On November 26, 2013 Prime Minister of Pakistan inaugurated the construction of two nuclear power plants (NPPs) of 1100 MWe units, KANUPP II and KANUPP III (K-II & K-III) in Karachi. The Karachi Coastal Power Project is part of Pakistan’s Nuclear Energy Vision Program that seeks to generate 44,000 MW of electric power by 2050. In an exclusive interview with a daily newspaper, Chairman, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Dr. Ansar Parvez, commented on the process of selecting eight more sites with each site having four nuclear power plants, making it a total of 32 NPPs to supply one-fourth of Pakistan’s total energy requirement as predicted for 2050. Note that the current electricity generation capacity of Pakistan is only 725 MW from nuclear energy out of the total of 20,000 MW from other sources.

According to a press release by the Prime Minister’s Office, “the setting up of the plant is part of a string of projects aimed at overcoming the power shortage, which include wind energy generation of 2500 MW, CASA project of 1000 MW by 2017 and Tarbella-V extension project by 2017.” In addition, the GOP has started work on Pakistan Power Park at Gaddani, Balochistan that will have 10 coal-based power projects of 660 MW each.  The GOP has also decided to construct “Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu dams simultaneously, besides building the Bunji dam. These dams have total power generation capacity of 15,000 mega watts from the Indus river.” Using this mix of nuclear, hydro and coal energy sources with both short and long term electricity generation capacities, there is tremendous hope for a load shedding free Pakistan.

Sino-Pak Nuclear Energy Cooperation and Its Critics

For Pakistan’s fifth and largest nuclear power project (K-II&K-III), China has committed to extend Pakistan a loan of $6.5 billion and will waive off $250,000 insurance premium on the loan. The total cost of the project is $9.6 billion, 82 % of this total cost will be financed by China and the GOP will pay rest of its 18% share in Pak Rupees. Not only has China agreed to finance this project, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) will be building two Chinese designed nuclear reactors, ACP-1000 units of 1,100 MW capacity each.

Critics of this deal have raised issues with the safety and security of the untested Chinese reactor design; the location of these reactors in the city of Karachi and the capacity and capability of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment to start such ventures given the overall deteriorating security situation in Pakistan.

  • First: the issue with the credibility of the still untested Chinese-designed nuclear reactors, ACP-1000. According to World Nuclear News (WNN) website, the Chinese ACP-1000 is derived from the 900 MWe PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) imported by China from France in the 1990s. As for obtaining the complete IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights), China maintains that it has acquired full IPR over their design and the ‘research and design review’ has also been completed. ACP-1000 is generation III, PWR and is an enhanced version (with additional post-Fukushima safety requirements incorporated) of current Chinese CPR-1000 (M310+) design (Gen II+), of which 6 reactors are already operational in China and 18 more are under construction.  Therefore, given that it has taken China so many years to expertly localize these reactor designs (from Areva and Westinghouse) and that it is now steadily on its way to wean off foreign reactor technology, any speculation about success of ACP-1000 being sold to Pakistan, is unwarranted. I seriously doubt that China would want to make its mark as an independent Asian reactor manufacturer and supplier by selling faulty equipment and that too in its own backyard where the chances of radiation leak (if any) due to reactor design have the highest rate of reaching across its own border!
  • Second, opposition on the location of K-II and K-III and parallels with the Fukushima accident. As a general point of reference, nuclear power plants typically consume huge amounts of water for cooling and steam generation to drive the turbines that in turn generates electricity. Being near the coastline helps minimize the cost of transporting thousands of gallons of water if the NPP was inland. In the U.S. for example, majority of NPPs are inland because the country has the sources of cooling water inland. For a country like Pakistan with restricted resources, having NPPs near coastline will be more cost effective. Just to give you an idea about NPPs and population proximity: there are 65 NPPs in the U.S. with 105 operational nuclear reactors and over one-third of U.S. population lives within 50miles radius of these NPPs. However, what happened in Fukushima[1], Japan was unprecedented and any parallels drawn between Karachi and Fukushima are based on lack of information and knowledge about the nature of the accident. (For detailed report on the accident please see here) Pakistan has an impeccable record of safety and security of nuclear power plants for the past forty-three years with the commissioning of first nuclear power plant in 1971. Pakistan established an independent nuclear regulatory body (Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Board-PNRB) as per its obligations as a signatory of the International Convention on Nuclear Safety, which it joined in 1994. PNRB was later dissolved and Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) assumed all regulatory affairs in 2001 as an independent body to oversee “regulation of nuclear safety, radiation protection, transport and waste safety in Pakistan and also empowered it to determine the extent of civil liability for damage resulting from any nuclear incident.” Pakistan has an extensive inter-agency Nuclear Emergency Management System (NEMS) under the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which works in collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) therefore in an event of nuclear accident, NEMS and NDMA will ensure necessary steps to deal with the emergency.

It needs to be understood that population of any country that runs and operates NPPs, is at risk either from exposure to radiation leakage; reactor accident or nuclear emergency due to natural disasters therefore there is simply no room for complacency. Pakistan is not an exception in this case and the managers of nuclear power in Pakistan are acutely aware of this crucial aspect.

  • Third, the overall security situation in Pakistan. Before I get to the terrorist threat to overall security of Pakistan’s nuclear complex, it is important to mention the components involved in physical security of a nuclear power plant which houses nuclear reactors. There are three security zones around nuclear power plants:
    • Owner Controlled Area: is the land on which the plant is constructed in addition to the surrounding area. It is mostly open-access area for visitors and general public.
    • Protected Area: is located inside the Owner Controlled Area and has higher levels of security as compared to the open access area. There are two rings of parallel fences: the barbed wired inner fence is the first physical barrier against unauthorized access and the outer fence serves as the second physical barrier reducing false alarms. Only authorized personnel are allowed to enter the protected area after verification (only those with SPD security clearance in Pakistan’s case from this point onwards).
    • Vital Area: is located inside the Protected Area and houses radioactive materials.

Pakistan follows strict security protocols for both the physical security of its nuclear complex and the security of the personnel associated with the nuclear program. Therefore once again, the threat of terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s civilian nuclear facilities is no lesser or greater than that to all other countries running NPPs. Having said that let me state that the ‘large presence’ of terrorist outfits in Pakistan is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition to imply that Pakistani nuclear facilities are more prone to sabotage or terrorist attacks. As for the external threat, for whatever it is worth, both India (20 operational nuclear power reactors) and Pakistan (3 operational nuclear power reactors) signed an agreement of non-attack on each other’s nuclear facilities on 31 December 1988, which entered into force on January 1, 1991. Since January 1992, both countries have been regularly exchanging lists of their civilian nuclear facilities.

It is highly commendable that Pakistan has decided to continue with the development of civilian nuclear capability despite being so heavily embargoed. For the skeptics and nuclear power atheists, I would recommend a reading of Charles Parrow’s Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies where he argues that “the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety–building-in more warnings and safeguards–fails because systems complexity makes failures inevitable.” A buffet for thought.

Pakistan and The Fruits of Organized Hypocrisy

In the first part of this essay, I had commented on the organized hypocrisy of the global nuclear order, which is a system of inconsistent rules, and norms established by a selected few powerful countries to serve their national interests. What has Pakistan got to lose or gain from participating in this mix of organized hypocrisy?

The most profound instrument of organized hypocrisy is the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of 45 supplier countries engaging in nuclear trade with selective governments, mainly NPT signatories. Ever since the U.S. pressurized NSG in 2005 to create an exception for India, a non-NPT state, allowing U.S. to sign nuclear agreement with India, it has lost its credibility (both the NSG and the U.S.) to voice concerns about similar agreements between interested parties. Pakistan and China are two such countries that should benefit from an altered post-Indo-U.S. world. Sino-Pak civilian nuclear cooperation dates back to late 1980s and the first contract was signed in 1991 with CNNC for building Chashma-I (CHASNUPP-I) under IAEA safeguards. It is interesting to note that at that time too, the objections raised against civilian-nuclear cooperation with China were almost identical to those being raised today for K-II & K-III: limited Chinese experience in reactor technology; location of CHASNUPP-I and safety of the reactor design but it looks like CHASNUPP-I (300MW) has survived rather successfully against all frightening projections since 2000. China joined NSG in 2004 and maintains that the current civilian nuclear cooperation agreements were part of their commitment to Pakistan before it became a signatory to the NSG and thus are protected under the grandfather clause. Hallelujah! It is about time that we let China ‘grandfather’ whatever it has to as long as Pakistan is benefitting.

Pakistan’s economy has been severely impacted due to energy shortages. Chinese investment in form of loans and energy projects provides Pakistan the confidence to deal with its energy crisis without worrying about its irregular aid relationship with the U.S. Moreover, Chinese investment in Pakistan’s nuclear energy sector is a direct result of

(a)   its confidence in the capacity and capability of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment to deal with issues of safety, security and management of its nuclear infrastructure

(b)  the realization of Pakistan’s capacity and capability to improve and stabilize the power distribution grid and most importantly

(c)   the awareness that a stable, dynamic Pakistan can provide long term return for its investments by providing China the corridor to realize its strategic ambitions in the region.

Bring it on!



[1] In the case of Fukushima Accident, an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude caused a 15-metre tsunami that disabled the power supply and cooling of three reactors in Fukushima, Japan. At that time in Fukushima, eleven other reactors were operating and all of them automatically shut down after the earthquake hit. Despite clear warnings for tsunami countermeasures in accordance with IAEA guidelines, Fukushima plants continued to operate without sufficient countermeasures. The three damaged units also automatically shut down, as designed, after the earthquake and sustained no ‘serious’ damage as a result of the earthquake alone. All external supply sources were damaged due to earthquake and the emergency diesel generators in the basement of the turbine buildings started to work (as designed to work in case of emergency). It was not the earthquake but the tsunami waves that drowned the diesel generators and electrical gear in the basement thus isolating the reactors by further damaging outside access following which nuclear emergency was declared. It is important to note that despite all this, no deaths occurred due to radiation sickness ensuing the nuclear accident and emergency evacuation of 100, 000 people was undertaken.


Image: Aamir Qureshi-AFP, Getty


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