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Is nuclear power necessary?



The Island on 12 May published an article by Prof Kirthi Tennakone (KT), Say no to nuclear power and risk future energy shortages and adverse climate, supporting the establishment of nuclear power plant in Sri Lanka, and Prof. Panduaka Karunanayake (PK) replied to KT on 16 May.

Priyantha Hettige (PH) on 25 May contributed a very interesting scenario, i.e. that Thorium is found in this country and it could be used to generate power and heat.

I find that PK had not exhausted the basic reason to object to the Nuclear power plant.

In the meantime, the State body handling Atomic power had indicated that Sri Lanka can have a full-fledged Nuclear energy supply by 2032. (They do not indicate the interim period)

Let me hark back to 2015.There was a proposal to install a facility to stockpile depleted Radio Active Material at the centre of a village close to Colombo. The people in the surroundings objected to the proposal. In reply, mostly to alleviate the objection, the Atomic Energy Authority issued a press notice “that the facility will be installed according to International standards”, I was piqued. On checking via the internet, I discovered that at one particular Nuclear plant in the EU there had been 10 breakdowns. They were not major problems but were due to corroded pipes This indicate that even in the so-called hi-tech societies there are problems that are encountered. It was luck that EU did not face another Chenrobyl.

That is not the theme of this article. The theme is to challenge KT’s concept that ” Say no to nuclear power and risk future energy shortages and adverse climate”. No Prof KT you have missed the target.

In Sri Lanka the sources of power are (i) Hydro (ii) Diesel (iii) Coal (iv) Wind and (v) Solar.

Of these Hydro, Wind and Solar are based on what nature had provided us with. Coal and Nuclear power plants are not being welcomed in many parts of the world.

Our experience during 2022-2023 indicate the how beggars cannot finance any of the alternatives available –Petroleum, Coal and now even fissionable material.

My questions to KT is “Why not utilise what we have in this country to meet our needs, both for power and traction” Viz:

1. Jackfruit – Artocarpus heterophyllus. This is a plant that can be grown round the year. There are two types of plants (i) Seed propagated and the other (ii) Bud grafted. As an industrial crop the seed propagated plant provided obstacles. They are tall and has to be climbed ie harvesting is difficult. These plants last nearly 80 years. Sindbad the Sailor

describes harvesting fruits in Sri Lanka with the help of trained monkeys. Why export monkeys, why not train them to harvest Jack fruit?

The bud grafted plant is short, yields fruits within 4-5 years. One could expect a Bud Grafted plant, planted in a hectare is projected to yield 100 Tons. (Horticulture Crop Research and Development Institute (HORDI) at Gannoruwa.

The other plant of interest is the Banana plant, which itself is considered a perennial. Life span in the region of 20-30 years.

Growing these two plants is very much cheaper than growing Sugar Cane or Corn.

To this I would add water from the Coconut fruits. Based on the data provided by the Central bank, I project that a minimum of 286,926,150,000 litres of coconut water goes waste per year. Coconut water has sugars – Sucrose, Glucose and Fructose all materials for alcohol fermentation.

All the above plant material can yield fermentable sugars. These fermentable sugars can provide Alcohols on fermentation, i.e. Ethanol and Butanol.

Ethanol is used in place of Diesel in India, Europe, America and in Brazil.

Ethanol is used in Brazil as a stand-alone fuel while in the rest of the world it is used in a mix of 15:85 with petrol in cars. Internal combustion engines.

Butyl alcohol (Butanol) is used as a stand-alone fuel in Diesel powered vehicle and in petrol-based vehicles. In the production of Butyl alcohol, there are many side products, Ethanol, Acetone, Carbon Dioxide and Hydrogen.

Ethanol and Acetone can be used as extenders in the use of Butyl alcohol that is used as a mix with Butyl alcohol.

The production of Hydrogen has an interesting future. In Europe and the US Hydrogen is used in internal combustion engines – car engines. It is also used in Fuel Cells to produce electricity. I have seen some pictures of Fuel cell units. They seem to be about the size of a vehicle battery.

Today a full-fledged Ethanol distillery will cost a minimum of US $ 10 million. These distilleries I am referring to can be constructed within Rs 100 Million. I could name a group of Ex- Sugar Corporation employees who could provide the Managerial and Technical backbone to this project.

Projections I found in 2020, indicate that the EU and Americas are short of 112,446,744,595 litres of ethanol required for the 15:85 mix of petrol. (Re Fileni, Diego de Mondonca- Ethanol Programme in Developing countries, prospects for ethanol exports.).

Butranol is poisonous to man, and as such we need not cover ourselves like a virgin, when we discuss the production of fuel alcohols.

If implemented, by the year 2032 Sri Lanka could be in the export business of ethanol and Butanol, independent of nuclear based power plants.

S. P. U. S. Wickramasinghe

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Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)



By Chandre Dharmawardana,

A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.

Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.

A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used [1]. However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.

I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note [2]. I quote from it below:

The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE)[3], initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.

Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.

Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.

Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.

[1]Madras Tamil Lexicon.

[2] index.html

[3] Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.

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How to conserve electricity at home and workplace



Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.

There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.

Here is how

(a)  Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.

(b)  When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.

(c)   Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine

(d)  When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.

(e)  Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.

(f)    Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.

(g)  Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.

(h)  Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.

(i)    Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.

(j)    Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.

(k)  Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.


Via e-mail

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Some lesser known historical facts



The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties

Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.

In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.

Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.

A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.

Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.

When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.

Dr. Leo Fernando

Talahena, Negombo

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