Giving the Fuller Picture on Nuclear Energy
(Correcting some Misconceptions)
In the Sunday Island of Apr. 21 a letter from Dr. U. Pethiyagoda said it is worth emphasizing that uranium was first developed as a nuclear fuel to use in reactors not because of its safety features or that it was ecologically harmless, but that it could be used to make large bombs befitting the world’s great superpower.
And now we find that uranium also can be used to make “depleted uranium” a very hard, heavy metal useful in munitions for war. They deliberately side-lined thorium, a less dangerous, more ecologically friendly metal, and chose to develop and use uranium due to those benefits of war. The use of thorium to generate power is an astonishing omission on Dr. Pethiyagoda’s part. Thorium has very valuable qualities.
Crucially, energy from thorium is a safer, cleaner, simpler process if you use the liquid fluoride thorium (LIFTR) process. And because this process is scaleable, the reactors can be made large or smaller and these are cheaper to build than uranium power generation. This lower cost brings them within the reach of smaller countries. In fact many of the points Dr. P raises of the harmfulness of uranium, do not apply to thorium reactors, because the heat generation process is different and safety features are built in to the reactor vessel as part of the fuel cycle.
Please note that several countries are researching the uses of thorium for power generation, notably Russia, India and China. These countries have designed, built and are operating thorium research reactors. These are mostly in the experimental stage as the possible permutations and combinations of inputs are many and various. These may not be optimized to easy solutions. However, these countries are employing thousands of scientists doing research to find best solutions.
The aim is to generate heat from thorium safely and economically. The pundits expressing their views in the Sunday Times condemn nuclear power but have omitted this important information. It can be confidently asserted that the advantages arising from the use of thorium are so great that the difficulties will be overcome, eventually.
This will benefit mankind immensely – machines based on thorium energy will give continuous power for many years with only minimal environmental damage. While the great list of problems listed apply to uranium power generation, they may not apply to energy from thorium.
However, there are two problems with thorium – these are: 1) The lack of qualified, trained staff to operate these machines and 2) The lack of regulatory approval. The point (2) given above may contribute more to the cost than the whole installation itself which gives the familiar and well established uranium plant an advantage. Potential owners of such plants may prefer uranium power over thorium as a means of reducing uncertainties – that is uranium’s chief asset.
By reminding us of the horrible mistakes and accidents of the past, this throws up a wall of horror and revulsion at all things nuclear, which makes the greens and coal lobbies happy! In fact, the thorium reactor using the Liquid Fluoride Thermal Reactor (LIFTR) process is a remarkably safe method of generating heat and energy. This is because there are safety measure actually built in to the machine which ensure a run-away can never occur. Thorium is the opposite to uranium: in the case of thorium, the process has to be coaxed along to keep it going.
Because of their relatively small size and cost, efforts of containment are manageable. There are huge pluses, or selling points for thorium that the writers of these letters fail to discuss. Power installations can be quite small, even house-sized buildings, say locating one either side of a town or city. Importing thorium pellets is not necessary as Sri Lanka has its own deposits of Thorium. Also note that by placing units where the power is needed obviates the necessity for transmission lines connecting a countrywide grid. This is a huge savings in capital costs and power transmission line efficiency losses.
The costs of building smaller power installations is well-within the Sri Lankan budget and also would create many interesting, scientific jobs. Therefore, I write to point out that these letters do not give the entire picture of generating energy from nuclear sources. But they do help to build resistance to the truth, new facts and new technologies.
It can be noted that if Russia is contracted to build such installations, they would guarantee their work and give conditions and caveats. (They have vast amounts of experience from many such installations around the world). On that basis it would be most unwise to refuse their high quality offer.
Celebrating what went well or denouncing what went wrong?
By Chani Imbulgoda
“We suffer today, because leaders in the past have failed to govern this country properly”. Oh, the predecessor has not done things well, they all have let the place go haywire”. Familiar excuses… When one takes over the leadership be it the country, be it an organisation, or be it a new position. We, naturally, incline to blame the past, criticize the leadership and highlight what went wrong. We start new reforms, new policies, new practices… condemning the past. We have a tendency to look back through the rearview mirror… only to criticise what went wrong, and start everything all over. Why don’t we give some credit to the past and celebrate what went well, as well?
It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, I wondered how much similarity we can evidence today. Tolstoy describes how the war was waged in early 1800, and how Russia suffered. After two centuries, we witness how Russia repeats it over Ukraine. No lessons learnt from the past. We just passed a civil riot; strikes, protests continue; and controlling and curbing protests are not rare. As a country, have we forgotten our gloomy days in recent past? Bombs, killing, destructions from northern point Pedro to southern Dondra, youth insurrection, misdirection and all the blood we witnessed… It seems that we, rather than learning the lessons unlearned it.
Bringing the beauty of learning from the past, American author, Judith Glaser suggests looking at the past, finding new meaning from significant events, following them and creating successful behaviour patterns. Have we forgotten our glorious past where this country was recognised as the jade of the Indian Ocean? This was known as a prosperous country during the reigns of ancient kingdoms. Once the granary of the East, and even before that, crowned as the Kingdom of mighty by king Ravana, who deemed to be the first to fly an aircraft. I recall my friend in university days who used to say that “there is no future without past”. As Santayana, Glazer and my friend say “we need to look back and learn from our past in moving forward. In the early 19th century, we submitted our sovereignty to colonial masters by conspiring against our own breed. We made Sinhala only policy in 1956 and we opened the economy in 1977, letting our strengths blown out by foreign winds. Lots of lessons are on the stake, if we really want to take. An upcoming book “What Went Wrong” by a bureaucrat, Mr. Chandrasena Maliyadde, a former Secretary to Government Ministries discusses how Sri Lanka failed in many aspects, including public service and University education. There are books on historic accounts, newspapers and media that bring present contexts, and futuristic projections…it is left for us to make our soup adding right mix of past, present and future to taste the soup.
Past is a repository of knowledge!
Reflect on the qualities and competencies possessed by today’s youth with yesteryear’s generation. Do we miss something in the new generation? A state university officer once lamented that those young officers joining the university did not look at the overall picture when making decisions … fair enough, I have noticed a many young staff, and even some old hands think only about the fraction of work they deemed responsible … ignoring the whole process involved. We often pin the blame on the education system. During the good old days, school curricula consisted of lessons on morals and ethics, lessons on history. More importantly, formal education kept space for youngsters to think, there were no tuition classes, and no online assignments to complete. There was time for friends … time to play; time to enjoy nature, and time to talk with parents. Those days youngsters were a part of the real world, nature and ancestors who educate the wholeness of life. Aren’t we missing something in our education system? It is time to look back and look ahead, and look across. Finland, known to be one of the best countries for education in the world, avail time for students to engage with nature; no tough competitive exams, they learn being humane, they learn to be balanced humans. There was a propaganda “Nearest School is the Best School”. In the present context where everything has become expensive, exercise books to transport fees. Safety and security of both male, female children are at stake. Much concerns over drugs, and sex, it is time to revisit and refresh this propaganda tagline. There is a shortage of papers, there was a shortage of fuel and electricity, we never know what is in stock for us in the coming months. We cannot afford to have marker pens and whiteboards in schools now. Time to think about the rock slate which we could use several times and learn well and hard way. I believe more the hard work put in tiring both the hand and head, higher the productivity. Considering the wellbeing of individuals, rising cost and scarcity of essentials and medical drugs, and sustainability of our environment, time has come to think of our past styles of commuting, cycling. Cycling reduces air pollution; cycling makes you fitter. In effect, we will not be compelled to depend on many vehicles imported and perhaps medicine too. We have reached the point where we have to bridge the past with the future. We need to learn from the past and blend it with the future, appropriately without forgetting the present and its context.
Learn from the past, but don’t
stick to it.
When we see a roadblock, a cavity on the road or a commotion or congestion, we naturally turn to the rearview mirror. But we do not turn the car and go back to where we started. No doubt we learn lessons from the past, but we can never create the past again. If you drive constantly looking back from the rearview mirror, you would not proceed much far! Buddha has said that “you can’t have a better tomorrow if you think about yesterday all the time”. One of the key accusations during recent public agitations, and the rebel was that youth do not get opportunities. The anxiety developed over rejection or blocking paths for youth, to be hatred towards old. We often miss fresh blood in decision making bodies, especially when it comes to public sector institutions, owing to too much credit being given to the past. Long number of years in service overshadows competence. When recruiting people for positions, we look at the conduct and experience of the applicant in the past, and make our decision; sometimes a decision to show the door would completely sabotage the future of the applicant. We come across people who wag their past records when they make important decisions for the future. People like to boast about their glorious past and want to create yesterday in tomorrow. I recall an incident that took place at a staff meeting where I work. When the senior officers celebrating past glory, a few newcomers openly challenged and declared they get demotivated in effect. If we cling too much to the past, we will end up spoiling both our present and future.
Change is inescapable. Everything gets changed, context, requirements, and mindsets. History cannot be restored as it was, only lessons and practices can be brought and tried after careful analysis. We normally cling to one of the two paradoxes; one school of thought is glued to the history, experience, and the way things happened. They hardly see goodness in novelty. On the other extreme, the school of thought is forward-looking they ignore the past, condemn the history and embrace novelty. In a car, we have a larger windscreen, two side glasses and a tiny rearview mirror. Why? When we are moving, we need to look at the future with a much broader view, assess the present, and from time to time look back and ensure we are alright.
Past is always a scapegoat for those who don’t want to strive to achieve success. We as a nation today suffer a lot and I believe in owing up to the blame game we play with the past and egoistic attitude and our unwillingness to learn from the past. I always advocate seeing what went well in the past, success stories teach us lessons, where failures are more appealing to worry and enjoy at the same time.
(The writer is a holder of a senior position in a state
University with international experience and exposure and an MBA from Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Sri Lanka and currently reading for her PhD related to reasons of reform failures at PIM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rogues have no right to eat while masses starve!
Ali (Raheem) Baba and 225 rogues have no right to eat while the people they are supposed to protect, nourish and maintain go hungry.
A poor widow with a school going child called me from Elpitiya and told me that they had not eaten anything yet. The time was 11 AM. The child had refused to go to school with an empty stomach. But the mother had coaxed him to go to school promising him to keep lunch ready when he returns. She had not found anything to cook by 11 AM and desperately called me. This was just one of such calls I get regularly.
I lost my shirt; I scolded her and told her that she had elected Ali (Sabri Raheem) Baba and 225 scoundrels and that she should go to them and ask for food. I instructed her to do this. Collect as many widows like her as possible and go to the house of their MP (GK) and remind her that they had fed her all these years and now they were hungry and she must feed them. Sit down in the house and do not leave till your problem is solved. While you go hungry that woman has no right to eat. In fact, the scoundrels of Diyawannawa have no right to gobble down subsidised food in the canteen of the den of thieves called the parliament of Sri Lanka.
Another widow called me and told me that she and her children lived in the dark. They have electricity but they could not afford to use it. The family lives in total darkness, every night. The government which could not maintain an uninterrupted power supply at least during the A/L examinations is not a failed administration but a heartless criminal regime. The rogue government which deprived the people of power has no right to use power in their den for light, sound and air conditioning.
And the rogue government has no right to govern at all. It has deprived the people of their right to vote and choose representatives they desire. It has cancelled the provincial council elections and the local government elections. By depriving the people of their right to vote it has abrogated its right to govern. Getting rid of this government is legal, and, in fact, it is the right and the civic duty of the people of this country.
It is this government that robbed the country to bankruptcy, ruined the agriculture and the economy and destroyed law and order in the country. Now, it blames Aragalaya for that. They pretend to be the victims! The effect has become the cause; they turn everything upside down!
Everything they are doing now is some desperate measure or other to keep marking time as long as possible to rob and rob and empty the national coffers before getting out of government and the country.
The scoundrels in the Parliament are accused and even found guilty by courts, of every crime under the Sun. They cheat, swindle and rob openly and unceasingly. This is a curse on the country and its people. We are paying for our stupidity and gullibility. We are a people immersed in superstition and irrational beliefs. There are no better ways to learn life’s lessons than hunger and deprivation. Aragalaya was a great eye-opener and a teacher of the difference between myth and truth, between objective reality and the narrow chauvinism of race and religion; the last refuge of the scoundrel. I hope the 6.9 million have at least by now learnt the lesson.
My dear co-citizens of Sri Lanka, it is time to act. It is pathetic and depressing to see our small children becoming stunted, weak and malnourished. They cannot wait to grow up till things get better constitutionally and decently. The powers that are do not behave constitutionally or decently. They are not gentlemen. They are certainly not ‘Honorable’ Members of Parliament. They have become fascists and tyrants, dictators and underworld god-fathers. Regardless of the cost, we must free ourselves from their murderous grip on us and on the country. It is time to act. For the sake of generations of our children, it is time to act.
Fr J.C. Pieris,
Why do we vote?
In his article in Sunday Island, Maj Gen A M U Seneviratne (Rtd) said “We vote and elect our representatives to represent us in parliament and other governing bodies and we expect them to respect us and work for the uplift of the country and its citizens”.
I totally disagree – We, the majority, elect them just for their sake, not to uplift the country or its citizens. Otherwise, how could every riff-raff who had not done anything worthwhile for the people and are notable for corruption and frauds be voted, election after election? Haven’t we seen how their supporters gather around them (and cheer) when they come out after Court hearings in which they were accused of various crimes?
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