Quest for nuclear energy


Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
THE nuclear power generation is very efficient, environment friendly and economical source of energy. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission is intelligently using nuclear technology for power generation to resolve the soaring energy deficiency in the country. It has been constructing new nuclear power plants with the assistance of China under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbassi inaugurated country’s fifth nuclear power plant Chashma-4 on September 8, 2017. This plant is build with the assistance of China at the Chashma Nuclear complex, Mianwali. It is capable to add 340 MW of electricity in the national grid. The plant is operational on trial basis and will pass through various functional and safety related tests at full power. Notably, the Chashma Nuclear Power complex contains three operational Chinese origin power plants, i.e. C-1, C-2 and C-3. They have been successfully contributing to the national Grid with an excellent performance since 2000, 2011 and 2016, respectively. The three Chashma units collectively supply over 950 MW to the national grid with availability factors of around 99 percent.
The nuclear energy is a clean cum sustainable source of energy. United Nations has been encouraging and facilitating the development of nuclear power industry for the prosperity of less developed nations. On October 29, 2007 during the 62nd Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly, a resolution appealing to Member States to continue to support the International Atomic Energy Agency’s indispensable role in ‘encouraging and assisting the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful uses’ was adopted.
There are some 439 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries plus Taiwan, with a combined capacity of over 370 GWe. Around 15.2% of the world’s electricity is produced from nuclear energy. According to reports 67 reactors are under construction in 13 countries. The majority of the operating reactors is located in United States, Europe and Russian Federation, but the most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region. The international nuclear commercial lobby has been advocating the merits of nuclear energy and also encouraging the nuclear reactor material and technology transfer to the developing states, especially India— a non-member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—to boost the use of nuclear energy.
The NPT Articles III and IV facilitate transfer of nuclear technology from nuclear supplier states to nuclear recipient states, and also ensure that the recipient states should not exploit this trade for developing their nuclear weapons program. The Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) is a voluntary group of nuclear supplier states. It works by consensus. Since its creation in 1975 to September 2008, it had followed a very simple rule that it would assist only that nuclear recipient state, which was observing comprehensive safeguards of International Atomic Energy Agency. In September 2008, it amended its trade rules on the behest of United States to facilitate India’s growing nuclear industry. The India specific amendment severely undermined the credibility of the Nuclear Supplier Group.
The probability of accidents or deliberate sabotaging act by the insider or outsider at the nuclear power plant cannot be ignored. Simultaneously, exaggerating as well as dramatizing the probability of accident at the nuclear power plants generates misperceptions about the nuclear energy efficacy. The safety and security of a power plant is a legitimate concern, but is not irresolvable problem. The security problem could be resolved by the development of a strong security culture—in which the relevant individuals hold a deeply rooted belief that insider and outsider threats are credible. The 60-year-long recorded history of nuclear energy programs worldwide germinates confidence in the safety and security apparatus of nuclear power plants. Notably, during the six decades history of nuclear power plants, there have been only three major accidents leading to the release of radiation, i.e. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants. Among these, the Chernobyl was the only one of these incidents that resulted in human casualties and significant damages to the environment. Nonetheless, the Chernobyl accident formally introduced the concept of ‘safety culture’ to the vocabulary of nuclear safety.
Since the very beginning, the transfer of nuclear technology and material is limited and controlled by the developed countries. The Nuclear Supplier Group has adopted a discriminatory approach towards Pakistan. Despite it, currently, Pakistan’s four nuclear power plants—KANUPP, C-1, C-2 and C-3—are in operation and generating 1030 MW. Another 340 MW electricity has been added with the inauguration of C-4. Two large size nuclear power plants, K-2 and K-3, are under construction near Karachi, and are scheduled to be operational in 2020 and 2021 respectively, adding another 2200 MW to national grid.
To conclude, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission engineers and scientists are proficient in constructing and operating safely nuclear power plants. The inauguration of Chashma-4 proves that the discriminatory approach of Nuclear Supplier Group has failed to obstruct the nuclear energy quest of Pakistan.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.