Pakistan Nuclear Energy: Why don’t they let us eat cakes?


By Adeela Azam : –

Synopsis: The recent months have witnessed a constant debate over the safety of proposed nuclear power plants in Karachi. Pakistan faces a serious energy deficit while anti-nuclear lobby in the country repeatedly attempts to infiltrate horrors of nuclear energy among the public by using fabricated narrative.  Apprehension regarding dangers of the nuclear technology and environment safety appear baseless.

S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche – if they have no bread, let them eat cake. That cruel 18th Century statement associated to French revolution seems a euphemism if compared to two pseudo-liberals suggesting: if Karachiites do not have enough electricity, let them buy their own generators to run businesses and light up houses! In opposing the prospect of 2200 megawatt electric being added to the grid, Chinoy and Hoodbhoy did not use these words but that is what their case tantamount. Isn’t it cruel to delay the government measures to alleviate energy woes because one can afford to run generators 24/7? The poor cannot get a volt of electricity and cannot afford to buy it either. The pseudo-liberals are detached from this reality.

It’s a quandary that some are dissatisfied with load shedding and yet discontent with the State once it wants to provide sustainable, safe and low cost solutions to energy woes. What is the harm if Karachi could get a 2200 MWe shot in the arm to run its industry and run the households? Sindh High Court finally relented on a stay order for construction of two nuclear power plants that liberal-duo did not want constructed. The honourable court’s verdict and Pakistan’s over forty years of accident free experience of operating nuclear power plants indicate that nuclear power generation is indeed environmentally safe, one of the least expensive and sustainable sources of energy.

The cake-eating folks find their way to freely express their opinion in some media and subsuming the voice of majority. Even after the SHC dust binned the case to stop construction of the power plants at Karachi, a segment of media continued to lick the wounds in their editorial pages and raised ill-informed concerns with regards to nuclear safety and waste management.

International Atomic Energy Agency, world’s nuclear watchdog, had approved the design and safety features of the reactors being constructed at Karachi. The K2 and K3 reactors are being built 25 miles away from Karachi and these are advanced third generation designs with unparalleled safety features.

These reactors would operate under stringent IAEA safeguards. Nuclear power plants are constructed after long tedious feasibility studies, involving scientists and it takes only a science degree holder and artist to bring their work into question! The plan for K2/K3 did not evolve overnight. It took a tedious effort over six years that involved site study, seismic analyses and environment study. All this reviewed by completely independent and incorruptible the IAEA.

Fukushima accident in 2011 had created a scare on use of nuclear energy. A tsunami had deluged the plant and its backup power generators to cool the reactor. Karachi situation and its reactors designs have nothing in common with tsunami prone Fukushima prefecture and its old reactor’s backup power issues. Empirical evidence and scientific projections show that Pakistan would not expect a tsunami of more than 2.8 meters above sea level. K2/K3 plants are 12 meters above the sea level. Unlike Fukushima reactors, Karachi’s reactors are new designs with enhanced safety features.

The other issue raised against Karachi plants is nuclear fuel waste management.  The spent fuel is placed in cool storage, which safely allows radioactivity reduction over a protracted period of time. Thereafter the radioactive waste is sealed in multi-layered containers to prevent radiation leakage. This whole procedure is in done under the IAEA watch.  Countries like the U.S. heavily depend on nuclear energy and generate tons of waste. These countries are developing geological repositories and Pakistan would do that once it has a requirement. At the moment the entire waste that Pakistan has produced in over forty years of nuclear power generation fits into squash court size space filled with water.

Pakistan follows international best practices in operating its reactors. PAEC, PNRA and NDMA work synergistically to prevent any natural or man-made disaster. Environment safety and radiation protection are amongst several other priorities in nuclear planning and practices of Pakistan, which occasionally applauded by the IAEA.

Pakistan is an energy deficient country and has to capitalize on all sources of energy while relying as little as possible on using its money in buying expensive fuels. Nuclear is one the most efficient sources of energy. If managed properly, it is the safest and most environmentally friendly source. Pakistan knows how to manage it and has taken a wise decision to add some 44,000 MWe to the national grid by 2050. One can sincerely hope that the detractors can eat their cakes and allow the majority to win their bread and livelihoods. The question is that why don’t they let us eat cakes?

The writer is defense analyst.