Feb 02 - 08, 2009

While electricity generated by nuclear power plant is considered cheapest than that by coal and any other fossil fuel-run production plants, it can become cost effective more than wind electricity depending on the type of nuclear power plant. Tariff determined by Nepra for wind electricity from yet-to-be started Jhimpir, Sindh wind turbines is 12 US cents per Kwh which, albeit, competitive than rate of thermal power may be outshone by cost per unit of sturdy nuclear power plant. "Cost of nuclear electricity is lower than that of thermal-gas and furnace oil and sometimes it looses its commercial viability to sole hydro electricity that is certainly cheapest of all at present," said Waqar Butt, Director General Karachi Nuclear Power Complex citing recent tariff award by Nepra to a Turkish wind power company. "We supply electricity to KESC according to outsourcing price set by it. The price contains recurrent expenditures incurred by the KESC," he said while talking to PAGE.

Condition of nuclear power plant is also an important determinant of output price, he said and adding nuclear power cost varies according to the type of plant. There are pressurized water reactors installed in nuclear facilities of KNPC and Chashma. Normally, nuclear plant has 60 years of life and if cared properly it produces energy up to its capacity. "Nuclear plants inducted in KANUUP have just passed half of its life and are giving adequate production," he said when asked if nuclear plants conditions cause recurrent stoppage of electricity to main grid. 'It is only due to supply line fault that disconnects electricity supply from KANUUP to KESC.' Nuclear plants in US are of 40-year age and still producing energy up to their capacities even after passing of key life span. In this analogy, our facility which is routinely overhauled is just a midway of estimated deadline of decommissioning, he maintained.

Despite that nuclear energy has conditioned cost effectiveness, it is long period required to make nuclear facility fully functional that puts it under shadow of long term solutions of electricity shortfall in the country. It takes at least whole six years to set up a nuclear plant, revealed Waqar. When asked about the status of new plant to be planned beside present nuclear facility in Karachi, he said the plan had been deferred for the time being. Two nuclear plants are to be established in Punjab. Once operational these will add cumulatively 680MW electricity to grid. Each with a capacity of 340 MW will have production more than Chashma-1-nuclear plant that is reportedly generating 300MW electricity. Postponement of plan is attributed to these prospective plants as it is not feasible to carry along construction of plants at different locations simultaneously, he said. Currently, Pakistan is getting nuclear energy from two nuclear facilities, he said when asked about total operational plants in the country.

The planned new facility will be established in cooperation with China that has already assisted Pakistan to build nuclear facility at Chashma. Government of Pakistan has shown interest to sign civil nuclear agreement with China that has expertise in manufacturing engineering designs required for a nuclear plant. Also, President Asif Ali Zardari will visit China to finalize an agreement of setting up another nuclear power plant in Pakistan, reported in a news story citing Minister of State and Chairman Board of Investment, Salim Mandiwala.

In the wake of serious electricity crisis greatly affecting industrial activities in the country and disturbing civic life need of enhancement of power generation capacity and its utilization beyond present level is becoming extremely important. Solar, wind, coal, and hydro sources give both short-term and cost effective solutions to meet challenges posed by electricity demand and supply gap. Variable statistics are quoted about total national demand of electricity. This demand also varies season to season. In all circumstances, there is a drastic shortage of electricity across the country. The reasons descend from dissimilar root causes ranging from weak infrastructure of energy supply to power pilferage. But, that there is shortfall is conspicuous.

Therefore, measures on war footing bases are to be required to abridge this yawning gap in short-run. Nuclear electricity with all its plus is minus from the list of short term solutions given the history of slow paced establishment of nuclear facilities in the country. Functionality of nuclear plants also hits snags every now and then. KANUUP is a befitting example of that. For one reason or another, the plant is often detached from main supply network in Karachi.

Another fact has worth to be mentioned about external costs of nuclear power. The financial outlays of setting up of nuclear plants are substantial enough to be entitled as a strategic decision. Not only building process but machineries and reactors of nuclear facility call for significant cost which in present national economic scenario musters sizeable investments from outside the country and affluent private parties.

Waste discharge from nuclear plants is said to be prime pollutant and harmful for flora and fauna. It is said that nuclear plants release noxious substances as a result of energy generation that can also hurt lives of species in sea and fresh water. It is different thing that some finds impact of nuclear energy generation process over environment overridden by low cost volume of electricity. They argue cheap price of electricity can compensate cost of damaged ecology as monetary benefits due to margin in prices of nuclear and other sources widen budget for environmental restoration.

At a time when electricity is running out and shortage paints not so good future outlook exploitation of all available sources of energy is unerringly vital for the economy. The external costs including of security concerns for nuclear facility are subject of experts' analyses, that nuclear energy has potential of mitigating intensity of electricity crisis with nominal retail cost is well understood.