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Why Sampur? Saving the climate means quitting coal

24 March 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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From mining to combustion, coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels. Burning coal is the largest single source of climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the world, according to the environmental conservation group, Greenpeace.  


Coal burning is responsible for one-third of all our carbon dioxide pollution. It is the most polluting way to generate electricity, accounting for more than 70 per cent of the CO2 emissions from the power sector. CO2 is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases fuelling the greatest environmental, humanitarian and economic threat the world has ever faced --climate change. 


According to estimates, the potential cost of dealing with the climate change caused by this CO2 will be up to 20 per cent of the world’s GDP by 2100, Greenpeace adds. 
Avoiding climate change’s worst impacts means halting the growth in CO2 emissions and then reducing the emissions radically thereafter. Clearly, saving the climate means quitting coal, it adds. 
Though aware of this, the Rajapaksa regime in 2006 went ahead and signed a huge contract with a Chinese company for the controversial coal-fired power project in Norochcholai. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in a speech at Kelaniya this week, charged that the Rajapaksa regime had renegotiated the contract she had worked out with a Chinese company.

She charged that the new contract caused Sri Lanka almost double the original amount because some VIPs somewhere apparently got millions of dollars as commissions. Ms. Kumaratunga also said the company she had negotiated with was a reputed one but charged that the Chinese company which eventually built the Norochcholai project at a much higher cost was not among the reputed companies in China. 


The New National Government’s ministers have also charged that the Norochcholai coal-fired power project was not properly designed and the machinery was not of the best quality. After Norochcholai’s first stage was commissioned in 2011 it has broken down many times. The worst was the black Sunday on March 13. The breakdown of some Norochcholai units after the Biyagama transformer blast caused a countrywide power failure for about 8 hours with power cuts during the next three days. It was widely seen as the blackout blow to the image of the new National Government and a ministerial committee appointed to probe the breakdown presented its report to parliament yesterday.
With Greenpeace saying that saving the climate means quitting coal and serious questions about the effectiveness of the Norochcholai plant we wish to ask the National Government why it is going ahead with another controversial coal fired power plant at Sampur in the Trincomalee.


The Daily Mirror, in an investigative report yesterday, revealed that grave environmental damage could be caused by the proposed 500 MW coal-fired thermal power plant at Sampur. Despite protest by environmentalists and residents, construction of this plant is likely to begin this year as  a joint venture of the Ceylon Electricity Board and the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd. (NTPC) of India. 


While Norochcholai is on the Puttalam coastline and the environmental damage is comparatively less, the Sampur project is located in an area that has a rich marine bio diversity. Environmentalists have warned that this coal power plant would emit flue gases that would be blown across the North Central Province (NCP) during the North East monsoon. Tens of thousands of people there have already been crippled and about 20,000 have died in the kidney disease epidemic. They say the flue gases could react with humidity causing acid rains -- thus posing an additional threat to the lives of thousands of people, animals and the environment.


Dr. Ranil Senanayake, Chairman of the Conservationist Group, Rainforest Rescue International and Systems, has warned that the construction of the Sampur project would not only cause serious  environmental damage but also be a threat to Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage including the hallowed Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura. Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enough power projects to produce the electricity it needs, he asks the government, as we also do -- why Sampur.

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