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Going nuclear
 
 
Mehtab Haider
Thursday, February 27, 2014
From Print Edition
 
 

 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is in the process of selecting eight sites for the installation of 32 nuclear power plants, which will generate a total of 40,000 MW electricity, said Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) chairman Dr Ansar Parvez on Wednesday. He did not specify a time frame.

 

In an exclusive interview with The News, Parvez spoke of the need to change the energy mix and overcome the issue of circular debt. “Our future plans are to have nuclear power plants supply one-fourth of our total required capacity.”

 

“On the directives of the prime minister, we are selecting eight sites for installing more nuclear power plants. Each site will feature a total of four plants – having a capacity of producing 1,100 MW each – which will be built in two phases,” explained Parvez.

 

According to the PAEC chairman, China has agreed to finance 82 percent of the total cost for two Karachi Nuclear Power Plants (KANUPP-2 and KANUPP-3) and will be providing a loan of $6.5 billion for the same.

 

The deal is going through despite objections from the Nuclear Supplier Group – the international body that regulates nuclear power trade. China has rebuffed call from the body saying that its nuclear exchange with Pakistan predates the group’s charter and is thus exempt from it.

 

The remaining 18 percent of cost will be borne by Islamabad. “Since the government will be providing its share in rupees, it won’t need to arrange foreign exchange for the K-2 and K-3 plants,” he added.

 

According to Parvez, the government has also selected a site at Muzaffargarh for installing a 1,100 MW plant.

 

Despite a roiling energy crisis that has been building up over the last few years, Pakistan’s civil nuclear ambitions have always been stymied by the nexus of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the US government. Since Pakistan has not signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the supply of uranium, the basic fuel for generating electricity, is subject to severe global restrictions, historically, Islamabad has had no option but to comply.

 

However, the intercession by the US to grant a civil nuclear cooperation deal to India in 2005 rankled Islamabad, which put in a similar request. This too, was shot down on the basis of fears regarding the security of the country’s nuclear assets at a time Islamabad is grappling with Islamic militancy. (While the US government has offered to help Pakistan meet its energy needs through hydel power and thermal projects, energy experts in Pakistan dismiss as these as an inadequate sop.)

 

However, no such worries are weighing down the PAEC chairman, who sounds remarkably optimistic about the future of these plants.

 

“There is no moral justification for depriving Islamabad of uranium at a time when many other countries, including India, are getting uranium from Australia,” says Parvez. “Since we cannot trust others for availability of basic fuel for running nuclear power plants, Pakistan has always inserted a clause in its agreement with China for ensuring lifetime fuel supply for nuclear power plants.”

 

According to Parvez, while ‘lifetime’ in the context of Chashma-1 and 2 was 40 years, the definition would be changed to 60 years for the K-2 and K-3 plants. (Since Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) has already outlived its ‘lifetime’, the PAEC is carefully reviewing its operation.)

 

Parvez is also very upbeat about his organisation’s ability to ensure safety and security measures to avert terrorist attacks.

 

At the time the government had announced its initial plans regarding nuclear plants for Karachi, civil society – led by nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy – had erupted in protests about the associated risks.

 

However, Parvez insists that people are exaggerating concerns regarding radioactivity near nuclear power plants. “There is more radioactivity in air flight from Islamabad to Karachi than in living next to a nuclear site,” claims Parvez. “In fact, in the case of Islamabad-Washington flights, it caused radioactivity for more than 20 years.”

 

The PAEC chairman also maintains the K-2 and K-3 will pose no threat to marine life including fishes and other species. “There will be a limited effect on fish; we’ve already conducted different studies to ensure minimum threat to the marine life.”