FRANCE AGREES TO PROVIDE PAKISTAN WITH CIVIL NUKE TECHNOLOGY

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
June 1 - 7, 2009

Last month, France announced not only a 300 million euro economic assistance for Pakistan but also pledged to hammer out a Framework for Co-operation Agreement covering co-operation in the fields of energy including civilian nuclear power plants, trade, civil aviation and defence after President Asif Ali Zardari met the French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The country already has a civilian nuclear energy programme developed with Chinese aid, with one working power station and another under construction. In February, France agreed to supply India with between two and six modern reactors. France backs a wide-ranging civilian nuclear deal to buy nuclear equipment like the one signed by the US with India, according to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Pakistan has already chosen the nuclear power option in a big way to meet its pressing energy needs with the help of China which has already assisted Pakistan in developing facilities for nuclear power generation. The country's power demand is currently increasing by 11 to 14 per cent a year and the gap between demand and supply is widening, which is detrimental to its growing economy. Islamabad claims its nuclear safety regulatory infrastructure as effective, functional and respected by the world bodies. . 'Pakistan has no issues with the IAEA, Pakistan will give all necessary international guarantees,' Qureshi said.

In December 2007, Pakistan undertook the Containment Dome Placement at the 325-megawatt capacity Chashma-2 plant, 280 kilometers southwest of Islamabad. The plant is being built in collaboration with China and it is likely to be completed by the end of 2010. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is extending technical assistance to Islamabad in nuclear power generation.

Pakistan had renewed its efforts to acquire more nuclear power plants from China In 2007 for meeting future energy needs, according to a report published in Business Recorder in April. Beijing had, in principle, agreed to provide two nuclear power plants to help meet Pakistan's growing electricity demand, and it was about to sign an agreement during the visit of Chinese President to Islamabad. However, when the issue was magnified in the media, China shelved the project, arguing that it would not indulge in any controversy. Though the issue had been almost dead after 2007, but endeavour was made to streamline the negotiations to acquire the nuclear power plants, and then the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) Chairman discussed the issue in detail with the Chinese leadership during his visit to Beijing. Earlier, Pakistan was expecting nuclear power plants of 1000 MW and indigenous fabrication of 300 MW nuclear power plants with Chinese assistance.

However, now the plants capacity has been reduced.

In view of the current international politics and pressure, Pakistan needs an indigenous Fuel Fabrication Plant (FFP) to ensure reliable and uninterrupted fuel supply, according to local analysts. Islamabad is presently importing nuclear fuel from China for the 300MW Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-2. The fabrication cost is about $486 million and the proposed Rs3.7 billion FFP will enable the country to achieve self-reliance for PWR fuel fabrication technology for the assured supply of nuclear power to existing and future nuclear power plants (NPPs).

After denial of nuclear technology from the US, Islamabad has ultimately decided to build a US$1.192 billion Pakistan Nuclear Power Fuel Complex (PNPFC) to attain the capability to manufacture pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and NPPs. The facility will be developed by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and it will have the capacity to manufacture the full cycle of nuclear fuel and power plants. Pakistan has already approved setting up of Nuclear Fuel Enrichment Plant (NFEP) at a cost of Rs 13.708 billion, including Rs 8.136 billion foreign exchange component, so that necessary material could be made available easily for its on-going nuclear activities.

The PAEC has been assigned the task for setting up of six nuclear power plants to generate 8,800 megawatts of electricity by 2030, in accordance with the country's energy security plan. The PAEC has selected sites for the six power projects and their feasibility reports have already been prepared at a cost of Rs150 million. The proposed nuclear power units are to be located at Qadirabad-Balloki Link Canal near Qadirabad Headworks, Dera Ghazi Khan Canal near Taunsa Barrage, Taunsa-Punjnad Canal near Multan, Nara Canal near Sukkur, Pat Feeder Canal near Guddu, and River Kabul near Naushehra.

The proposed Rs28 billion Chemical Processing Plant (CPP) will produce nuclear fuel and structural materials and natural UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) gas from the commercially available yellow cake (U3O8) and convert depleted UF6 gas into depleted uranium metal (DUM). The proposed CPP will assure continuous supply of nuclear fuel to other constituent plants for the fabrication of fuel assemblies to generate electricity through the NPPs.

The energy statistics of Pakistan shows that around 50 percent of the need is met by the indigenous gas production and 29 percent by domestic and imported oil and 11 percent by hydro-electricity. The country's annual energy requirements are expected to more than double to 177 million tons of oil equivalent by the year 2020 from the current 58 million tons. Islamabad plans to add about 1,260 MW hydro, 700 MW renewable, 900 MW coal, 4,860 MW gas, 160 MW oil and 325 MW nuclear capacities in to the system by the year 2010. According to the official estimates, the power demand will increase to more than 20,000 MW in 2010-11

Today, nuclear power has become more viable economically and a reliable source of electricity generation. The cost of production from nuclear plant is relatively cheaper. South Korea relies on atomic power for about 40 per cent of its electricity. It already has 24 atomic power plants and it intends to build two more atomic power plants by 2014.

France, a major exporter of nuclear technology, has agreed to transfer civilian nuclear technology to the south Asian country, which is suffering an 'energy crisis' and needs nuclear power to guarantee its electricity supply. "French President Nicolas Sarkozy had told president Zardari that he wanted Pakistan to be able to buy nuclear equipment. They have agreed that Pakistan should be treated like India," Shah Mehmood Qureshi told media in Paris last month. He said negotiations on the nuclear technology accord would be held next month and a new framework agreement and memorandum of understanding were likely to be signed during the visit of Sarkozy to Pakistan in September.