Maheshkhali coal power plant deadliest in Southeast Asia: Study

Emran Hossain | Published: 00:00, Nov 27,2019 | Updated: 00:53, Nov 27,2019


A new study released globally Monday morning said that Maheshkhali Coal Power Plant in Chattogram was the deadliest among the ten power plants funded by South Korea in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Pollutants emitted by the Maheshkhali plant would travel hundreds of kilometres, turning air, soil and water on its way toxic and causing an estimated 643 premature deaths every year, said the study, ‘A Deadly Double Standard.’ 

The study, released by Netherlands based environmental organisation Greenpeace, also called it a myth that pollution emissions from coal fired power plants could be controlled by technological intervention.

‘Even high efficiency coal plants using ultra-supercritical technology are major sources of air pollutants and the gains in efficiency from ultra-supercritical technology are far from enough to protect public health,’ said the report.

It also said that many  policymakers mistakenly believed in the myth of ‘clean coal’ technology propagated by coal industry and countries investing in coal.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeatedly defended her decision to rely more on coal for power generation saying that the ‘ultra-supercritical technology’ was there to prevent pollution at coal fired power plants.

The new study said that a coal plant equipped with USC boiler could reduce air pollutant emissions by approximately 10-15 per cent compared to a power plant with a sub-critical boiler.

Of the ten power plants studied, Moheshkhali and three other plants proposed to use the USC technology while the rest would either use supercritical or sub-critical technologies.

The advanced technology at the Moheshkhali plant rather fared worse than any other power plants studied with a projection of emitting the highest amount of sulphur dioxide.

The study said that the Moheshkhali Power Plant would release 820 milligram per cubic meter of sulphur dioxide, the emission limit of which inside South Korea is only 65 milligram per cubic meter.

The plant would also emit 510 milligram per cubic meter nitrogen oxide, one of the highest emission projections among the studied plants.

The Moheshkhali Power Plant would also emit 50 milligram of dust per cubic meter, 10 times greater than the emission limits inside South Korea, said the report.

The study also projected that particulate matters concentration in the air from the Moheshkhali power plants would be 50 times above the limit set by the World Health Organisation.

The study argued that any amount of pollutant is harmful to health but the tolerable limit was set to keep air pollution under check and impacting public health beyond control.

The study estimated that over three million people in Chattogram would be exposed to serious air pollution from the Moheshkhali Coal Fired Power Plant.

The pollution would spread to neighbouring countries too to cause dozens of premature deaths there as well though they do not burn coal, said the study.

It estimated 13 per cent of overall premature deaths projected to be caused by coal fired power plants hosted by Bangladesh, India and Vietnam would occur in their seven neighbouring countries.

The estimates have been made mainly based on data presented in the environmental impact assessment of the power plant projects and reports prepared by South Korean public agencies financing them.

Nitrogen dioxide is the by-product of any combustion while sulphur dioxide is produced when coal is burnt because of the presence of sulphur with it, according to the study.

Sulphur dioxide reacts with other substances to form harmful compounds like sulphuric acid, sulphurous acid and sulphate particles and may be responsible for causing acid rain.

Particulate matters on the other hand are solid particles fine enough to pass through the walls of lungs to blood stream, said the study.

Coal burning could directly release particulate matter as fly ash and other unburned particles.

Two thirds of the projected fatalities can be attributed to particulate matters pollution, which is responsible for causing heart diseases and stroke, said the report.

Pollution from coal fired power plant is also linked to lung cancer, respiratory illness in adults, as well as respiratory infections in children, said the study.

Pollutants released from coal fired power plants can also damage forests, crops, soils, waterways and wildlife by releasing heavy metals such as arsenic, nickel, chrome, lead and mercury, said the study.

These harmful impacts could be reduced by 90 per cent had South Korea followed the same emission limits for power plants at home and abroad, said the study.

For instance, the study said, the emission limits from the Moheshkhali Plant is 17 times higher than the emission South Korea permits at home.

‘Most overseas coal power projects financed by South Korea employ air pollution emission control technologies far inferior to those at home,’ said the study.

It estimated that the 10 studied plants could cause up to 151,000 premature deaths in their lifetime of 30 years.

It said that 90 per cent of the projected deaths could be prevented by strengthening environmental laws with stricter emission limits.

Between January 2013 and August 2019, South Korea’s public financing agencies committed or proposed to finance in overseas coal power plants worth $5.7 billion.

The Export-Import Bank of South Korea is financing the 1,320 MW Moheshkhali Coal Power Plant.

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