By Senator Sehar Kamran (TI)

Mar 13, 2015

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The Washington Post recently published a story on Pakistan’s construction of two new units at the Karachi Nuclear power Plant site. The article has variously been quoted by media sources both internationally and in Pakistan. The article has lumped together a lot of unrelated issues with regards to Pakistan’s nuclear program. In this regard, it would be judicious to take into account an alternative perspective on Pakistan’s nuclear policy in general and the construction of new units in the Karachi Nuclear power Plant.

The allegation that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is easily available for theft is too naïve a notion. Pakistan’s weapons and installations are as safe or secure as any other nuclear weapon state of the world. This is also true, as Pakistan has been more transparent than any other nuclear state in terms of the measures it takes for its nuclear security. There have been many reported incidents in various Nuclear Weapon states like US, where unauthorised personnel breached the facility alongside incidents of theft reported. However the US still remains the largest producer of nuclear energy.

This particular reactor design, ACP-1000 has already passed IAEA’s Generic Reactor Safety Review. Moreover, it is a third generation reactor and has design features that augment safety. According to the IAEA, these include passive safety functions as well as robustness against external events.

Mr. Craig’s pronouncement that the new ACP-1000 reactors will also stand less than 20 miles from downtown Karachi, a dense and rapidly growing metropolis of about 20 million residents, does not profess some new knowledge. It is nothing specific for Pakistan.

The US for instance, has over 18 million of its residents living within a radius of 20 miles from nuclear power plants. With regards to the tsunami issue, firstly this plant is different from Fukushima Daiichi which were Generation-I NPPs with only single containment. Because of blockage in the pumps sucking in water to cool the fuel rods, the rods got heated and a meltdown began, exposing radioactivity to the atmosphere.

The backup generators failed to work. It was a failure of layers of redundancy.Unlike the Fukushima power plants, which were BWRs i.e. , Boiling Water Reactors, the ACP-1000 has safety features like double containment alongside passive cooling systems that can keep the fuel rods from getting overheated in case of power failures.

Nuclear plants are mainly built close to water bodies because they help cool the fuel rods; this is an established fact.Furthermore, in case of seismicity, the Karachi coastal area cannot be compared with Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, which are built over the pacific “ring of fire,” known for tectonic plates activity and earthquakes.

It is also pertinent to note that Pakistan is not the only developing country still continuing with its nuclear energy plans post the Fukushima incident. Many of the developing states like India, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt are continuing with their nuclear energy expansion plans apart from the developed states of US, UK, China and South Korea. Most importantly, Japan, even after losing more than 16,000 people and massive infrastructure in the Fukushima Daiichi Incident, is still continuing with its production of nuclear energy as well as nuclear energy commerce.

It is also interesting to note that the US is itself not in complete compliance with the stipulations of the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which stipulates that a reactor should be cited away from very densely populated areas, preferably with fewer than 500 people per square mile within a 20-mile radius, as on the contrary nearly a million Americans live within a proximity of a 5 mile radius of its nuclear sites.

On the allegation of violation of Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines by China, it is apt to say that geopolitical exigencies dictate nonproliferation norms in the Nuclear Suppliers Cartel. These norms were arm-twisted to bring India into the fold, though it is as much outside NPT as is Pakistan.

The nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan, it should be noted, is under the umbrella of peaceful uses of nuclear energy covered through facility specific safeguards of IAEA to ensure non-diversion of material for weapons purposes. However, there are growing Western concerns that the Indians will divert – as they did from Canadian reactors – material to build weapons.

The media flurry about the environmental hazards of the new plants was addressed by the environmental research group PINSTECH, which clarified that there were no environmental hazards of the new nuclear power plants.There are several arguments in the Washington Post story that defy common sense and expose the hidden agendas being propagated though irresponsible reporting.

Pakistan, as a country with 37 years of safe reactor operation and an impeccable history of no accidents, is being maligned. The citing of the history of accidents and terrorism in the story brings forth the fact that the writer has made an effort to cherry pick arguments. For example, he says, “Pakistani technicians won’t be able to operate or maintain Chinese nuclear technology.” If Pakistan’s scientists and technicians can operate a nuclear power plant without vendor support for over four decades, this should be no feat for them.

Furthermore, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study of the twin nuclear power plants had been conducted by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and was heard by an expert committee constituted by the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), after which the construction was approved.

Finally, it should suffice to say that Pakistan’s construction of NPPs along the Karachi Coastline comes after serious deliberations, and hence inviting unnecessary alarm is uncalled for in this regard.

The writer is the President of Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies(CPGS) and Member Senate Standing Committee on Defence, Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Human Resource Development & Overseas Pakistani’s.

Same version of the article appeared in The Nation

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