NUCLEAR POWER: NOT AN UNMIXED BLESSING

THE ANGUISHED DECISION MAKING FOR GOVERNMENTS

SHAMSUL GHANI
Jan 21 - 27, 2008

After the erection of first ever nuclear power plant near Moscow, the developed countries started to make huge investments to benefit from this environment friendly source of energy. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 put a big question mark on the purity of this clean source of energy and it became, in the words of Alister Doyle, a sort of anguished decision making for the governments who were made to weigh the colossal risk factor against the huge advantages of nuclear power generation. France with 59 operative reactors producing 78 per cent of its power requirement is said to be the world leader in the field of nuclear power production. United States outscoring France in the number of reactors, 104, produces just 19 per cent of its total power requirement. Almost 50 per cent of United State's power requirement is met from coal-based power generation plants. Canada meets only 15 per cent of its power requirement from nuclear power generation with 60 per cent contribution coming from hydro power generation. These statistics show that the developed nations first make optimal use of country's available natural resources and then decide on the size of contribution from nuclear sources. France has no oil, gas or coal reserves and so its heavy reliance on nuclear power is understandable. In 2006, France planned to build a next generation nuclear reactor EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) to be operative by 2012. Unlike United States, nuclear energy is acceptable in France. This acceptability ensues from such factors as national independence, lesser reliance on foreign oil, decreased emission of greenhouse gases and cultural interest in large technical projects.

In light of the above facts, the decision for the government of Pakistan should be pretty easy. Given the fast depleting gas resources coupled with the soaring international oil prices, the dice is heavily loaded in favor of Coal based and hydro based power generation. The composition of total world power generation, given below, may also be a guiding factor.

FOSSIL FUEL BASE GENERATION

Coal

39%

Gas

16%

Oil

10%

 

65%

RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES

Hydro

19%

Others

2%

 

21%

Nuclear

16%

THE FUTURE IS NUCLEAR

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the world opinion was distinctly divided. The environmental activist Green peace has been criticizing the use of nuclear energy.

Although the decision to go for nuclear power generation is not straightforward, yet the low emission factor, in most cases, outweighs the security risk factor.

Fossil fuel emissions are carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and fly ash containing toxic heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead, vanadium etc. which remain toxic for thousands of years. Emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels are about 25 billion tons a year worldwide. Of this total emission, 38 per cent comes from coal, 21 per cent from gas and 24 per cent from oil. Without nuclear power, the world will be heavily dependent on fossil fuel based energy. The looming danger of global warming is more serious than the risk of some occasional nuclear leakage incidents.

Since hydro power generation in Pakistan basically caters to the irrigation projects, hydro and nuclear power, with an almost equal weight age, should figure next after r coal as our long term energy policy options.

NUCLEAR POWER PRODUCTION IN PAKISTAN

The following table compares Pakistan's nuclear power production to world's leading producers of the same type of power.

COUNTRY

PRODUCTION BILLION KWH 2006

% OF TOTAL PRODUCTION

NO OF OPERATIVE REACTORS

NO OF PROPOSED REACTORS

NO OF UNDER CONSTRUCTION REACTORS

USA

787

19

104

25

0

France

428

78

59

1

1

Japan

292

30

55

1

2

Germany

162

31

19

-

-

Russia

144

16

31

20

7

South Korea

141

39

20

-

3

Britain

69

18

19

-

-

Canada

92

16

18

2

2

Belgium

44

58

7

-

-

South Africa

10

4

2

24

-

China

52

2

11

86

5

India

17

4

14

9

6

Pakistan

2.6

2.7

2

13

1

It will be observed that Pakistan is producing only 2.7 per cent of its total power requirement through nuclear generation as against the world average of 16 per cent. Since Pakistan has not joined the NPT club, it is barred from trading in nuclear plant and material. This factor alone is a great hindrance in the way of expansion of nuclear program for peaceful purpose. Possibly, we had a chance after 9/11 no negotiate an unhindered expansion of nuclear facilities to produce power for civilian use in return for playing an active role in USA's war against terrorism.

Pakistan's first reactor was a 137 MWe unit built near Karachi. This unit for KANUPP, a Canadian pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR), is operating under international safeguards since 1971. Presently it is operating at 70% capacity.

The second unit, a 325 MWe pressurized water reactor (PWR) of Chinese origin is operating as CHASNUPP-1 in Punjab since 2000 under international safeguards. The unit is operating at 95% capacity. The 340 MWe twin units CHASNUPP-2, having an estimated cost of US$860 million, were launched in April 2005 with the Chinese assistance that has financed the cost to the extent of US$360 million. A safeguard agreement with IAEA has been signed. The unit is expected to start power generation and get connected to the grid in 2011. The future expansion plans envisage setting up of 13 new nuclear power units with a capacity to generate 8,800 MWe by 2020. .

THE KILLING TIME LAG

We have developed a habit of politicizing issues of national importance without realizing the enormity of the cost of wasted time. Be it the hydro power projects, the Thar coal power projects or any other related issue, we always fail to develop a timely consensus thereby making room for a killing time lag. No matter, on which side of the table we are, we give way to the hard headedness leaving little space for reconciliation. With the passage of time, our options keep narrowing down finally ending up in a single point agenda. We hate to develop any B plans to fall back to in case of a deadlock. With this approach, we have already done great damage not only to the provinces to which we belong but also to the country in general.

We are passing through a critical phase. Our economic progress shall receive a serious blow if we don't immediately revamp our energy policy to save country from the crisis it is in. We will have to shift our reliance from oil and gas based energy to the coal based, hydro and nuclear energy.

The scope for use of non-hydro renewable energy resources (solar, wind, bio-mass etc.) is also there but it is quite limited. Being an atomic power, we should focus on optimizing the expansion of nuclear facilities to produce civil nuclear energy.