Money Matters

Nuclear power generation

This month is marked with Pakistan achieving milestone of 3,635-MWe cumulative nuclear power generation capacity as the third nuclear power plant at Karachi is connected to the national grid for testing, and will shortly commence commercial operations.

Nuclear power generation

This month is marked with Pakistan achieving milestone of 3,635-MWe cumulative nuclear power generation capacity as the third nuclear power plant at Karachi is connected to the national grid for testing, and will shortly commence commercial operations.

Commonly known as Kanupp-3 or K-3, it is of 1,145-MWe generation installed capacity and 1,100-MWe net capacity, which had attained criticality last month, and was undergoing safety tests and procedures. Generation cost is about Rs 9.59 per KWh (levelised). The foreign exchange portion of the project, which is about 80 percent of total cost, has been financed through a loan from the China’ state-owned The Export-Import Bank of China.

With the addition of K-3 nuclear power plant, currently there are total seven nuclear power plants installed in the country, out of which six, of cumulative installed capacity of 3,635-MWe, are in operation. The first–ever nuclear power plant constructed in the country, Kanupp-1 (K-1), has been permanently shut down. With the commencement of commercial operations of K-3, the share of nuclear energy in overall generation mix from all resources at national level has significantly increased, to over 9.1 percent. This share, which was 1.1 percent in 1990, has gradually and steadily increased in later years to 7.1 percent in 2020, before achieving the present level.

These nuclear power plants, established with technical and economic support of China, are owned and operated by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and regulated by the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These facilities are located only at two sites — Chashma (District Mianwali) and Karachi. There are four nuclear power plants, namely Chasnupp-1 (C-1) of 325-MWe installed capacity, and plants C-2, C-3 and C-4, each of 340-MWe capacity.

These four plants at Chashma were commissioned in the years 2000, 2011, 2016 and 2017, respectively, and their corresponding operating licenses are valid until December 2030, 2026, 2026 and 2027. Pakistan has an impeccable record of safety and security in operating these nuclear power plants, as it follows best practices and standards set by the IAEA. Pakistan is currently ranked 17th out of 25 countries on Nuclear Materials Safety Index in terms of safety, and security and is placed above India.

Karachi Coastal Power Complex consists of two units of 1,145-MWe each installed capacity, known as K-2 and K-3 for which China has provided $6.5 billion loan on soft terms. The earlier unit K-2 was connected to the system of the National Transmission and Despatch Co (NTDC) in May 2021. These are third-generation nuclear power plants developed and tested by the Chinese as “Advanced China Pressurized ACP-1000”. Electricity transmission infrastructure for evacuation of power from these plants include additional 550kv and 220kv transmission lines of 16-km that have recently been completed by the NTDC at a cost of Rs5.6 billion.

The K-1nuclear power plant of 137-MWe capacity was constructed near Karachi in 1971, and connected to the national grid in October 1972. It was designed to operate for 30-years’operation. On end of its service life in 2002, the major balancing, modernization & rehabilitation (BMR) and safety upgrades of the facility were carried out by the PAEC, and it operated safely since 2003 till recently at de-rated capacity of around 98-MWe. After 50-years’ record successful operation the plant has been shut-down in August 2021 for dismantling and decommissioning.

Currently, plan for decommissioning process is in hand under the guidance of the IAEA. There are various decommissioning and dismantling strategies that have its own merits and demerits, considering factors such as economic viability, local conditions, and availability of site for re-use. PNRA has thus prepared a decommissioning plan based on the deferred, or “safe enclosure”, dismantling of structures in phases. The nuclear facility will be locked for a period of about 30-50 years, thus ensuring progressive and systematic reduction of radiological hazards.

Expansion of nuclear power capacity has long been a central element of Pakistan energy policy. According to the Energy Security Plan 2005-2030, another five nuclear power plants each of about 1,000-MWe will be constructed by 2030 at sites that have been already identified; achieving a cumulative installed capacity of 8,800-MWe by then. Thus it was planned to increase the existing nuclear power generation capacity to 4,630-MWe by 2024, constructing a 1,100-MWe unit (similar to K-2 and K-3) at Chashma (C-5), but it would be delayed as project construction has not yet started.

Likewise, the planned project of constructing a 1,100-MWe reactor at Muzaffargarh (Taunsa-Punjnad Canal) to be operable by 2025 may not be able to achieve the target timeline. Given self-reliance and growing demand for electricity, Pakistan should accelerate the addition of nuclear power capacity as planned. The energy security plan known as the Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) 2021-2030 lays emphasis on increasing hydropower and nuclear power generation capacity.

Globally, the nuclear power capacity is fast expanding. At present, 442 nuclear power plants of total 393-GWe capacity are operational in 30 countries. Another 52 reactors of cumulative capacity of over 54-GWe are under construction in 20 countries. The IAEA forecasts that global nuclear power capacity will double by 2050 achieving the mark of 792-GWe. Pakistan has an ambitious plan-as per Pakistan’s Nuclear Energy Vision 2050- to have 44,000-MWe nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

Advantages of nuclear power generated electricity include low per unit cost of generation, all-year-round availability, and no emissions of greenhouse gases, besides it being critically important from a strategic point of view.

– The writer is retired chairman of State Engineering Corporation