Pakistan and Nuclear Power: Closing the Energy Gap Responsibly

Speaking in the favor of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Stephen Hawking once said, “I would like nuclear fusion to become a practical power source. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.” Pakistan’s own pursuit of nuclear energy through fission was underscored two months ago when Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi inaugurated Pakistan’s fifth nuclear power plant called the Chashma-4 (C-4) with the capacity to produce 340 megawatts of electricity. At the plant’s inauguration, Mr. Abbasi remarked that “this power plant will help in fulfilling energy needs of the country and will also help in reducing environmental pollution.”

By way of comparison, Pakistan’s energy shortfall is typically pegged at 4,000 megawatts. As such, the C-4’s induction may appear to be a minuscule step (8.5 percent of the total deficit) towards closing Pakistan’s energy gap. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. While Pakistan should continue to pursue various forms of renewable energy, including solar and wind energy, nuclear power offers unique benefits alongside these alternatives. Apart from being an inexhaustible supply of clean energy, nuclear power plants are often a more consistent source of power than wind, solar, or hydroelectric sources that depend on weather conditions. Given that Pakistan was recently named the seventh most vulnerable country to climate change, safely developing a consistent source of energy independent of climate conditions is a wise strategy in addressing Pakistan’s energy shortfall.

Besides the C-4 plant, Pakistan’s other four nuclear power plants contribute 1,030 megawatts of clean energy to the national grid. Two additional plants (the K-2 and K-3) are also under construction in Karachi and expected to come online in 2020 and 2021 respectively. This increase in nuclear energy is part of the government’s effort to manage increasing power demands and address a dire energy deficit in Pakistan. As a source of clean energy, Pakistan’s investment in nuclear energy can help the country meet its international commitments towards environmental protection.

Despite these benefits, the development of Pakistan’s nuclear energy sector does not come without challenges. The potential for environmental catastrophes, particularly in earthquake-prone portions of the country, and international concerns related to Pakistan’s diversion of civil nuclear energy to its nuclear weapons program threaten to undermine this crucial source of power for Pakistan’s economy. Yet, there are indications that Pakistan is prepared to manage the effects of a potential nuclear accident and to assuage international concerns regarding diversion. Given the severity of Islamabad’s energy crisis, Pakistan has an inherent interest in pursuing safe and efficient forms of civil nuclear energy and should continue investment in this sector. Moreover, international investors should financially contribute to the growth of Pakistan’s nuclear energy sector as a developing country with a crippling energy deficit.

Environmental Protection and Disaster Management  

An expanded civilian nuclear energy sector would enable Pakistan to fulfill various international commitments related to environmental protection, such as the 2016 Paris Agreement. While Pakistan has been criticized in the past for failing to do more to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement, Islamabad’s push for sustainable nuclear energy demonstrates its commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Given Pakistan’s state as a developing country with a large energy deficit, international cooperation in the shape of funding for nuclear power and the transfer of clean energy technologies could assist Pakistan in further meeting international climate standards. This could ultimately help the international community meet one of the key objectives of the Paris Agreement in lowering global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Regarding the threat of environmental disasters or nuclear accidents, Pakistan has implemented several precautionary and safety measures involving the legal, regulatory, institutional, operational, and enforcement procedures within its nuclear power plants. According to Pakistani scientist, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, nuclear plants in Pakistan are generally safer than other industrial sectors. In its 40-year history with nuclear power, Pakistan has had only one nuclear emergency in 2011, during which the plant’s emergency team was able to contain the leak in seven hours. While a single incident, the leak did demonstrate Pakistan’s ability to effectively respond to an environmental threat posed by nuclear power plants. However, as Pakistan seeks to expand its nuclear energy sector, safety measures should be heightened accordingly to take into account the potential for nuclear accidents in areas prone to seismic activity or near population centers, if any loopholes are still there.

Addressing Nuclear Proliferation Concerns

Another concern for Pakistan’s expanding nuclear energy program is the potential to divert fuel from its civilian nuclear facilities towards its nuclear weapons program. To many Pakistanis, however, the dire state of Pakistan’s energy crisis mandates the exploration of civil nuclear power. Still, to avoid the perception of enhancing its nuclear weapons program, Pakistan has declared that it is “proactively engaged with the international community to promote nuclear safety and security.” In this vein, Pakistan recently applied to have its K-2 and K-3 reactors placed under IAEA safeguards, a request the international organization subsequently approved.

In sum, civil nuclear power represents a clean and effective option to close Pakistan’s energy deficit and meet the international community’s ambitious goal of lowering global temperatures by two degrees in the next 30 years. The induction of the C-4 nuclear power plant is thus a step in the right direction and, with proper measures to prevent nuclear accidents and diversion, a hopeful sign in addressing Pakistan’s energy challenge.


Image 1: Bjoern Schwarz via Flickr.

Image 2: Muhammad Reza via Getty Images.

Posted in , Energy, IAEA, Nonproliferation, Nuclear, Pakistan

Gulshan Rafiq

Gulshan Rafiq is an Assistant Research Officer (ARO) at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. She holds an M.Sc and M. Phil degree in Defence and Strategic Studies. She has also been a Non-Proliferation Fellow at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey, California and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, USA. She has previously worked as an International Relations Analyst at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Her research areas cover contemporary international affairs, non-proliferation, and security issues in South Asia. She regularly contributes to national and international dailies and academic journals.

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Adeel Mukhtar Mirza

Adeel Mukhtar Mirza is an Assistant Research Officer (ARO) at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in Pakistan. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Economics from the Government College University (GC), Faisalabad; and has a master's degree in Strategic & Nuclear Studies (S&NS) from the National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad. He also has a Diploma in Strategic Studies and Disarmament from the Strategic Studies Institute, Islamabad (SSII). Currently, he is an M.Phil scholar at NDU. Prior to joining IPRI, he worked at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) and was an intern with Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Defence. His areas of research include the nexus of climate change and security, environmental security, climate justice, energy security, human security, and South Asian politics. He can be reached at [email protected]

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3 thoughts on “Pakistan and Nuclear Power: Closing the Energy Gap Responsibly

  1. Nuclear Economics discussion is missing and as analysts is that not the key point to be discussed?

    India’s 700 MW PHWR plants (with cost over run in excess of 15%) are slated to cost 1.5 million US$/MW while recently under construction Russian design Kudankulam 3 & 4 are costing India 3.15 million US$/MW with units 5&6 costing close to US$ 3.9 million/MW. Considering India’s well developed manufacturing base and scale merit, a certain amount of nuclear power (provided they are not French or US/Japanese designed) is justifiable.

    On the contrary, the 2,200 MW plants under construction in Karachi are projected to cost US$ 10 billion which even assuming a heroic no cost escalation comes to in excess of US$ 4.5 million/MW and likely to touch US$ 5 million/MW assuming an almost inevitable modest level cost escalation.

    and more plants mean likely the base cost will be likely higher for future ones. we are not even getting into lifecycle costs etc…, in comparison supercritical coal plants and gas fired power plus renewables are way better. I assume sane economics is going to get ignored anyway as anything nuclear is seen akin to a family jewel in pakistan. the man on the street as usual will foot the bill.

  2. Non-proliferation proponents have expressed concern over the Sino-Pakistani nuclear deal. But some doubt whether it could be blocked like the 2006 US-Indian nuclear deal was for setting “a dangerous precedent”, because if Washington opposes it openly, it would face charges of exercising “hypocrisy” in non-proliferation.

  3. In order to eliminate the menace of load shedding and to make the country fulfill its energy requirements, there is a need to seek for the alternatives other than natural resources. For this purpose the country’s establishment is optimistic about the operation of nuclear power plants. Though Pakistan’s nuclear program had always been facing internal and external opposition. The anti-nuclear lobby propagates that neither nuclear weapons are suitable for solidifying Pakistan’s defensive fence nor peaceful use of nuclear energy is beneficial for the people of Pakistan. But the successful 45 years of experience in the field of nuclear power plants construction and operation had proved the global vision of nuclear power about Pakistan wrong.

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