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Climate change, nuclear power, and the way forward

  • Published at 10:58 pm January 9th, 2019
Reducing CO2 emissions is a global responsibility / <b>BIGSTOCK</b>
Reducing CO2 emissions is a global responsibility / BIGSTOCK

What Bangladesh can do in the fight against climate change

It is easy to see why most citizens of Bangladesh have allowed the slightly old news of the UN COP24 climate summit to fade away unnoticed in the light of the recent election. 

This is unfortunate. 

An election determines the leadership of Bangladesh for the next five years, but climate change will determine its destiny over the next century. In fact, the climate summit was a failure; yet again, developed countries like the US and Russia refused to agree to any significant measures to reduce their use of fossil fuels and associated emissions of carbon dioxide, which are on track to cause catastrophic global warming.

The latest IPCC report shows that the world has only a dozen or so years left to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions; if it fails to do so, the safe limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming will be exceeded. 

This is likely to have disastrous consequences within this century, with melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica raising sea levels by up to several metres. This spells disaster for low-lying vulnerable countries, of which Bangladesh is the largest.

What can we do to prevent this awful fate in the face of international indifference? Firstly, we should do our best to encourage renewable energy in Bangladesh. The first step of this is to stop all fossil fuel subsidies, including on diesel supplied for irrigation pumps and fuel oil supplied to electricity plants. 

Solar power is considered expensive in Bangladesh mainly because competing fossil fuel-based power plants are not paying the real import cost of fossil fuel. Removing subsidies on diesel and fuel oil will help solar to compete on an equal playing field.

Bangladesh is building new coal power plants, and coal power remains the worst contributor to global warming. Bangladesh needs to increase adoption of large scale solar power; the simple solution is to tax coal power and use the revenue to subsidize solar power. 

The best way to do this would be for the government to tax coal import and use the proceeds to pay for a solar “feed-in tariff,” or a price which solar power producers would be paid by the grid for their electricity. 

Currently, the rate of payment has to be negotiated by each prospective solar power company individually with the government; this is time-consuming, and many international solar vendors are simply not willing to invest in a country without a transparent public feed-in tariff. 

Bangladesh urgently needs a public feed-in tariff which provides solar investors the ability to make long-term financial plans. 

The above measures will help reduce Bangladesh’s reliance on fossil fuels, but the fact is that our emissions of carbon dioxide are tiny compared with the developed world. If we are to save ourselves, we not only have to reduce our own emissions, but also help the rest of the world to reduce theirs. 

This seems like an impossible task, but actually it is not. 

The most developed form of carbon-free energy available today for continuous 24/7 electrical power is nuclear power. The construction of the Rooppur power plant makes Bangladesh one of the few countries currently constructing cutting-edge “third-generation” nuclear reactors. 

Third-generation reactors are expensive, but much safer, as they have passive shutdown mechanisms which are able to stop nuclear reactions without any electrical systems (which might fail in the event of an accident, as happened at “second-generation” reactors like Fukushima). 

By providing a proving ground for safer third-generation reactor construction, Bangladesh is already helping to combat global warming internationally.

However, we need to go further. Designs for even safer and cleaner “fourth generation” nuclear reactors were developed in the US in the 1990s, but never implemented due to government budget cuts.

These designs included the “integral fast reactor” which consumes as fuel the hazardous nuclear wastes produced by earlier reactors (including Rooppur), which would otherwise remain radioactive for thousands of years. 

This is where Bangladesh should be an early adopter; by building a fourth generation reactor, we could take an active role in ushering in a new era of safer, cleaner nuclear power across the world. The logic is clear; the industrialized West is destroying the world with carbon dioxide emissions, but is unwilling to construct the next generation nuclear reactors that the world urgently needs to free itself of fossil fuels and stop global warming. 

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to global warming; like it or not, our survival hinges on not only doing our best to reduce our own fossil fuel use, but upon actively helping to reduce carbon emissions all over the world. 

The world needs leadership from Bangladesh in constructing fourth-generation nuclear reactors. 

Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.