear energy for civilian purposes became more pragmatic. However, the damaging factor was that nuclear reactors also produced plutonium, which can be used for nuclear weapons.

7. Developments in nuclear science were rapidly carried out in countries like the USA, USSR, UK, and Canada over the period of late 1940s and early 1950s. History was created when electricity was generated for the first time by a nuclear reactor at the EBR-1 experimental station in USA on 20 December 1951. This station initially produced 100 Kilowatt(KW) of electricity. In 1953 then USA president Dwight Eisenhower highlighted the need to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy by his famous "Atoms for Peace" speech at the United Nations. In 1954, USSR's Obninsk nuclear power plant became the world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid. Then in 1956, Calder Hall nuclear power plant in UK became the world's first commercial nuclear power station with an initial capacity of 50 Megawatt(MW). USA opened her first commercial nuclear power plant in 1957 in Shippingport, PENNSYLVANIA, USA. [3] 

8. The nuclear capability of nuclear power plants increased dramatically from one Gigawatt (GW) in 1960s to 100 GW in late 1970s and 300 GW in late 1980s. Nevertheless, since late 1980s the rapid development was slowed down mostly due to nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl in USSR in 1986 and due to the pressure created by anti-nuclear power groups on national governments. However, due to the increasing oil prices and environment pollution by oil electric generation plants, the importance of nuclear power to meet the large energy demand was highlighted in many counties to keep the tempo of the development process.


9. A nuclear power plant creates power from the energy released by the nucleus of an atom via nuclear fission. This fission divides the atom to nuclei with kinetic energy and releases gamma radiation and free neutrons. The ingredient for a nuclear power is uranium (U-235), which is a relatively common element on earth. After the uranium is mined, the first step is to enrich it using various techniques to a condition, commonly known as "Yellowcake" which can be used as nuclear fuel. [4] The above-mentioned nuclear chain reaction is controlled automatically or manually as this system causes more and more fission. A cooling system controls the heat from the reactor and the thermal energy is used to produce electricity. Then this fuel is delivered to nuclear plant and after usage and spent fuel is delivered to a reprocessing plant. [5] 


10. As the centre of gravity of world's economy is shifting towards Asia, a boom of nuclear energy can be clearly identified as presently 112 nuclear power reactors are operating in six counties of the Asian region and 37 units are under construction. A significant growth of nuclear power plants can be identified in China, Japan, India and in South Korea. In China, a "nuclear park" is under construction with an expenditure of over US $ 175 billion in 130 Km2 as Chinese electricity demand has been growing at more than eight percent per year. At present in China, 27 nuclear power plants are under construction and 120 plants are planned over the next 20 years.

11. Meanwhile, India has signed several civilian nuclear power agreements with USA, UK and France to develop 30 nuclear plants within the next 20 years. At present, seven nuclear plants are being constructed and three of them are situated close to Sri Lanka in South India. Pakistan too has two nuclear plants in operation and one is under construction. The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission has signed agreements with Russia to obtain two 1000 MW nuclear plants by year 2020. At present Bangladesh has one operating research reactor. Further, Indonesia and Thailand have finalized their feasibility studies on development of nuclear energy. Singapore, which opposed the concept of nuclear energy for a long time, is now in the process of developing infrastructure for a nuclear plant. [6] 

12. One of the most interesting indications on the interest in nuclear power comes from none other than oil rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and United Arab Emirates (UAE) as they have identified the importance of nuclear power, which leads many applications. In addition, developed counties such as UK, USA, Russia, Japan and Finland have strengthened their nuclear plants with modern technologies. Meanwhile, Italy has reactivated its nuclear power plant, which was decommissioned after the nuclear accident in CHERNOBYL in Russia.


13. Sri Lanka's main energy sources consist of hydro and fossil fuel while other power sources like wind, biomass and minor hydro projects contribute, in a lesser degree, to the national power system. Following chart shows the generating capacities (MW) of power sources in Sri Lanka from 2003 to 2009 [7] :

Power Sources
































Total grid capacity








14. As Sri Lanka is blessed with number of rivers that starting from the central region, several dams have been built since independence to generate hydroelectric power. Hydroelectricity contributes nearly 45 percent of the total power capacity of Sri Lanka. Dams such as Victoria, Kotmale, Rantembe, Randenigala, Samanalwewa, Bowatenna and Uda Walawa are the lifelines of production of hydroelectric power in Sri Lanka. Currently Moragahakanda and Upper Kotmale dams are under construction. Further to these, cabinet has approved the hydroelectric power project in Broadlands area, which is situated near the area where Kehelgamu Oya and Maskeli Oya meet. Theses hydroelectric power stations are expected to provide 38 MW to 210 MW to the national grid. However, due to exhaustion of water resources, Sri Lanka finds it difficult to develop an extensive hydroelectric power capacity. [8] 

15. Thermal power stations generate the greater part of the power requirement of Sri Lanka, which is 48 percent of the total power generation. Thermal power stations utilise diesel, gas or other fuel to operate. Kerawalapitiya, Kelanitissa, Hela Danavi and Colombo port power stations can be mentioned as examples. As the demand for power increases eight percent each year Sri Lanka is in the process of introducing coal power to the national grid by constructing coal power plants at NOROCHCHOLI and SAMPOOR, with a total capacity of 1,900 MW.

16. Apart from above mentioned power-generating sources, a wind power plants have been constructed in the HAMBANTOTA and PUTTLAM area with a capacity of 5 MW. The development of wind power stations in Sri Lanka has become difficult due to poor accessibility to potential areas and due to the infrastructure is not suitable to transport the large equipment needed for wind plants. Also, high costs of development of these plants in the initial stage have made them uneconomical to the government.


17. Sri Lanka depends heavily on hydroelectricity and on thermal power for the generation of power. As hydroelectricity and thermal power are based on constant rainfall and crude oil prices respectively generation and supply of electricity at an economical price for consumers has become a major problem. At present, the most prominent government organizations in the energy sector in Sri Lanka, the SLEB and Sri Lanka Petroleum Corporation (SLPC) are running at a large loss. Sri Lanka spends nearly Rs. 160 million on fossil fuel for power generation daily and one-third of the combined export earnings of the past years was spent on the import of crude oil even when the price of a crude oil was below U S $70 a barrel. The movement of oil and oil prices will continue to be unpredictable and mostly sensitive to the political environment in oil producing counties, mainly in the Middle East. Since Sri Lanka does not have any proven indigenous fossil fuel resources, the price of electricity will always be a dependent variable according to changes in oil prices in the world and therefore affected directly and adversely.

18. In the years 1995 and 1996, Sri Lanka experienced its worst ever energy crisis due to the drought. Power cuts were imposed ranging from five to ten hours each day, which highlighted the vulnerability of dependence on hydroelectricity power. Also it is very unpredictable mostly due to the changing weather patterns in the context of climate change in the world. Further, Sri Lanka has reached its peak in the production of hydroelectric power as most of the water resources are being utilized.

19. At present, Sri Lanka has focused its attention on the use of coal as a method of power generation, since coal is relatively cheap in price and due to the greater availability of coal in the world compared to oil. However, the main constraints on coal power generation is the adverse effect on the environment as it generates carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that causes climate and global warming according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the air and it causes acid rains, lung cancer and dust nuisance. Since Sri Lanka has a limited geographical area, the paddy lands and great number of irrigation tanks of the North and North Central provinces may effected by fall of acid rain and could play havoc with the rice crop and quality of water. [9] 


20. Sri Lanka has recognized the importance of having a proper mix of energy generating platforms in order to maintain energy security as a condition for a rapid development. Therefore, Sri Lanka has taken steps to incorporate nuclear power in the country's energy mix. In order to visualize the nuclear power generation in Sri Lanka, the Power and Energy Ministry has empowered AEA of Sri Lanka to take necessary measures to enhance the human resources development in the field of nuclear power.

21. An important exploration for uranium was carried out in 1979 with the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) except the area in Jaffna peninsula and North West. Nearly 870 samples of soil were analyzed for uranium and results indicated that four area such as Rakwana, Mahaweli-Maha Oya-Kalminai, Arugam and Kala Oya as potential areas for uranium mineralization. As this project was not followed up due to security reasons prevailing at that time, AEA now hopes to engage in further research. Moreover, the availability of thorium in the beach sands in Sri Lanka has been known since 1900 and monazite, which is the main source of the radioactive metallic element thorium have been found in heavy mineral sands at PULMODDAI and much higher concentration are located along the beaches from PANADURA to BERUWELA. Thorium can be used as nuclear fuel through breeding to fissile uranium, and thorium is used in fast breeder nuclear reactors.

22. Recently India has established the "world's first safe nuclear reactor" in its revolutionary design of "Thorium Breeder Reactor" which can produce 600 MW of electricity for two years with no refilling and practically no control manoeuvers and it is claimed that this reactor is far more economical and safer than any power reactor in the world.

Advantages of nuclear power

23. Following advantages can be obtained from nuclear power.

a. Nuclear reaction generates a much higher volume of power than other power generation platforms.

b. One of the biggest advantages of nuclear power is that nuclear reaction does not produce greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane, and chlorofluorocarbon(CFC).

c. Nuclear power plants use uranium as the fuel and fission reaction of a small amount of uranium generates a large amount of energy.

d. Nuclear fuel is inexpensive and easy to transport and a single nuclear power plant can produce a large amount of power.

Disadvantages of nuclear power

24. Following are the disadvantages of nuclear power:

a. Nuclear power plant requires a large capital and 10-15 years are taken to build a single power plant.

b. Radioactive waste after fission is very dangerous to the environment and it remains so for thousands of years. These nuclear wastes needs professional handling and should be kept isolated from the environment.

c. Although modern nuclear power plants have a very sophisticated structure, still there is a possibility for accidents to happen. The consequence of an accident will be devastating for human beings and nature.

d. Nuclear power plants can be good targets for terrorist attacks and such attacks will have catastrophic effects.


25. A developing county like Sri Lanka requires sound energy platforms with a balanced energy mix, as energy security is vital for the growth of the economy. Dependence on hydroelectricity and fossil fuel power has shown its limitations as these power sources are very vulnerable to factors such as weather and oil prices respectively and since Sri Lanka has signed the Kyoto protocol to take steps in order to stop emission of greenhouse gases it is not suitable to introduce coal power plants as a long term measure to meet Sri Lanka's growing energy demands.

26. Nuclear power as an economic source of energy has been introduced to the world since late 1940s, and the rapid development of nuclear technology in USA and former USSR helped to establish commercial nuclear power plants in the world as the generating capacities of these nuclear plants grew very rapidly over the years. Although, nuclear technology was limited to the developed counties at the beginning, as the economic equilibrium shifted to the Asian region with the rapid development, Asian counties have focused their attention on analysing the capabilities of nuclear power. China and India are the foremost counties in this regard and many have followed.

27. As Sri Lankas' power generating platform is largely based on fossil fuel, a large expenditure has to be borne by the nation to import crude oil which is a very limited resource in the world. As a result, the government is compelled to sell electricity to consumers at a much lower price than the actual generating cost of electricity as the production price is not affordable by the average citizen of Sri Lanka. Further, it is important to mention that Sri Lanka's use of water resources to generate electricity has reached its peak being used to its maximum capacity.

28. Past explorations have indicated that Sri Lanka has thorium deposits in the beach sands in PULMODDAI area and monazite, which is the main source of the radioactive metallic element thorium on the beaches between PANADURA and the BERUWELA areas. Thorium is being utilized in fast breeder nuclear reactors very effectively. As Sri Lanka was able to eradicate the terrorism, we have an excellent opportunity to explore Northern and Eastern areas for thorium deposits. In order to study the feasibility of nuclear power in Sri Lanka, president has appointed a steering committee and Power and Energy ministry has empowered the AEA to take necessary measures to enhance the human resources development in the field of nuclear power.


29. It is recommended that:

a. To launch awareness programmes on nuclear power and its potentials with the public through AEA.

b. Explore for thorium and other related minerals which can be used in nuclear power plants.

c. To develop human resources in the field of nuclear science in the framework of national universities.

d. To be obtain assistant from friendly foreign states with nuclear technology to develop knowledge of nuclear science knowledge in the national universities.

e. To implement national policy on establishment of nuclear plants in Sri Lanka and to pursue with the current vision on obtaining nuclear capability within 20 years.



Student Officer