Written By: Dr. Rizwana Abbasi
Nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is not a new subject. The proposition has been under some serious consideration, for both theorists and practitioners alike, since the world was introduced to this new, unprecedented and unique form of energy. The question, nonetheless, for ‘letting it go from one nation to another’ had been in critical debates in the professional circles since 1950s – before, during and after the Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace Programme. The discussion on nuclear energy’s use and spread has been renewed and become more acute in recent years. Today, Asia-Pacific is home to the world’s leading dual-use companies and expected to see the world’s most rapid growth of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is viewed, by many analysts, as gap filler in energy calculus of a nation. Pakistan is one of the aspirants ‘energy deficient’ states that focus on energy security to fulfil socio-economic demands.
Pakistan has always remained sensitive to rising energy needs viz-a-viz strengthening the energy mix, which I refer to as ‘alternatives enhancing strategy’. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) established the first nuclear power reactor at Karachi named as Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP-1 or K-1). K-1 was a small 137 MWe Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) operationalized in 1971. K-1 contributed towards power requirement of Karachi for nearly 45 years and has lived its useful life. Presently, K-1 is under review by the PAEC because of its age. The second unit is Chashma–1 (C-1), in the Punjab province. This is a 325 MWe two-loop Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) that was installed in May 2000. Its twin unit, Chashma-2 (C-2), was installed in 2011 with an upgraded capacity of 330 MWe. The net capacity of the above three nuclear power plants is 600-700 MWe, which amounts to 4.3 per cent of the total energy mix. Though functioning efficiently, yet the installed nuclear power plants are not enough to bridge energy supply and demand gap. Pakistan, therefore, decided to install another two nuclear power plants to its grid. Pakistan, in June 2008, publicly pronounced to institute the units C-3 and C-4, each carrying 320 MWe with Chinese assistance. The work on installation and operationalization of these projects started in 2011, under the complete safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The units of C-3 and C-4 are going to have a functional life of nearly 40 years.
Despite the IAEA safeguards, the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) raised apprehensions about China’s supply of C-3 and C-4. Historically, the NSG emerged in response to the 1974 Indian nuclear explosions with the purpose of halting further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The aim of the group was to ensure that transfer of nuclear material would not be diverted to unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycles and nuclear explosive activities. The NSG elaborated and served the purpose of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT – came into force in 1970) Article III.2 and IV. It’s worth noting that China acceded to the NPT in 1992 and signed the provisions of the NSG in 2004. The contracts for C-1 and C-2 were signed in 1990 and 2000 respectively, before China joined the NSG, which imposes an embargo on sales of nuclear equipment to Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) that are not party to the NPT. Therefore, the Chinese official stance is that C-3 and C-4 are similarly “grandfathered,” and arrangements are consistent with those for units 1 and 2.
Following the progress made on C-2 and C-3, and contextually recognizing the need for more energy, Pakistan, in June 2013 announced that two 1000 MWe class reactors would be installed as K-2 and K-3 adjacent to the site of K1, in Karachi. It is expected that the K-2 and K-3 will be finalized by 2020 and 2021 respectively. The K-2 and K-3 projects are an inescapable necessity for Pakistan, as in recent times, the production of electricity is far outnumbered by the demand coupled with announced and unannounced load shedding are impeding the growth and development. Proponents and optimists believe that the fastest and cheapest way of dealing with the country’s power woes is building the K-2 and K-3 nuclear power plants. Pakistan was producing 755 MWe electricity from the existing nuclear plants and it would reach to 40,000 MW by 2050. Whereas our immediate neighbours such as India and China in parallel are producing far higher amount which is 5308 MWe and 19050 MWe at present and aspire to produce 15,000 MWe and 50,000 MWe by 2020 respectively. In the overall construct of energy generation, India and China aim at producing 200,000 MW and 400,000 MW by 2050 respectively.
It is safe to argue that the nuclear power plants might just be our only chance to prevent power starvation and insufficiency. Nuclear energy, indeed offers a greater capacity factor, lower cost and environmentally safer source at this stage. During my interaction with a group of scholars, working at the Asia-Pacific Centre of Security Studies (APCSS), USA, they opined that growing need for energy security and nuclear energy is fast, safer and cost effective pathway to mitigate power shortage.
There are some analysts who view design of K-2 and K-3 (which is known as the ACP-1000 design) to be in violation of internationally acclaimed safety standards required of a nuclear power plant. It is worth mentioning here that the criticism concerning the design of the Chinese ACP-1000 reactors is, somewhat blown out of proportion, all pressurized reactors are essentially identical and the only significant variation between diverse generations of reactors lies in their respective safety features and systems, which increase with each advancing generation of reactors. There are no constraints on the vendors to market their reactor designs without installing it inside their home territory. For PAEC, the “K-2 and K-3 are reported amongst the safest reactor systems accessible globally, as the ACP-1000 model selected for the new reactors is based on the well-tested PWR concept of which hundreds of systems are operating around the world.” The PAEC also reported the ACP-1000 design as a Generation-III plant and boasts ‘Passive Safety Systems (PSS),’ which means that no active interference is needed in case of errors or failure. These passive safety systems help the plant’s engineers or operators a maximum of 72 hours to act in case of emergency situations as it has been incorporated with additional security measures unlike the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.
On Accidents’ Evaluation, the evidence shows that the K-1 has been running smoothly for the last 40 years, neither did it release any radiation nor did it create any other predicament for local residents. Furthermore, these fresh K-2 and K-3 power plants, according to the PAEC, are double containment plants that mean radioactivity will remain inside the plant even in case of any misfortune. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has casted low chances of releasing radioactive material from the reactors into the environment. Indeed a double containment wall to avoid the release of radioactive material makes the two nuclear reactors safe. More so, Karachi’s population is within the requirements of nuclear power plants; no development will be permitted in the vicinity of the plants. The design can withstand an earthquake of 9.0 Richter scale. Moreover, Karachi Development Authority clearly prohibits all housing society construction within 5 km of K-1.
From 1960s up to this date, only two deaths were reported from nuclear plants’ incident, which is not very high. The PAEC had carried out surveys that reveal the maximum temperature of water in Karachi is 31oC and the water that is used for cooling the plants only had increased around 2 to 3oC that was still less than harmful level for marine life that is 38oC. The current location of these plants has been regarded as feasible by the relevant authorities such as the PAEC. The National Command Authority has also set up a specialized force for the protection of nuclear installations. The PAEC’s sound credentials and accident free record of operating nuclear power plants up to this date discounts any doubts on the efficacy of K-2 and K-3.
The PAEC has initiated, to what I term a ‘comprehensive nuclear safety orchestration’, which involves risk assessment, preparedness and an evacuation plan for people living out to 15 km from the site. The military institutions, national, provincial and local disaster management authorities and traffic police are in coordination in case of emergency evacuation. The feature has become more significant after the Fukushima incident that did not have a natural cooling system as they thought that there would be no electricity shutdown in Japan. It is paramount that the PNRA and PAEC ensure a close coordination with the NDMA in order to reinforce preparedness plans to respond to natural and man-made accidents. Public awareness and engagement as a whole of society approach is essential. The institutions need to actively participate in global disaster management and nuclear risk reduction conferences, workshops and institutional training programmes to bring best practices home.
If Pakistan is not a signatory of the NPT, it does not mean that it automatically disqualifies from receiving any assistance for its peaceful nuclear programmes. In the case of non-NPT states – India has been given the benefits of the NPT states in the form of Indo-US nuclear deal, this is a sinister selectivity which compels me to call it an ‘opportunists’ leverage’. As a non-NPT state, India is keen to join the NSG to achieve global support for its civil nuclear deals. Thus, the NSG is under pressure to expand membership outside its defined criteria. Obviously India, a non-NPT nuclear weapon state, has not placed its facilities under the IAEA’s full-scope safeguards and thus, it is not entitled to the benefits of the NSG membership. It makes logical sense that non NPT states usually follow special safeguards whereas it is obligatory for the NPT member states to follow comprehensive or full-scope safeguards. Thus, it is subject to the NSG rules that forbid nuclear cooperation with states that have unsafeguarded facilities. Besides, India has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has not addressed the moratorium on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.
Though being without widespread legitimacy, the NSG also has to recognize current realities. In time, the NSG will have to reflect emerging trends in the global nuclear power industry. As agreed in NPT Article IV, the Group by no means will oppose development of peaceful nuclear energy, even as it remains strongly opposed to proliferation. Pakistan desires to secure nuclear energy through an appropriate, universal institutional mechanism thereby securing membership in the NSG directed by a ‘criterion-based approach,’ – a mechanism that defines nuclear cooperation with these new nuclear weapon states based on equality and justice – that is consistent with current political realities. Such a proposition, pragmatic in nature and consistent with time-sensitive strategic urgency, is paramount for Pakistan as it aspires to institute two additional nuclear power plants to generate 40,000 MW by 2050 to make up for the crippling power deficiency that plagues it. Pakistan’s inclusion in the NSG based on logical grounds would indeed secure enduring trust between the group members and Pakistan.