Published On: Wed, Mar 5th, 2014

Unveiling Pakistan’s Nuclear Mystery


Pakistan is facing one of its worst energy crises in its history. Blackouts last for more than half a day in many of cities, including the financial and industrial hub, Karachi. The shortage of electricity and gas has badly affected the country’s economy. Also with the population growth, demand for electricity is set to increase exponentially.

According to the available data at Pakistan Electric Power Company, electricity generation capacity is estimated to about 22,500MWe. The average demand is 17,000 MWe and the deficit averages between 4,000 and 5,000 MWe. Oil (35.2 per cent), hydel (29.9 per cent), gas (29 per cent), and nuclear and imported (5.8 per cent) are the principal sources.

Due to this huge energy shortage peak electricity demand is expected to rise in the next 10 years by four to five per cent. To overcome the energy crisis in Pakistan there is a dire need to come up with long term and sustainable policies.

While the unfolding disaster at Japan’s Fukushima reactor gripped the world and countries like Germany used the event to shift their reliance on other expensive alternatives, Japan is reverting back to nuclear power generation.

The lessons are simple. Japan can ill afford to shift to other sources of energy and the cost of improving its nuclear safety is much lesser than relying on other alternatives. Conversely, Germany might not have placed its all eggs in non-nuclear energy basket for safety reasons, facing gigantic challenges. The other energy sector lobbies might have used the Fukushima as an opportunity. Interestingly, Germany is spending billion’s for decommissioning its nuclear plants as it is estimated it will cost roughly €1 billion ($1.3 billion) to decommission a single nuclear reactor and billion’s to bridge the energy gap from other alternatives.

It is common knowledge that Pakistan needs uninterrupted electricity at the lowest possible cost. Like in Japan, nuclear energy presents that ceaseless and less expensive option. This simple analogy appears too complex for a fringe of naysayers who fail to provide a workable and sustainable solution to the electricity generation crisis.

Currently energy shortages are staggering the economy and contributing to unrest. But the country has options.

The kind of electricity generated from oil, solar, wind and hydroelectic is not cost effective along with complementary environmental hazards in addition. With zero emission of carbon dioxide, nuclear presents a viable option in shape of reliable supply at a competitive price.

Moreover, we just don’t have the state of the art technology required to convert the lignite coal found in Thar coal reserves into gas. Open pit mining of the coal would require massive amounts of water, which is already scarce in the Thar Desert. Apparently there is not one single scientific study on record that claims that Thar coal is both technologically and economically viable. Why waste so much money investing in fossil fuel when we are blessed with excellent track record of operating nuclear power plants.

Pakistan’s ability to meet its energy requirements indigenously is constrained by the relatively poor quality of its coal, the feast or famine nature of hydroelectric power in a monsoon climate, and the political and security challenges of tapping effectively the natural gas reserves in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan will have to seek energy security through a mixture of external and internal sources. As one element of a long-term plan for energy diversity, nuclear power makes sense for Pakistan, as it does for many states. Pakistan thus far has a very good nuclear safety record, but a newer design would be preferable.

According to the National Transmission and Distribution Company (NTDC), annual electricity growth rate is estimated to hover around 5-6% over the next ten years, which translates to peak electricity demand of 32,000 MWe by 2020. So, to make a real and significant dent in Pakistan’s electricity shortage, much larger reactors would be needed.

Against this background, the fundamental question is: are the existing probations of our power policy appropriately encompass the evolving technologies to ensure our energy needs? The answer to this question is: No. Pakistan has no other option except gradually reduce its reliance on imported fuels, indigenize, have a healthy energy mix and produce electricity primarily through nuclear power.

The Fukushima disaster was not owing to the failure of nuclear power plant and because these were old generation models. It was because the electrical power supply to the plant failed due to massive unprecedented tsunami. It may be recalled that there were no radiation related casualties in Fukushima. Japan and other states have learnt from this experience and have taken steps to enhance nuclear safety features at the existing plants and in the designs of upcoming plants. Pakistan is not an exception to this international best practice. Nuclear energy remains popular. Who does not want it? Nuclear power plants are being built in the U.S., U.K., China, India, and even in countries that have vast fuel reserves like UAE.

By 2050, Pakistan plans to generate more than 40,000 MWe through nuclear plants. The two Chinese-funded nuclear plants are expected to be completed by 2019 and will generate some 2200MWe which will be more than the combined power of all nuclear plants operating in the country.

Like Japan, Pakistan can not afford to demur and waste time in considering the feasibility of nuclear energy. Its electrical power requirements are so large that all alternative sources of energy are welcome and nuclear is one of the alternatives. It is a need of time that to get rid of this long continued fear and salute the government for building the nuclear power plants and marshaling other sources of energy.

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