Dangerous plan to cap nuclear power


ACCORDING to a report appearing in this newspaper, the Ministry of Water and Power has floated a queer proposal to cap country’s nuclear power generation on flimsy and questionable grounds. It has reportedly proposed to the Prime Minister that Pakistan would be surplus in electricity and other energy resources by 2020 and therefore, there was no need to install these plants, which also have a high cost of generation.
As there is no contradiction by the Ministry, it can safely be deduced that the proposal, with serious implications and consequences, is very much on the table whereas it deserved to be rejected forthwith. Strangely the proposal comes at a time when Pakistan is fighting its case aggressively on diplomatic front to win membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We believe that this suggestion is a crude attempt to undermine Pakistan’s case for NSG membership at a crucial juncture. It seems the proposal has been floated under influence of anti-nuclear programme lobby which tried its best to scuttle progress on K-II and K-III on environmental grounds but miserably failed. There are no two opinions that Pakistan has been facing acute shortage of electricity for the last over one decade affecting not only households but also economy, agriculture and industry of the country. The decision of policy-makers to adopt a multiple approach to overcome this crisis was laudable as dependence on only one source was an unreliable and costly option. It was because of lack of vision on part of those sitting in cosy rooms of the Ministry and some other places that the country was forced to establish oil-based power plants that pushed the electricity tariff beyond the purchasing power of common man.
The present government deserves appreciation for working on all fronts — hydel, thermal, solar, wind and nuclear — to add adequate megawatts to national grid to keep wheel of the economy running at fast pace. The target of adding 8800 MW of nuclear power by 2030, given to Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission by government way back, is in fact modest one and needed to be revised upward because of ground realities. PM Nawaz Sharif was surely aware of the importance and significance of nuclear power as he gave instructions to the Commission, on the occasion of inauguration of Chashma-III power plant, to gear up efforts to surpass the target. He not only desired this but also publicly assured PAEC of government’s fullest support for this national cause. In this backdrop, the proposal of capping nuclear power generation runs contrary to avowed commitment of the Prime Minister. No doubt, nuclear power plants are cost-intensive and that is why the country is gradually constructing these plants but experts are unanimous that cost of generation is much less than oil-fired plants and they recover their cost much earlier than thermal power plants. The design life of modern nuclear power plants is much longer, typically 60 years, compared to 30 years for a conventional fossil fuelled thermal power plant. Also the nuclear plants provide reliable base-load electricity operating at capacity factor higher than 90% without any seasonal variations as in case of hydel generation which goes down when there is less flow of water in rivers and less availability of water in dams. Nuclear power is safe, reliable, economical and environmental friendly.
As of November 2016, 30 countries worldwide were operating 450 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 60 new nuclear plants are under construction in 15 countries. Thirteen countries relied on nuclear energy to supply at least one quarter of their total electricity whereas even after attainment of target of 8800 MW in 2030, the share of nuclear power to national grid would be confined to just 9%. It is because of clear advantages of nuclear energy that successive governments wisely invested whatever they could to increase its generation. Thanks to active collaboration of China, a momentum has been built to achieve the target of 8800 MW and no attempt should be made to thwart this national cause. We believe that country needs local manufacturing of small-scale nuclear power plants capable of fulfilling electricity requirements of all urban centres on stand-alone basis. We also apprehend that conspiracy to cap the nuclear power generation could amount to giving a stick to the enemies of our nuclear programme to lash at other aspects of the programme and therefore, it would be in the fitness of things if the Prime Minister himself clarifies the situation as the report in question has raised great anxiety among masses.