THE CONSTRUCTION OF CHASHMA PLANT

The first major power project undertaken after several years at a time when there was increasing demand for cheap power

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi,
 Islamabad

May 17 - 23, 2004

The signing of a deal by Pakistan and China for the construction of the second unit of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant adds yet another example to a series of purposeful and mutually satisfying monument to their common urge for cooperation and enhancing friendly relations.

Chashma phase II which is designed to produce 360 MW of Nuclear Power will be the first major power project undertaken after several years at a time when there was increasing demand for cheap power. Chashma-I was also constructed by China and its successful operation encouraged Pakistan to have a second plant to increase the nuclear generated power. Beside Chashma we have another nuclear plant in operation at Karachi, which was constructed with the help of Canada.

It will be recalled that under the 2002 policy for power generation projects, the focus of approach had already shifted to promoting cheaper and indigenous sources of power and developing renewable energy sources from the traditional systems. It indeed was a strategy that meant a major break from a long past, thereby calling for not only bold planning but also for pooling resources needed for this bold shift. Needless to point out, the best course in the desired direction could only be reliance on nuclear energy.

An idea of paucity in that resource may be had from the fact that in Pakistan's installed generation capacity of 15,598 MW, nuclear power accounts for barely three percent, the bulk of the power obtained from thermal sources, accounting for 65 percent, as followed by 32 percent of hydro electric power.

Pakistan at present has a mix of energy sources hydroelectric, thermal and nuclear in that order of output. Chashma-II therefore, will increase the ratio of nuclear produced power, which at present is woefully low at just 3 percent. With the possibilities of increasing the hydroelectric power having become tied to politics, the obvious option was to increase the availability of thermal power, which is not cost effective. Nuclear power, therefore, offered the best solution except that in recent years it has unfortunately been tangled with international nuclear politics. But China's ready cooperation has ensured that we could successfully go ahead with yet another nuclear plant.

Chashma-II will be completed in six years, raising the total nuclear generated power to 750 MW. However, even this increase is not likely to fully meet our needs which are expected to rise as the present effort to increase the industrial output and the attempt to encourage foreign investment will place greater pressure on available power. The government will need to raise the share of nuclear power if it wants cheap power. It may be mentioned that several other countries are greatly relying on nuclear power to augment their conventional sources. These states include Japan, Germany and few other European states.

Although nuclear power had made its debut as a dependable means of cheap power decades earlier, it has been slow in gaining popularity. But some developing countries like India have been quick to take up the challenge and developed a large nuclear power sector. The fossil fuel prices crunch also goaded states to put more of their economic eggs into a nuclear basket. But while there is still much trepidation tied to it, the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster added to the fears of this hi-tech source of power and there were even moves by some western states to reduce their nuclear plants. However, Pakistan has taken a right decision in going ahead with its strategy of giving nuclear power a more prominent role in energy generation.

The agreement for the construction of Nuclear Power Plant Chashma-II manifests deep Pak-China friendship, which has stood the test of time over the decades. The plant will produce cheaper energy to help Pakistan meet its growing power needs due to expanding industrial base. China is also engaged in assisting Pakistan in building Gwadar Deep Sea Port as another monument of Pak-China friendship. With the signing of the agreement for construction of Chashma-II project, the PAEC has achieved yet another landmark in the Pak-China relations. It will also increase economic activity and generate employment opportunities for thousands of engineers and scientists, skilled and semi-skilled workers at the plant site as well as in the associated upstream industry all over the country. It's however, deplorable that certain elements are out to harm this friendship as it is reflected from the bombing incident near Gwadar in which three Chinese engineers were killed and nine others injured. The incident will certainly not affect the Pak-China friendship, which has assumed the proverbial epithet of deeper than ocean and higher than Himalayas.

Pakistan's decision to build nuclear power plant is a positive development, since the electricity produced with nuclear energy is cheaper and pollution free. The cost of hydel power is also somewhat bearable as also the coal and gas based generation of electricity. Pakistan is, however, paying through its nose for the thermal power being produced by the IPPs in the country. As Pakistan is currently going through important phase of development with increasing energy demands, we feel it's about time that the nation should switch over to production of electricity through nuclear and coal fed power plants to meet the growing power requirement in the country. It must dispense with the thermal power generation for good.