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Pakistan’s necessity for nuclear electricity

Short Research Paper

While the popularity of nuclear power took a major hit, worldwide, in the aftermath of Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear fiasco in 2011. Pendulum has swung back and even in Japan, due to intermittent energy shortages, heavy reliance on imported energy, and impending default of international commitments on Carbon emissions; therefore, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a push to adopt a plan that could reopen closed nuclear power plants and pave the way for the construction of new ones. Percentage of nuclear generated electricity in respective national energy mix of some of the success stories are: France 74.8; Belgium 51.0; Ukraine 46.2; Sweden 38.1; Switzerland 35.9; Czech Republic 35.3; Finland 32.6; South Korea 30.4; Japan 30 before Fukushima; Spain 20.5, United States 19; United Kingdom 18.1; Russia 17.8; Germany16.1 percent; Canada 15.3 percent. Most of these countries owe their energy (especially electricity) independence to nuclear power generation. In some of these countries, nuclear power generation has touched and or has crossed its optimum level of generation share in their respective national energy mix; thus in such counties, nuclear power generation capacity is either stagnant or in slight decline.

But in Asia, the trend is otherwise. Russia has begun building the world’s first floating nuclear power plant; the first of seven such plants. By 2025, Southeast Asian nations would have a total of 29 nuclear power plants; of these, Indonesia will have 4, Malaysia 4, Thailand 5 and Vietnam 16. India is pursuing an ambitious nuclear energy programme, China plans to switch over from coal to nuclear fuel as the single largest source of power generation. UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are some aspiring counties; Iran’s keenness for nuclear power generation is well known. China and South Korea are emerging as big exporters of nuclear power plants at affordable prices.  Presently, 437 nuclear power reactors are in operation in 31 countries. Since cost of nuclear fuel is a small part of the cost of production, nuclear power plants are usually considered base load stations. Nuclear plants operate 24/7. Nuclear power plants typically have high capital costs, but low direct fuel costs, with the costs of fuel extraction, processing, use and spent fuel storage internalized costs. The fuel cost of operations for a nuclear plant is much smaller than the fuel cost for operating oil, coal or gas plants. Generation IV reactors, under R&D, are being designed to completely close the nuclear fuel cycle, with the prospect that all spent nuclear fuel/nuclear waste could potentially be recycled.

Alongside Karachi’s coast, construction of two additional 1,100 MW generation III AP 1000 nuclear power plants (KANUPP II & III) is under way. Earlier this month, experts form International Atomic Energy (IAEA) completed the key Generic Reactor Safety Review (GRSR) of these nuclear reactors. PAEC, will operate these plants under IAEA safeguards. A legal challenge by some of Karachi’s overhyped and misled citizens about public safety has been dismissed. Now the vested interests campaigning against nuclear power generation in Pakistan have taken their battle to media. By twisting the facts and fictionalizing a purely technical matter this lobby, spearheaded by Dr. Pevez Hoodbhoy and, Dr. AH Nayyar, is creating unnecessary alarms. Their campaign is largely based on creating fears regarding the possibility of a Tsunami or an earth quake hitting these power plants. A specter regarding necessity of evacuation of entire population of Karachi is being floated to trigger an agitated public reaction against these power generation facilitates. To put the matter in perspective, it is necessary to take a look at the underlying reasons of Pakistan’s power crisis and the global power generation trends.

Pakistan’s energy crisis has two dimensions: supply demand imbalance and affordability. Current installed capacity is sufficient to take summer peak load of the country. Devil lies in differential between generation cost and the cost that consumer can afford— commonly known as circular debt. Therefore, under the circumstance, addition of any mean of electricity must first pass the affordability test; the second test is 24/7 output. Hydel power generation is the cheapest way; but is seasonal and intricately linked to usage of water for agriculture. As agrarian consumption of water has the priority, it is Indus River System Authority (IRSA) and not National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) that calls the shots as to how much electricity could be given to national grid; exception to this restrictive regime are run of the river hydel projects–like upcoming Dasu hydropower project.  Gas, oil and coal are other means of producing electricity. These are available 24/7 but how much of these fuels could be inducted for power generation depends on their cost, exploitability, logistics and environmental impact. Wind and solar are dependent on climatic cycles and daylight respectively. Hydel power generation is the cheapest, followed by domestic gas, nuclear, domestic coal, imported gas, and imported coal and oil. Globally, Wind and Solar power sectors are attracting lot of attention and investment; however, their commercialization at competitive prices is still a couple of years away. Their other weak areas are heavy infrastructure and efficient storage systems. Per unit cost of Wind and Solar electricity is much higher than national grid averages. With construction of large dams politicized and domestic gas supply dwindling, nuclear electricity emerges as one of the top viable options for Pakistan.

In many countries, plants are often located on the coast, in order to provide a ready source of cooling water for the essential service water system. nuclear-power-station-460x250Plant designs and associated infrastructure take into account the risk of flooding and tsunamis. Design of plants located in seismically active zones also cater for the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis. Japan, India, China and the USA are among the countries that operate plants in earthquake-prone regions. From safety point of view a lot has been accomplished since Fukushima. Passively safe plants are available to build; and other reactors that are designed to be nearly fool-proof are being pursued. AP1000 power plants, under construction in Karachi, use passive nuclear safety cooling systems. Many of new designs specifically attempt to make fission reactors cleaner, safer and/or less of a risk to nuclear proliferation. Generation III reactors are at least 17% more fuel efficient, and have lower capital costs, while Generation IV reactors promise 10000-30000% greater fuel efficiency and elimination of nuclear waste.

Over the last 40 years of its life cycle, KANUPP I, which is the oldest reactor of its kind in the world, continues to operate in Karachi safely with IAEA certification. Due to growing energy demand, Pakistan plans to increase the share of nuclear energy to 8,800 Mega Watt electrical (MWe) by 2030. This would constitute 5.41 per cent of the national energy mix. Other sources of energy like hydel, coal, renewable, oil and gas, would still have the major percentage. When completed in November 2019, K-II&III would add 2,200MW to Pakistan’s electric power, at a very cheap rate. Average price of power generated by Chashma-3 and 4 would be around Rs 9.59 per unit, much less than the price of electricity generated by thermal plants running on gas or oil. Due to economy of scales, new KANUPP category plants would produce cheaper electricity than the Chashma class power plants.

Therefore, Pakistan should look towards developing nuclear energy as its mainstay electricity generation system. Nuclear electricity remains one of the cheapest, most efficient, and carbon-friendly forms of energy generation. Energy superpowers like the United States, Russia, and Canada have made nuclear power lucrative, not just through cheap energy, but through licensing their technology to developing countries looking for a new energy source. For that reason, nuclear power will be integral to the world energy mix for decades.

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