The Nuclear Energy Debate in Pakistan
The very mention of the word nuclear more often than not invokes a sentiment of antagonism towards nuclear energy. Nuclear pessimists often associate this word with the mushroom cloud, the Three Mile Island incident, the Chernobyl incident, and the Fukushima disaster, among others.
This pessimistic outlook often tries and succeeds in overshadowing the enormous potential of nuclear for peaceful uses. The argument that nuclear energy is a curse for humanity, while it may seem logical to most laypeople, does not do justice to the concept of impartial judgment.
The argument of ‘no to nuclear energy’ is against the very spirit of scientific discovery, which has revolutionised the human civilization in the 20th century. In fact, the discovery of the atomic structure marks the beginning of the modern world. Pakistan is the only Muslim country, which has successfully utilised nuclear technology for both peaceful purposes as well as solidifying its defence against its adversary.
The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has successfully built, operated and maintained Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) with an experience of over 45 years. NPPs are not the only products of PAEC; it has also successfully harnessed Nuclear energy in the fields of food, agriculture, medicine, industry, environment, and Human Resource Development. It has established four agriculture and biotechnology institutes across Pakistan and built 18 state-of-the-art cancer hospitals all over the country. Besides, in the industry and environment fields, Research and Development (R&D) has resulted in enormous successes over the years.
In the past two decades, the continuing energy crisis has been one of Pakistan’s biggest challenges, and has imposed significant threats to its national security. A country’s energy resources – energy reserves in particular – are considered a crucial criterion of the national security matrix. At present, Pakistan is listed among those countries that have dangerously risen in the energy security risk index in past few years. According to International Energy Security Risk Index 2012, Pakistan’s index scores were 1,365, whereas India’s and China’s scores were 1,045 and 1,098 respectively. The economic cost of the energy crisis is a heavy burden for Pakistan.
The situation is dire due to several reasons: energy hydel power generation depends on seasons; coal reserves are not being used effectively for electricity generation; renewable energy generation isn’t even considered, given the government’s inability to afford establishing and maintaining such initiatives on large scales.
While there exists a stalemate on investing in long term energy plans for want of funding, there is one option that Pakistan has experimented with – and has been proven a viable option for several countries world over.
The option of generating energy using nuclear resources stands out as a potential solution to the country’s energy crisis. Nuclear pessimists believe that this form of energy is expensive and dangerous but are unable to comprehend the extents of its sustainability and affordability (tariff cost).
The PAEC has planned to expand its capacity from 730MWs to 8000 MWs – a substantial amount to meet the current and future energy demands. Nuclear energy, along with thermal, hydel, and alternative energy sources (wind and solar) will be sufficient to pull Pakistan out of the energy crisis.
At present, three NPPs are operational, and two more – CHASNUPP 3 and CHASNUPP 4 – are under construction. Additionally, the ground-breaking ceremony for the Kanupp-II (K-II) and Kanupp-III (K-III) projects have also taken place. However, a campaign objecting to the site, design and construction of the K-II and K-III has been perpetrated by some of the nuclear pessimists.
This campaign is based on fears of humanitarian and ecological consequences, and over the potential natural disasters that could occur near the NPP sites. Scientifically, chances of an earthquake are rather slim. Although the design of the ACP-1000 reactor is based on an existing one, it has been upgraded with the passive safety measures.
Furthermore, one of the major concerns raised by nuclear pessimists is that of a potential terrorist strike to sabotage reactor. However, there exist 25000 trained security personnel and a three-layer security system that have been put in place by the Strategic Plans Division for securing these facilities – dispelling the myth of unpreparedness to attacks by anti-national elements.
The bottom line is that none but nuclear-based sources can generate the tremendous amount of energy that Pakistan is in need of, today. The challenges and prospects to utilise this option for future power production and other peaceful uses are plenty; however, turning away from nuclear energy is neither rational nor beneficial in out attempts at addressing our acute energy crises.
Ahmad Khan and Beenish Altaf work for the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.
They can be contacted at email@example.com