NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION

PAKISTAN SHOULD LEARN TO LIVE WITHOUT THE US SUPPORT

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Nov 29 - Dec 5, 20
10

Pakistan faces acute shortage of electricity as well as high cost of generation because bulk of the generation facilities are thermal based. The persistent hike in crude oil prices demands more nuclear power generation facilities.

While the US has agreed to supply the technology for civilian use to India, it is not willing to offer Pakistan the same. Under the prevailing circumstances only China has emerged a dependable friend. The US has expressed its apprehension on the Chinese support.

Pakistan has repeatedly expressed that its plan is peaceful and also invited the global watchdogs, IEA to visit its facilities. However, the negative propaganda by India and doubts expressed by the US administration continue to complicate the issue. Since the US administration is not willing to treat Pakistan at par with India, it becomes its prerogative to acquire the technology from other credible suppliers, the best being China.

Pakistan is classified the 7th nuclear weapon state and nuclear power in the world. As of 2009, the nuclear power plants made less than 3 percent share in total electricity generated in the country. Bulk of electricity (65 percent) is generated using fossil fuel and 33 percent from hydropower plants. At present Pakistan is producing up to 425MW electricity from two nuclear power plants. The third facility is like to commence operation in 2010.

Pakistan's first nuclear power reactor capable of producing 125 MW based on Canadian pressurised heavy water reactor technology commenced operation in 1971. This has been operating under international safeguards near Karachi.

KANUPP-2 (1000 MW) and KANUPP-3 (1000 MW) are a part of Pakistan's civilian nuclear program. The three units of nuclear power plant are under IAEA safeguards. The KANUPP-2 and KANUPP-3 are based on the model of CANDU nuclear reactor and under China's investment in civilian nuclear program.

The People's Republic of China has been a vocal supporter of Pakistani nuclear program. China has provided Pakistan with civil-purpose use nuclear technology since early 1980s. Chashma-1 in Punjab, a 325 MW (300 MW net), pressurised water reactor (PWR) type has been supplied by China's CNNC under safeguards. It started up in May 2000 and also known as CHASNUPP-1. construction of its twin, Chashma-2, started in December 2005.

It is reported to cost Rs51.46 billion (US$ 860 million) with $350 million of this financed by China. A safeguard agreement with IAEA was signed in 2006 and grid connection is expected in 2011. The third nuclear power reactor is Pakistan Nuclear Power Fuel Complex (1000 MW) pressurized water reactor, constructed indigenously by Pakistan's PAEC, under IAEA safeguards. The main part of the plant is designed on the model of CHASMA Nuclear Power Plant and Candu Reactor.

Despite Pakistan not signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, China has agreed to build a new nuclear reactor for Pakistan, it has been reported, marking China's fifth atomic reactor in the country, boosting Beijing's growing support for Islamabad. The Pakistani government has declined to comment further on the plans for the fifth reactor and there is opposition to the project coming from Washington. The supply of a fifth nuclear reactor to Pakistan comes after Beijing confirmed earlier this year that it had agreed to build two 650MW nuclear energy reactors at Chashma, in the central part of Pakistan's Punjab province, The Financial Times reported.

China plans a huge expansion of its nuclear power in the next decade, and has about 28 reactors under construction, some 40 percent of the world's total being built. China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp last week started commercial operations of the 1GW Lingao reactor in southern Guangdong province after the plant was constructed in a record-breaking 57 months. Chinese government wants to harness its nuclear power expertise developed at home to secure contracts overseas, where energy demand is increasing while concern about highly polluting fossil fuel-driven plants is also growing.

"We must rely on the Pakistan's Chashma nuclear power project to improve our ability to contract for nuclear power projects abroad, and to open up the foreign market for nuclear energy," an essay recently published in Seeking Truth, a magazine issued by China's ruling Communist Party, said.

China claims its nuclear cooperation with energy deficient Pakistan is purely peaceful and follows international safeguards, while Islamabad also underlines the energy crisis the country faces. "We are facing acute energy shortages and these nuclear power plants are important for us to overcome these," Reuters quoted a senior Pakistani government official familiar with discussions between Pakistan and China on nuclear cooperation as saying. "We as well as China have said time and again that all this cooperation is under the safeguards of the IAEA and there should not be any worries or concerns about it."

The US recently demanded an explanation from Beijing over its accord with Islamabad for building Chashma 3 and 4, as China is a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a regulatory body that oversees trade in nuclear fuel and technology.

Some of the critics say the nuclear reactor deal requires special exemption from the NSG, as Pakistan has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). China and Pakistan however point out that the US set a precedent by agreeing in 2006 to sell civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, even though Delhi had yet to sign the NPT. According to the reports in March, Washington made it known that energy was one of the sectors where the US would cooperate with Islamabad. The US plans to help the country refurbish three thermal and one hydropower plant that will add some 4,500 MW to the national grid.