Faced with a burgeoning energy crisis and the accumulative economic cost of using fossil fuels to address energy shortfall, Pakistan views nuclear power as an affordable alternative to meet the country’s growing energy demand. A large ration of Pakistan’s energy mix comprises coal, natural gas, hydropower, renewables and nuclear energy. Renewable and nuclear energy sources offer Pakistan more substantial potential to expand its energy generation than hydro, coal and natural gas. Thus, the country is working to increase its reliance on these clean energy alternatives. Toward that end, various energy experts in Pakistan consider it imperative to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and exploit the potential of nuclear energy to improve its energy security.
The state is moving forward to expand the role of nuclear power, including the development of new power plants to address its lingering energy crisis.
Pakistan’s civil nuclear programme is viewed as an engine to achieve sustainable development goals. In a nutshell, expansion of the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy is a key tenet of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Thus, the state is moving forward to expand the role of nuclear power, including the development of new power plants to address its lingering energy crisis. Pakistan’s aspirations to enhance power generation capacity through nuclear energy were further underscored on December 01, 2020, when Pakistan started fuel loading its sixth, newly constructed Karachi Nuclear Power Plant Unit-2 (K-2), scheduled to be operational in April 2021.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Energy Programme: Present and Future Trends
Pakistan possesses a small nuclear power program with an operating capacity of 1,355 MWe and projects of 2300 MWe are under construction. Nuclear energy in Pakistan is generated by two nuclear power complexes: Chashma Nuclear Power Plant (CHASNUPP) and Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). CHASNUPP is comprised of four operational units, Chashma-I, Chashma -II, Chashma -III, and Chashma –IV. Chashma Units contribute approximately 1230MWe clean energy to the national grid. Moreover, to tackle the growing energy crisis and consequent economic woes, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) further agreed to build Unit 5 of CHASNUPP, i.e. C-5 with HPR 1000 technology in November 2017- anticipated to add 20% of electricity to the national electric grid by 2030.
Additionally, to enhance the capacity to mitigate the growing supply and demand gap of energy, Pakistan is constructing two more nuclear power plants at Karachi—Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-2 (K-2) and Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-3 (K-3) with the installed net capacity of 2200 MWe. The fuel loading of K-2 is undergoing and estimated to be operational by March 2021. K-3 is expected to be operational in 2022 to contribute approximately 1100 MWe clean energy to the national grid. Pakistan’s first nuclear power plant, Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-1 (K-1) was constructed with the financial assistance of the Canadian government in 1971. Presently K-1 is under evaluation by the PAEC due to the age factor.
Speculations regarding Safety and Designs of K-2 and K-3
Unfounded and negative propaganda about safety and siting of K-2 and K-3 were made when the CNNC and PAEC announced these projects. K-2 and K-3 reactors are based on a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) design or ACP-1000. Speculations regarding the design of the Chinese ACP-1000 reactor were eradicated in 2014. It was declared efficacious to meet the safety standards of International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Generic Reactor Safety Review (GRSR). GRSR supports and enhances the application of the safety standards of IAEA. GRSR is one of the technical subject areas of the IAEA’s Technical Safety Review (TSR) peer review services that deal with the various technical aspects of the vendor’s nuclear power reactor including accident management and design safety aspects. IAEA’s review of Chinese ACP-1000 reactors exemplifies that these reactors possess passive and active technology, which means ACP-1000 reactors can meet the safety requirements and standards.
The Chinese Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) or APC-1000 based K-2 and K-3 reactors comply with the national and international safety standards and any speculations regarding safety, siting, and reactor’s design are well addressed.
Additionally, the containment structure of ACP-1000 or Hualong reactors is two-layered to contain the radioactive substances. According to IAEA’S safety standards series, two-layered containment “protects the reactor against external events and provides radiation shielding in operational states and accident conditions.” It implies that the double-layered containment for nuclear reactors is designed to confine the radioactive material within the nuclear plant during an accident. The aforementioned structure diminishes the risk of an accidental radioactive release in the environment from nuclear power plants. This infers that the Chinese Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) or APC-1000 based K-2 and K-3 reactors comply with the national and international safety standards and any speculations regarding safety, siting, and reactor’s design are well addressed. Consequently, both nuclear reactors are under IAEA safeguards since March 2017 and scheduled to be operational in the coming year.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Regime: Comprehensive Regulatory Framework
Pakistan has established an effective mechanism in accordance with the international standards and guidelines to strengthen the safety and security of its nuclear programme. In February 2020, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released a booklet, titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Regime” along with the third International Conference on Nuclear Security. The booklet highlighted a stringent and comprehensive nuclear safety mechanism of Pakistan that comprises safety and security of nuclear and radioactive materials, nuclear facilities and the activities throughout their lifecycle. “Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Regime” sheds light on Pakistan’s commitments to global nuclear security order. It shows that Pakistan, being an active participant of the global nuclear security framework, is engaged with the international community to achieve the common goal of nuclear safety and security. It has been adhering to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540). It promulgated the Strategic Export Control Act of 2004 to strengthen further the export controls of dual-use nuclear and biological weapons-related technologies/materials. It has actively participated in the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) conferences of 2014 and 2016 and ratified the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). Pakistan also supports IAEA’s Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (INFCIRC/225/Rev.5) and developed Regulations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Installation (PAK/925). Though, Pakistan is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) but has been complied with objectives and guidelines of NSG and other export control groups. Pakistan’s national regulatory framework and engagement with international regimes highlight its commitment to promote nuclear safety and security.
Nuclear energy is essential to alleviate the supply and demand gap and address the prevailing energy crisis. To realize the sustainable industrial, economic and environmental benefits of nuclear power; Pakistan seeks international cooperation in the civilian nuclear industry under the guidelines of multilateral export control and safety regulations.
The major challenge confronting the expansion of the civil-nuclear industry revolves around the critical issue of gaining access to the nuclear-energy markets and developing civil-nuclear cooperation initiatives without furnishing the non-discriminatory criteria. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) under Article IV and the NSG facilitates the civil-nuclear programme to fulfil the energy needs. Despite being an active participant of the international framework on nuclear safety and security, Pakistan faces discrimination to access civil-nuclear technology. In contrast, attempts have been made to present other non-NPT states like India, as a nuclear normal state through the Indo-US (India-United States) nuclear deal (2005) and the NSG waiver, to boost its nuclear power industry and serve its strategic objective in the region. However, the doors of international energy markets are unjustifiably closed on Pakistan, completely brushing aside the gravity of the country’s energy needs. Regarding the discrimination against Pakistan to be mainstreamed in the global nuclear order, the way forward is to develop self-sufficiency in nuclear energy and seeking international cooperation to expand the nuclear power industry.