Considering better options in the energy policy



According to a  press report, the government of Bangladesh (GOB) is drafting  a new energy policy. The  Adviser in charge of Energy, Power and Mineral Resources, told a workshop meeting on energy  reporting that the government is now engaged in completing at  the earliest a comprehensive energy policy for the country. This is, no doubt, reassuring news. This would replace the prevailing energy policy that was introduced in 1995.

But what is worrisome about the new energy policy, from whatever could be learnt about it so far, is that it would put a great deal of emphasis on the use of coal as a source of energy.  Presently, coal based energy is only a very small part of the total energy consumption picture of the country. But with the adoption and implementation of the new energy policy, this scenario could fast change with coal becoming the major source of  power  generation in the country in the near future. There would be no need to worry but for the fact that coal can be an awfully polluting agent and when the environment conscious countries of the world have been carefully replacing or excluding coal in power generation, Bangladesh seems to be getting ready to embrace this environmentally hazardous option when there are better alternatives open to it.

According to an expert assessment,  the operation of a big coal based power plant to supply a city like Dhaka would require  annually about a 1000 km  line of railways trucks filled with coal along with the back up of mining the coal and the attendant polluting processes spread over large areas. Power generation with oil for a similar purpose would call for at least four or five super tanker loads of heavy imported oil.  Power generation with natural gas requires the laying of  pipelines  extensively from  the gas fields to the power station. The supply chain for a nuclear  power plant, by comparison, is incredibly shorter and manageable. It can feed on about two trucks of cheap and plentiful uranium imported from stable countries like Canada or Australia. Gas and acid emissions from a nuclear power plant is zero ; toxic ash and dust, none. Only a few bucketful  of radioactive wastes may be produced that can be safely disposed away.

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 todo. 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.