Lesson from Nuclear Disasters and Karachi N. Plants
Ahmad Khan and Beenish Altaf
‘It’s no secret that we live in a 24/7 society’ that is full of risks. In fact, Pakistanis usually take risks in order to find quick solutions of their lingering problems. In addition to my contention, people in Pakistan usually don’t care at large about the safety of their lives, and frequently indulge themselves in greater problems while taking risks. Actually, our mode of survival pivots around risks, and we neglect certain aspects of safety of our lives. For example, I saw people usually attempt phone calls while driving a car, as a result sometime this resulted into serious accidents and usually lead to loss of innocent lives. In reality, this is certain phenomenon all around the world. People don’t care about their safety. But, human civilization teaches us to care about our lives, and humans learn from their mistakes, and try to improve their life style in manner with less degree of risk with necessary precautionary measures. On the contrary, risks are not taken in nuclear industry. Risks lead to disasters, but in nuclear field every bit of activity is carefully monitored and dealt with great care.
Technology is overall neutral, which means it has some positive aspects as well as some negative effects. Here, I want to quote Albert Einstein famous saying about technology that “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Taking this realism into account, one can envisage that nuclear technology, if not properly handled, can have disastrous effects on the human civilization. Any nuclear disaster can annihilate entire human civilization in the disaster hit area. Nuclear Technology for peaceful purposes is a reality, and no one can deny the fact that there are more than 430 nuclear reactors, which are currently operating across the world. In fact, countries like Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordon etc. are the aspirant of this technology without having adequate, trained and skillful human resources in their infant nuclear industry. Especially, the developed nation, who’s aspiration are high, but they have their legitimate right of acquiring civil nuclear technology to utilize it for future energy production at home. On the other hand, Pakistan has already a well-establish nuclear industry. It has three nuclear power plants generating power, and two more nuclear power plants are under construction at Chasma.
Moreover, it is building two new nuclear power plants at its coastal city of Karachi, which will able to produce 2 GW power till 2019. In fact, their ground breaking ceremony has already been took place at their proposed site. Karachi is being the place where the foundation stone of Pakistan’s nuclear power industry was laid, when KANUPP-1 was constructed.
Right now, some nuclear pessimists in Pakistan are debating over some theoretical threats posed to these two nuclear power plants. They believe that nuclear plants at Karachi can be hit by a Tsunami or an earthquake in future. They also advocate that their design is not sufficiently meeting the international standards. These are some of the leading arguments they are currently making against the construction of these nuclear power plants. The Chinese model of AP-1000 are designed and approved by an American (Westinghouse Electric Company) with better safety mechanism. As far as Tsunami and earthquake are concerned, the probability is once in half of a century. Substantially, Karachi is lucky enough, not to face any such natural disasters in past 70 years, despite the fact that earthquakes are frequent in Pakistan as of 2005 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people. Similarly, floods are also common in Pakistan, like 2010 super flood, which almost made the entire map of Pakistan filled with water. However, here I once again stay with my contention that human survival pivots around risks and sometime the furry of nature pose great risk to human life. But it is human art of survival, which always overcomes these risks. It is the strength of humans to learn from their past mistake, correct them to live a progressive life.
As far as nuclear disasters are concerned, it is obvious that ‘Three Mile Island’ accident was due to technical fault in the coolant of the nuclear reactor, which caused the melting of the core. Subsequently, it caused lethal radiation in the atmosphere in the disaster affected area. However, the disaster didn’t cause any significant human causality. Likewise, Chernobyl nuclear accident was due to the flawed design of the nuclear reactor as well as inadequate personnel handling the entire operations of the nuclear reactor. Both of the nuclear disasters were caused either from the malfunctioning of the reactor parts or by the faulty design of the nuclear plants. However, Fukushima disaster only involves Tsunami, which turned off the backup generators, which were supposed to provide electricity to the core in case of a black out at the nuclear plant. After Fukushima, nuclear safety has become a major part of the global nuclear discourse apart from nuclear security debate.
However, after previous two nuclear disasters certain lessons were learn in order to correct the mistakes. This involves the revamping of the entire safety mechanism of the nuclear plants in United States after Three Mile Island accident, and correction and modification of Soviet designed nuclear plants in and outside former Soviet Union especially in Europe. Likewise, the Fukushima accident also left with some key lessons to be learnt. Pakistan also realized the opportunity to learn these lessons, and I strongly believe that the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) have strongly contemplated these lessons into their safety policies. There are two examples which need to be highlighted here, which show PAEC’ level of commitment toward the safety of our nuclear plants. One is, Pakistan has conducted ‘Stress Tests’ of all its operating nuclear plants. And one is the shutting down one of its nuclear plant for one and half year, when one of its backup generators went out of order.
They didn’t take any risk and the plant did not go for generation until the backup facilities was not fully restored. Likewise, Pakistan’s nuclear reactors are under IAEA safeguards fulfilling all IAEA standards. The Rationale behind the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear program is the lingering problem of energy crisis, which impinges upon our national security. There is a gap of 5000 MW in the demand and supply chain of power in the country. Pakistan’s energy needs are exponentially growing, and it is predicted that the future demand of power will rise up to 32000 MW till 2018. The construction of these plants at Karachi will be complete till 2019, and they will start pouring 2 GW of power in the national grid. Similarly, the expansion of nuclear plants till 2030 will enable Pakistan to produce more 7000-8000 MW of electricity from its nuclear plants. In conclusion, nuclear energy involves risks, risks with devastating effects on the human civilization in case of any disaster, but nuclear pessimist must understand that there are great precautionary/safety measures with constant vigilance and strong commitments, which definitely lower the chance of any disaster in Pakistan.
Ahmad Khan and Beenish Altaf work in Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.