Experts believe that the China-funded project of setting up two nuclear plants on Karachi’s outskirts will be a disaster in the making as their designs are still on paper – not even the Chinese have built them in their country so far.
“Karachi is being subjected to an experiment,” nuclear physicist AH Nayyar said at a consultation titled “Impacts of Nuclear Power Projects (KII AND KIII) along the Coastal Areas” organised on Wednesday.
It was pointed out that the site evaluation report on the nuclear plants was grossly flawed in terms of estimates and this could result in an unimaginable disaster for the city.
“The report says that Karachi has a population of 10 million, however, the number has doubled in recent years,” said Nayyar.
“The designs of the plants are still on paper. Their safety and performance haven’t been assessed.”
It was also noted that that the location chosen for the two massive reactors, which would produce 1,100MW each, fell on seismic fault lines.
The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in its evaluation report has chosen to underplay this fact, if not totally ignore it.
“If a Tsunami strikes, the chances of which cannot be overlooked, Karachi will have a Fukushima-like situation, which means radiation proliferation, in other words, human casualties at a massive level, as we know, Karachi has no emergency plan for a city of 20 million,” said physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy.
The speakers at the event warned that though Tsunami could be a once-in-a-decades possibility, the real danger lay in a mere technical error leading to a disaster, which could ultimately cause immense human and environmental loss.
“Chernobyl is an example,” said Hoodbhoy, “the disaster was so huge that it is estimated that between 8,000 and 24,000 people were affected by radiation and it continues to this day.”
Hoodbhoy further said that the need for energy could be fulfilled by other means, as countries like Japan (after the recent Tsunami incident), Germany and Switzerland had already decided to stop producing energy through nuclear power.
“Even India, despite the nuclear option made available by the US, is planning to shift its energy production towards wind and other alternatives. So the dangers associated with nuclear reactors are now taken seriously across the world,” said Hoodbhoy.
The experts also highlighted the adverse effects of a nuclear reactor on marine life which would go unaccounted for.
“The disposal of the reactors’ spent water would lead to unimaginable environmental problems for marine life and thus also the people living around the coastal areas whose livelihoods depend on that,” said Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum.
“The people in the coastal areas were not taken into confidence and the government made decisions in a clandestine manner,” he said.
“The existing nuclear power plants - Chashma and Kanupp - are already posing a threat to lives and livelihoods. There is no study available to confirm a safe level. There is the threat of terrorists attacking nuclear plants which is not impossible in Karachi.”
Senior human rights activist Karamat Ali said the locals and the Sindh government were not taken into confidence before making the decision of building nuclear power plants in Karachi.
“This decision is a blatant violation of the 18th Amendment.”
Ali said Article 19-A of the Constitution provided the right to information. “This doesn’t mean that citizens should ask for information, but the government should ensure that the people’s point of view is sought and public hearings are held for such major projects.”
Ali said the Constitution also guaranteed the right to life. “This means that all possible dangers to human lives should be prevented and people are informed of those dangers.”
The rights activist said the possibility of corruption could not be ruled out in such deals. He alleged that somebody had already fetched a commission of around $700 million by giving approval to such projects.
“There should be a regional position on nuclear power in South Asian countries because other countries are also in the race to set up nuclear power plants.”
The consultation was jointly organised by civil society organisations including the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, the Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research, ActionAid Pakistan and the Strengthening Participatory Organisation.