Dark side of energy picture in Sri Lanka
As one who served the Ministry of Power and Energy for over a decade, and handled projects and generation plans prepared by the Ceylon Electricity Board [CEB], I was attracted to a feature article by R. M. Amerasinghe, Engr., who has stated in the above captioned letter, referring to rural electrification ‘the energy sector should be congratulated on achieving 100% electrification in Sri Lanka which is a remarkable achievement’. I handled this project from its beginning, and it should be said it was the initiative of late President D. B. Wijetunga as Minister of Power and Energy, in 1980, who seeing the funds allocated in the annual estimates to provide electricity to rural areas was insufficient, requested the then Secretary to the Ministry, Prof. K. K. Y. W. Perera, to seek foreign funding.
He contacted the Asian Development Bank [ADB], which readily agreed, placing a condition that only villages that are profitable be undertaken. The CEB went into action by carrying out an extensive survey to identify such villages. The personal interest taken by Engineer Maxi Tissera to expedite work must be noted. This attracted politicians, and they insisted on being consulted, and provided funds from their Decentralised Budget to undertake work on villages, which were not considered profitable as required by ADB. Credit must definitely go to the late President and Minister of Power and Energy, for he had the heart to serve the rural folk. I should also qualify my statement when I say that he had the heart for the village folk, as he gave priority to improvements to minor roads when the Ministry of Highways was once under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Highways. Incidentally, it will be interesting to know how many have availed themselves of this facility, even though the CEB had granted some concessions in the way of low tariff and installment payment in giving connections.
R .M. Amerasinghe, while touching on various aspects on the energy sector, the key message he gives to policy-makers is ‘wood energy in energy mix in our country in order to make…..environment friendly’, and blames the 1 Mw solar power plant installation, the solar power farm land required should be around four acres when using crystalline technology. When using thin-film technology a 1 Mw will require an average of 4.5 to 5 acres of land. In other terms, for each Kw of solar panels, 100 square feet of an area is on average the government has a lack of focus on biomass energy due to the need of heavy focus on fuel for development of the country. He also accuses the government of its inability to provide low-cost technology support.
As for biomass, it was reported a pilot project was started at Walapone, near Nuwara-Eliya, and had to be closed down due to difficulties in collecting material from distant villages and the cost factor. On the other hand, by clearing large extents of land to plant whatever, other quick yielding variety, will endanger the indigenous vegetation and eventually be extinct. It was recently reported a Buddhist monk had stopped such a tree from being felled.
Now coming to Solar energy, the same applies in finding large amounts of land to set up Solar plants. Browsing the Internet, I came across the following information regarding land requirement “When calculating the land size needed for solar plant installation, we must look at the things that will consume space in the facility. The two main items that consume space here are the solar panels and the structure components. From these two, one can make a reasonable estimate of the area needed. For example, for 1 Mw solar power installation, the solar farm land requirements should be around 4 acres when using crystalline technology. When using thin-film technology, a 1 Mw plant will require an average of 4.5 to 5 acres of land. In other terms, each 1kW of solar panels, 100 sq. feet of an area on average “
Can a small country like ours, with a land area of 65.610 km2 and a population of 21 million and ever increasing, allow such a large extent of land, is a matter to be given serious thought by those concerned?
Some suggest floating solar panels over hydro reservoirs, and the benefit is that evaporation will be curtailed, thus saving water. Those who recommend this measure seem to forget the damage caused to aquatic life, both plants and fish. Could it also affect the rainfall patterns and inland freshwater fishing?
These are random thoughts which come to my mind and it is left for those more qualified and interested to ponder and find solutions.
G. A. D. SIRIMAL
Winning hearts and minds of community
‘Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Community’
Author: Dr. Kingsley Wickremasuriya
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – (Retired)
by Major-General (Retd) Lalin Fernando
This is an interesting memoir of a police officer who having served in the Volunteer force may have done equally well, in either the army or the police. He chose the police and was an exemplary if reserved senior. This is not an action-packed adventure book of daredevils or roller coaster recollections of the sharp end of police life but more about human relations with the public. Sadly and regrettably, he states that he was deprived of the highest command by the frailties of politicians. The choice of the politicians was a travesty, abnormal but not unusual. In this case, the chosen person, mentioned in the book had deserted the police years before and left the country when posted to Jaffna but had the audacity to claim political victimisation years later when the government changed. A silly claim, stupidly upheld. A chapter on political interference would not be out of place.
The book would have been much more interesting and relevant if it had recorded the terrible events of that time from the JVP terror and atrocities (1971 and 1988-9) to the murderous Eelam conflict.Here was a police officer whose mission appears to have been to build up public relations as practiced elsewhere in a terrorist setting as in Jaffna and later Batticaloa by setting up “Community Oriented Policing Programmes” to bring about law and order and harmony when relationships were under heavy strain.
This is pleasant, well-written, and easy to read. It shows in equal measure both the vicissitudes and skullduggery of the worst and best of humanity during his service in the police. It is an honest, moving, and personal insight into an eventful career with defining moments that affected the lives of many. It was a life of tackling not only lawbreakers but careerists among his own ilk while having to bear, not exceptionally, the burden of interference by power-mad, smooth-talking, corrupt politicians, their slights, and machinations. It finally ended his career prematurely.
It has fascinating tales that are humane, enlightening, and informative. It is a studious book by a prolific writer. It is a compelling story with a lively and not-too-subtle style of writing, with considerable research material included. It is close to real life, relaxing, entertaining and not too heavy. It should be made available in Sinhala and Tamil, not only in the Police Training School and Academy, police stations, zones, districts and divisions but in the reading lists of schools.
His was also an attempt as by many others to change the mentality of the police from a colonial to a national one. Colonial police would use firearms freely. National police should not. A Colony would use the army to buttress the police. A national army should only be used as a very last resort. The police are a country’s first line of defence. For this to be workable, SL’s police force should first be made independent of politicians by law as reasonably possible. A greater strength (presently nearly 75,000), higher pay, better equipment and facilities, imposing office buildings, good accommodation, improved communications, reliable transport including access to helicopters and high standards in recruitment are essential under knowledgeable leaders whose integrity is impregnable.
The book is also heartwarming, sad and at the end, maddening. It is opportune too as the author’s life work to keep the peace is falling to pieces thanks to the incorrigible, venal, mainly poorly educated and therefore easily misled and misleading, utterly corrupt and cowardly politicians the people have bred for their own selfish, cruel, greedy and bullying interests. They portray the police as aliens. The people must realise that the police reflect society and never the other way around. They will then accept their own faults, just as the police would wish to do whatever correct thinking people want them to do. If spectators rush onto the field of play to question the referee bringing the match to a halt, the police if in attendance do not arrest the referee. They disperse the mob.
It is only the police that prevented total anarchy in the country last year (2022) as those who promoted it well know. This book should be a clarion call to the police to lift themselves up by their jock straps. They, possibly one of the first (1866) if not finest police forces in the region have so far kept the country far safer than many others as even their worst critics must admit. This is despite carping criticism by those who are no better or worse than the police. There is no dearth of respected, tough-minded, well-disciplined, and fearless police officers as good leaders at all levels. They have proved themselves as fearless guardians of the law, especially when all others have failed. Thanks are due to the standards set by senior police officers, like the author and others he identifies in his book, who was affectionately known to older generations.
Plan for setting up nuclear power plants in SL
An open letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe
Recent articles in the local press have publicised the government plans for introduction of nuclear power plants to Sri Lanka with Russian support. A similar decision was taken way back in 2010, by the then President to bring nuclear power plants to Sri Lanka from South Korea. At the time, the APSL-UK responded to both GOSL and the IAEA Geneva, showing the unsuitability of installing nuclear power in Sri Lanka. This letter is a follow up to that communication from the APSL-UK highlighting the scientific, economic, and social reasons why nuclear power plants are not suitable for Sri Lanka.
(1) Is Nuclear Energy Clean or Renewable?
Nuclear technologists claim 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. It also produces radio-active waste product which requires careful management over thousands of years. Therefore, in total consideration, nuclear energy is “Not a Green Energy”. Definitely it is not also a “Renewable Energy Source” like Solar, Wind and biofuel.
(2) Can Sri Lanka Afford Nuclear Plants?
Building an average nuclear power plant takes about 5-8 years and costs ~2-5 billion US dollars. Mini nuclear power stations may cost less but will be in the same order of magnitude.
In 2022, Sri Lanka was unable to pay back debt that fell due; which resulted in the country being declared bankrupt and the economy contracted by 9.3%. The country has to pay back between 5 – 6 billion dollars each year from 2023 to 2029/30. But so far, the govt has taken no steps to increase the country’s income. Taking on more loans is not in the best interest of the country. Given the public perception of corruption in the country, there is strong reason to believe that this proposal is motivated by the personal benefits that may be accrued by advisors, promoters, politicians and bureaucrats who have their own “selfish” agendas
The UK’s experience with Sellafield nuclear power plant during its current decommissioning shows that this process will take at least 30 years due to the clean-up of the radio-active surroundings; resulting in the cost of decommissioning running many times than that of the original commissioning cost. Therefore, nuclear waste processing will have to continue beyond the lifetime of the plant; but Sri Lanka has no facilities nor the know-how to carry this out.
This is a long-term plan at best unless we want to further increase the country’s external dependence. The country’s energy requirement is urgent and immediate. This can be achieved easily by developing the country’s renewable energy potential. Millions of jobs could be created at the same time. Our leaders have committed to UN climate treaties to
increase the renewable energy contribution (including hydro) by 70% by 2030, and by 100% by 2050. Nuclear is not even mentioned in these UN treaties.
We understand from the local press that Russia has promised to take back the nuclear waste. If accepted, this will embroil Sri Lanka in Russia’s geo-politics and compromise the country’s neutrality/nonaligned status. This is not advisable for Sri Lanka.
What would happen if Russia refuses to take our nuclear waste? In the case that Russia refuses to take back this waste, Sri Lanka will be in a catastrophic position. The life cycle of a nuclear plant starts when building work starts and ends after decommissioning has been completed. 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 decommissioning. The Sri Lankan economy is too small to invest billions of dollars towards nuclear power plants.
(3) Do we have the required infra-structure and human capacity?
Building and running nuclear plants in Sri Lanka requires high level infrastructure and the human capacity. Unfortunately, we do not have any of these at present. Sri Lankan society has trained a hand full of academics at PhD level in nuclear energy. Their duty should be to educate the leaders and the masses showing advantages and disadvantages of this technology for capacity building for future requirements. Having a few nuclear energy PhD holders in the country, does not fulfill the requirements for running nuclear plants in Sri Lanka. We will have to depend on Russian builders and well-trained Russian technicians to run these plants. They may train some Sri Lankans to carry out low-level activities, but this does not help employment creation in the country. So, in Sri Lanka, we do not have required infra-structure or the human capacity to build, run and maintain nuclear plants. Our young Sri Lankans are highly knowledgeable, and when trying to select a site for a nuclear plant, another country-wide unrest might develop. Sri Lanka has suffered several problems in the past and we should avoid any such unrest in our country. Imagine a nuclear accident in Sri Lanka and having to evacuate a huge fraction of the population to other parts. In an island nation with high population density, this will be un-imaginable. For the past 37 years, the Chernobyl accident resulted in a vast amount of land not being suitable for human habitation. For land-rich countries like US, Russia, China and India, these situations can be manageable, but Sri Lanka cannot even think about that situation.
(4). Do we have security and discipline required to run nuclear plants in Sri Lanka?
Nuclear plants for energy production are highly appropriate for well-developed countries with established high security and discipline. Nuclear plants must be protected from unfortunate terrorist attacks. However, natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis are beyond human control and all countries have to live with that risk. Sri Lanka has experienced a huge tsunami in the recent past and we should be fully aware of this natural disaster. Since we do not have the same level of high security, discipline and are at risk of possible natural disasters, we must avoid introducing these high-risk technologies to Sri Lanka.
(5) Can we manage nuclear waste and handle nuclear accidents?
Sadly, the Sri Lankan system cannot manage even our domestic waste, and we experience road sides full of waste, with waste mountains emerging at different sites in the country. How can we manage radio-active nuclear waste in Sri Lanka? Do we have to live with the promise of Russia taking our nuclear waste to their country? Any geo-political conflict in the future could put us in a real danger, living with cancer causing radio-active nuclear waste around us.
In addition to the un-satisfactory nuclear waste issue, three of the most recent 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 some of 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. When the 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, as a scientist with a PhD in Physics, she understood the damage it could do to the people in her country. This is a good example for authorities who make major decisions which have long term consequences for their countries.
(6) The way-forward with Renewables, without nuclear plants in Sri Lanka
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 limited 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 pledged by our leaders at Glasgow COP-27 Summit in 2021. In order to remove the problems of intermittency of Solar and Wind, green-hydrogen production using electrolysis of water is already coming. Green-hydrogen will be the energy storage and the energy career and can burn at any time when energy is required. It produces water vapour instead of emitting green-house gases, such as carbon dioxide. If we can spend 5 billion US dollars (the cost of one nuclear plant) towards renewables in the country, Sri Lanka will become a “Renewable Energy Island” attracting tourists from round the globe. Moving towards electric vehicles, like the rest of the world, would also allow Sri Lanka to reduce the import bill of petrol and diesel. High capacity, electricity storage battery systems are also being developed with new technology and are expected to be cheaper than the cost of nuclear plants.
Due to all of these reasons, Sri Lanka should not consider nuclear energy as a suitable power source, since it will likely 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 at present. We should not make decisions for Sri Lanka due to external pressures from the outside These countries are mainly trying to sell their products and create employment for their people. If the technology is not right for Sri Lanka, we should say NO THANK YOU without any hesitation. Therefore, on behalf of all Sri Lankans who live within and outside the country we urge our authorities to consider all the points mentioned above before moving further with these plans.
I.M Dharmadasa; Professor Emeritus
Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom
(Ex-President of APSL-UK during 2009-2011, on behalf of the current APSL-UK executive committee). APSL-UK website: www.apsl.org.uk
SCREEN ADDICTION: AN UPSHOT THAT IS EVEN WORSE THAN OUR WORST NIGHTMARES
by Dr B. J. C. Perera
MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
All of us know for sure, and for that matter, even the entire world is quite well-informed, of the current scenario of a supposedly bankrupt Sri Lanka that has over the last couple of years gone through arguably the most difficult time in its history. Many a catastrophe has pummelled our Motherland in waves of unparalleled regularity and unprecedented fury. These included the COVID-19 pandemic, complete disruption of education, rampant inflation, depreciation of our currency, political instability, woefully poor governance, all kinds of economic cataclysms, mass protests in the streets by the common populace, total loss of law and order, galloping inflation, non-availability of essentials, drug shortages, paucities of fuel, food insecurity, starvation of the poor and the marginalised, as well as rampant malnutrition. Although some powers that be postulate that with the International Monetary Fund Extended Fund Facility that was awarded to Sri Lanka, we will reach the light at the end of the tunnel and the splendour of a promised land in a couple of years, it seems to be empty but pompous rhetoric.
In our quest towards recovery, we will have to jump deftly over many a hurdle and overcome countless adversities that lay in our path. All of us are well aware of the possible hard times ahead. Yet for all that, many people do not realise the looming danger of a terribly undesirable demon, perhaps quite unsuspected up to now, that is lurking in the background. That fiend that is thought to practically possess an individual is screen addiction. That phenomenon comes about when there is a compulsive dependence on using far too many of all kinds of electronic screens for far too long a time during a 24-hour day. This can be by watching too much television, excessive use of Smart Mobile Phones, playing video games, constantly scrolling through social media, watching YouTube videos, or using other Smartphone Applications; conversationally referred to as ‘Apps.’ In those affected, their lives revolve around screens; very often almost totally.
Using currently available scientific evidence the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that infants under one year of age should not be exposed to any type of screens, no more than an hour for those between 1 to 2 years with preferably lesser time allowed for it and for 3 to 4 or even 5-year-olds, just one hour a day, co-viewing with parents or siblings. In many other portals, the accepted latest recommendation is to limit the recreational screen time of children 5 to 18 years with the proviso that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor’; which means teaching the children how to use these devices as a tool to create, connect, learn, and develop their personalities most positively.
Although the following numbers might shock some people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of Atlanta, Georgia, reports that the currently prevalent average daily screen time by different age groups is six hours for 8 to 10-year-olds, nine hours for 11 to 14-year-olds and seven and a half hours for 15 to 18-year-olds. These “leisure time” activities with all types of screens do not even include the time children spend on screens for their school work. However, the crux of the matter is that all these times are way over the recommended maximum amount of screen time for these ages.
In a recent study done in Sri Lanka in a sub-urban area with 340 randomly selected preschool children and published in the reputed journal BMC Pediatrics in 2022, the authors found that the vast majority, well over 50 per cent of the evaluated children were using screens for more time than the recommended time allowances.
One of the most undesirable consequences of screen addiction is that it drastically eats into the time that a child should be spending in exercise and playing, as well as time spent sleeping, all of which are essential components of growing up. The sedentary status that is an invariable accompaniment of screen addiction is a harbinger of many medical problems in later life. The undesirable effects of a sedentary lifestyle are well-known and should be taken to heart by all parents.
For years, we have been warned about the addictive and harmful impact of heavy smartphone and internet use, with physicians and brain specialists raising red flags regarding the cognitive price humans pay for unrestricted usage of these technologies. Many of us now recognise that we are addicts, often joking about it in an attempt to lessen the seriousness of this realisation. But what had been missing to drive home the fact of digital dependency, was an honest admission by those who design the technologies that such was their intended goal. This has now changed as a cadre of Information Technology (IT) Professionals recently broke their silence on the subject, revealing the subtle motivations behind the creation of some of the world’s most popular apps. Such revelations by IT professionals and social media executives confirm that their products were intentionally designed to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” As a fundamental human need and capacity, our attention is an invaluable resource for learning and reflection, which at the same time, makes us susceptible to manipulation and control. Understanding how this process works can help us avoid surrendering our minds for the profit of others and the cultural “run to the bottom.”
Research studies have also shown that being sedentary can have significant developmental consequences. The following are among them.
* Children are less likely to have the fine motor skills necessary for writing when entering kindergarten.
* Vocabulary, communication skills and eye contact are reduced.
* Developmental delays are documented with increased device use. Screen time, for instance, has been linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms.
* Attention, decision-making and cognitive control are reduced.
* Creativity also suffers. Screen time interferes with problem-solving.
* Psychiatric disorders have been reported with excessive screen usage.
* A premature thinning of the cerebral cortex, based on brain scans.
Screen addiction is a real phenomenon, and too much use can lead to health risks. From physical eye strain and increased risk for weight gain, to mental health consequences and sleep disturbances. Time spent with screen devices has tangible effects on the well-being of children. Whatever the reason, it should be clear that too much screen time poses certain health risks; both physical and mental.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology (AACAP), too much screen time in children can lead to a myriad of problems. These include:
* Sleep problems.
* Lower grades in school.
* Weight problems.
* Mood glitches.
* Poor self-image and body image issues.
* Fear of missing out.
Also, the AACAP warns that screen time can often take the place of other worthwhile activities, which include reading books, engaging in outdoor physical activity, and spending time with family and friends. This last one severely interferes with socialising and developing sterling qualities while growing up.
A ground-breaking study by The National Institutes of Health of the USA is looking at how screen time affects children’s brains. The study is in its infancy, but early results suggested that kids who engaged in more than two hours of daily screen time showed premature thinning of the cerebral cortex; the area of the brain responsible for processing information and controlling functions like memory, thought, and voluntary movements.
Screen addiction can have tremendous effects on the psyche and the mind of children. Many children are now brought to Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinics with a plethora of problems which have a direct connection with screen addiction. Many issues seem to come up when parents try to restrict the excessive usage of screens. Some children and adolescents have become withdrawn, and sometimes even violent in those circumstances. There are problems with social interaction with family members and friends and misguided behaviour patterns as a result of the addiction. In many households, restriction of “screen time” often leads to “scream time.” In many ways, screen time acts as a stimulant, not unlike cocaine, amphetamines, or caffeine. It is also quite pertinent to point out that, through a complex interaction with many brain functions, screen addiction can mimic almost all psychiatric disorders. Psychologists as well as Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists can unquestionably help in situations that lead to childhood behaviour problems which occur as a result of screen addiction.
If this trend continues it will be a disaster of monumental proportions. Screen addiction interferes with society’s total social fabric, with a telling negative influence on societal integration. We will go on to produce an unbalanced, maladjusted, intolerant, and even less intelligent Sri Lankan population in the not-too-distant future. This is the last thing we want; one which all of us need like a hole in the head. The time for action is now and action must be taken without any further delay.
I hope it is undeniably clear that screen addiction is a major problem for the future of our younger generations and our beloved Motherland. It is a plague a lot worse than anything that we have gone through so far. Hence the mesmerising title of this article should make everyone sit up and take note thereof.
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