By Usman Ali Khan
In recent weeks there has been squabble over the safety of two new nuclear power plants proposed to be built near the coastal belt of Karachi. While most of the world’s developing countries are leaning towards nuclear energy, some ‘interested’ Pakistanis, like Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, are repeatedly asserting that the Government of Pakistan is gambling with the lives of Karachiites using fabricated notions. The voiced concerns regarding dangers of the technology and that the plant designs are unfounded and appear politically motivated.
Here is why?
To begin with, one may like to look up Nuclear Security Action Plan (NSAP), which has drawn up by Pakistan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority. PNRA is Pakistan’s nuclear watchdog and works in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Interestingly IAEA considers NSAP a model for other nations. Explaining Pakistan’s NSAP, initiated in 2006, has set-up a system for managing, locating orphan sources and guarding the boarders against any illegal entry/exit of the radioactive material or source. Pakistan has also set-up Nuclear Security Emergency Coordination Centre (NuSECC). These activities are a step forward in developing a sustainable system in nuclear security with the established response and recovery capabilities, integrated with national laws, regulations and procedures. Interestingly, the concerns by so-called Pakistani experts have not been substantiated by the IAEA. The latter has actually no problems in the technological and design domains. In regard to the questions about the approval of the project, the relevant authorities, particularly the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) have meticulously examined and scrutinised the entire project, in which exercise it has also consulted with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on all technical aspects of the planned power plants.
In November 2006, the IAEA approved an agreement with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission for new nuclear power plants to be built in the country with Chinese assistance. The 35-member Board of Governors of the IAEA unanimously approved the safeguards agreement for any future plants that Pakistan would be constructing.
Again, let’s turn to what the pseudo-experts say. They assert that Pakistan is vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes and that’s why it is a big wager to make nuclear power plants. In 2010, Pakistan endured a devastating flood, which claimed 2000 lives and affected 20 million people. Thankfully, the Government has sited the plants in a manner that that none of the nuclear facilities were affected by flooding.
So why would the upcoming Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) K2 and K3 bother the experts? Won’t 2200 MW of electricity power up millions of homes? These plants will be safe, reliable and cost effective in providing uninterrupted and inexpensive power to the energy-starved households and businesses in Karachi and elsewhere?
What China is doing internationally?
This is not a dynamic peculiar to Pakistan only. For instance, around sixty percent of the reactors under construction in the world today are in China alone. Also, Chinese are the main supplier of components required for U.S. nuclear power plants; Britain has also allowed Chinese companies to buy majority stakes in British market; Australia and Canada have also inked nuclear agreements with China; China Atomic Energy Agency is cooperating with 31 members of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). If it is okay for the world to do business with Beijing, why would our honorable detractors question Islamabad’s reliance on their technology?
Chinese reactor designs and technology is safe and usable. In July 2010 a 22-strong IAEA team from 15 countries carried out a two-week Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission to review of China’s regulatory framework for nuclear safety. The IAEA made a number of recommendations but said that the review had provided “confidence in the effectiveness of the Chinese safety regulatory system and the future safety of the vast expanding nuclear industry.”
Let’s go back in History!
These detractors and Physicist raised almost identical concerns regarding Chashma nuclear plant in year 2000 presenting that Pakistan risks a possible environmental and public health catastrophe. The concerns were same about the location, the reactor design, the reliability of the components, and the implications of the design failures:
“The second concern at that time was also the safety of the reactor design. At that time the same experts stated that originally designed by the China National Nuclear Corporation as a replica of China’s first indigenous reactor, Qinshan-1, the history of Chashma suggests that the design has been subject to repeated changes. The limited Chinese experience in reactor design and the changes that have been made may combine to make the behavior of the system as a whole less predictable and less reliable, and so less safe.”
Would the citizens of Pakistan ask the pseudo-experts to explain the alarms they raised in the light of excellent track record of Chashma Nuclear Plant to this day? Who wouldn’t then conclude that the present day concerns about upcoming plants also carry some ulterior motives?
Year 2005 was challenging for Pakistan, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the northern parts of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Thanks to the correct site selection, the nuclear power plants were out of harm’s way.
The country has option!
Pakistan has operated its existing plants safely. While the lesson from the Fukushima situation are still evolving, PNRA has proactively taken steps including advising its licensees to revisit the safety analyses, emergency preparedness plans, operational capabilities, emergency management guidelines, robustness of designs to withstand natural hazards and to carry out necessary improvements. Pakistan has taken pride in observing all nuclear safety norms, in taking all the necessary security measures and getting the job done in the most competent manner. Islamabad has an unblemished record of operation power plants for 41 years – that is no mean achievement. It can continue doing so and make the lives better.