Sri Lankan Church, activists oppose coal-powered plants

Environmentalists, religious leaders and villagers cite damage caused by the country's largest facility in Norochcholai
Sri Lankan Church, activists oppose coal-powered plants

Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant was commissioned in 2011 under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Villagers claim ash emissions have become a health issue. (ucanews photo)

Church leaders and environmentalists have urged Sri Lanka’s government to shut down a coal power plant and called for the use of alternative power sources.

They have long complained about the considerable environmental damage caused by the Lakvijaya Coal Power Plant in Norochcholai at the southern end of the Kalpitiya peninsula.

Residents, farmers and fishermen have reported serious health problems.

Due to the lack of proper storage of coal and the careless disposal of effluents, surrounding villages are affected by coal dust and ash in the air.

Some 40 percent of Sri Lanka's electricity is generated from the plant, the largest in the country.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, urged the government to look for alternative ways of generating power.

"Steps should be taken to halt the proposed addition of 600 megawatts of coal-powered projects at Norochcholai," said Cardinal Ranjith at a forum under the theme “Is coal the solution to the energy crisis?” which was attended by religious leaders, environmentalists and the power and energy minister on Dec. 30 in Colombo.

"If possible, the Norochcholai coal power plant should be also stopped."

The senior clergyman said there were several alternatives and the country should not need to use coal-powered plants.

The government plans to generate an additional 600MW of electricity from the Norochcholai plant, which is located 144 kilometers north of Colombo.

Ash from the plant has been accumulating since it started operations in 2011.

Church officials, environmentalists, farmers and fishermen in the area were vehemently opposed to the power plant even before construction began.

There are allegations that the plant was built with outdated materials and fails to meet international standards.

Funding for the project was provided by the Chinese government at a long-term low interest rate.

Environmentalist Athula Fernando said many children who live near the plant are afflicted with skin diseases and some elderly people suffer from respiratory ailments.

"Air pollution is the main cause of these diseases. The air and water have been polluted by coal dust and ash," Fernando, 54, told ucanews.

"Vegetables are colored black due to the coal dust and ash in the air. Red beets, green beans and red chilies are black. The white school uniforms of children are also stained with black patches."

Hemantha Withanage, executive director of the Environmental Justice Center, said pollution has caused the water in the Kalpitiya area to turn yellow.

Chemicals borne by the dust and ashes contaminating the air as well as local produce and water supplies are very harmful to humans. They can lead to lung ailments, heart disease, skin conditions, cancer and kidney disease, Withanage said.

Activist Marcus Nisantha said he was opposed to the plant because it was built without proper technology. "There is no proper way to dispose of effluents. The waste is accumulating in the ecosystem," he said.

Cardinal Ranjith said political leaders cannot sell the country. "The country cannot be betrayed to others," he added.

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