For preparation of a well thought out energy policy

The energy policy of a country is a vital document. For it guides many things such as energy supply or availability, production of energy, its utilization patterns, its conservation, etc. According to a press report, the government of Bangladesh (GOB) is drafting a new energy policy. The need for a comprehensive energy policy for the country should be obvious. The basic energy, electricity, is still not enough in the country with the production of it still trailing its actual demand. Then, there are vital aspects to be considered such as whether electricity should be produced by depleting the country’s limited gas reserves. If the decision is to increase power production with gas, then along with creation of new gas based power plants, exploration activities to find substantial new deposits of gas also assumes critical urgency. Who would finance these activities and how within a timeframe to match the growing energy needs of the country, are also basic and unresolved issues.
Furthermore, the proposed energy policy must also take into account environmental issues such as producing electricity from coal. Apparently, the production of electricity from coal looks like a tempting one because big reserves of coal have been discovered in Bangladesh. But here also it merits an analysis whether this coal should be more exported while adopting plans vigorously for producing power from non conventional, environment friendly and renewable sources such as the rays of the sun. It was expertly projected that Bangladesh has the potential to harness about 10,000 mw of electricity from the solar source alone with energetic plan implementations in this area within some years. This amount is double the total prevailing demand for electricity. Tapping electricity from non conventional sources like the solar source, would also help in the conservation of the country’s limited gas which has diverse industrial uses while also effecting import substitution of fuel oils. Imported petroleum is still utilized on a large scale in the older plants of the country to produce electricity.
Thus, it should be apparent from the above that a very important document to guide all energy related activities in the country needs to be a transparent one. It must not be held in the cocoon of secrecy and then suddenly imposed on the nation. It should be in broad view of the country’s experts and others for their scrutiny and eliciting of their opinion. After getting the feedback from such examination, it would be only justifiable to incorporate meritorious suggestions made even if that exercise requires drastic or major changes in the energy policy which is now in almost draft form.
The big challenge confronting the overall energy sector of the country, immediately, is ensuring the fastest increase in the availability of electricity. Thus, immediate efforts must be made to increase the production of electricity. But this urgency also must not mean that in the hurry to have more electricity at the soonest, the country’s environment would be endangered in the medium and long terms. The energy policy should seek to do nothing that would harm the environment or quality of life and living in the country. Internationally, our national energy policy ought to be contributory to such activities which would help protect and improve the environment, globally. Coal was the main energy source in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when user nations did not have better options. But the use of coal have declined gradually since that time influenced mainly by environmental reasons. The coal mines and the mining towns were progressively closed down in the UK in the later half of the twentieth century. The mines and towns are now history in that country and it has opted for cleaner forms of energy. In the UK, 24 per cent of its power is generated by nuclear plants. Power harnessed from winds, waves and sunlight also supply substantial quantities of power to the national power grid of that country. Power generated from these sources are almost completely environment-friendly and involve the least polluting processes compared to power generation from coal.
It could be learnt that the new energy policy under formation by the government of Bangladesh (GOB) is considering the maximum possible use of coal for producing power. But a power station built to supply a large city like Dhaka — if run by coal–would be emitting annually more than a billion cubic metres of greenhouses gases that contribute to global warming and create dust and more than 600,000 tonnes of toxic ash. While the people are going to get their power all right, what would be the consequences to the environment, locally and globally ? The answer should be obvious : neither locally or globally the coming into existence of such power plants can be pleasant and environment-friendly respectively.
A careful study should establish that the fear of nuclear energy from the health and environment perspectives is really exaggerated. Even if Bangladesh operates several fairly large size nuclear power plants for about a hundred years, the total radioactive wastes from these would probably fill a medium sized ditch. But then the wastes could be put in sealed containers and kept in a bunker like concrete underground storage to ensure against leakage. Nuclear waste does indeed take a long time to decay, but its most dangerous radioactivity is lost within a few years. Much of the remaining waste can be returned to the fuel cycle and re-processed. Even radioactive leakages are not found so dangerous as publicized by environmental lobbies. If nuclear power plants were not entirely safe then France would not be meeting 78 per cent of its power needs from them. As it is, the world’s nuclear champion is safe and the health of its people among the very best in the world. Other developed countries such as UK and Germany also get a big part of their energy needs supplied from nuclear power plants. The world’s biggest economy, the USA, has embarked recently on a course of building a series of big nuclear power plants to secure its energy supply.
Therefore, the case should be very strong for Bangladeshto plan for large scale generation of nuclear power in the country. Nuclear power generation is actually not only environmentally best, but it is also very cheap. Counting out the initial establishment costs, the per unit of electricity to be produced by a nuclear power plant should be much cheaper than a coal or gas fired plant. One may ask : what Bangladesh should do with its coal resources ? Should it leave the coal underground, unused ? That would not be a smart thing to do. One very sound and environment-friendly proposal would be to dig up the coal not in the environment endangering open pit method but through a safer mining system and then to allow exporting of the coal to earn foreign currencies for the country.