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Coronavirus
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TEXT: The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) joins the nation in celebrating the auspicious Pakistan Day with renewed fervor by adding another feather in its cap, as it’s sixth and so far the largest nuclear power plant of 1100 mega watts, Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-2 (K2) got connected to the national grid recently. Not simply to be shrugged off as a déjà vu moment, this occasion calls for a thorough retrospective stocktaking of years of hard work and dedication of PACE’s personnel which not only put Pakistan on the map of the world as the only Muslim nuclear power producing country 49 years ago but also gave impetus to Science & Technology infrastructure for sustainable development by providing a reliable, consistent and carbon free electricity generating source to the country - an achievement indeed.

The journey started in the same city of Karachi when PAEC’s first nuclear power plant KANUPP began operation in 1974. This plant during 49 years of its safe operation has generated over 14 billion kilowatts hours (kWh) of electricity.

The journey never stopped. At the turn of new millennium, the country’s 2nd nuclear power plant namely Chashma nuclear plant C-1 started operation which was followed by another one at the same site, near Mianwali in 2011. Chashma Unit 1 (C-1) and Unit-2 (C-2) have a gross capacity of 325 MW each. Two more plants were added to the Chashma seriesas Unit 3 (C-3) and Unit-4 (C-4) starting commercial operation in 2016 & 2017 respectively. In the winter months of both 2017 and 2018, 11% of the total electricity requirement of the national grid was supplied by this site alone. All four nuclear plants at Chashma are under stringent and comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Construction of two new nuclear power plants at Karachi, K-2 and K-3 started in August 2015 and May 2016, close to the KANUPP site and will add 2200 MW to the grid. Both K-2 and K-3 are also under IAEA safeguards.

In March 2018, former International Atomic EnergyAgency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano visited various nuclear facilities of PAEC and appreciated the safety and security mechanism of Pakistan’s nuclear programme expressing satisfaction with Pakistan's peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The same year the IAEA initiated a four-year programme with Pakistan to closely coordinate on safe, reliable and sustainable operations of nuclear power plants. This speaks volumes about Performance indicators of PAEC’s NPPsPAEC’s credibility as nuclear power generating entity as well as the quality and expertise of its well trained and motivated personnel.

From a safety and security point of view, it would be heartening to know that during global summit on nuclear security in Vienna, attended by diplomats from around the world, Pakistan gave thorough details of ‘stringent’ nuclear security mechanisms and presented a booklet ‘Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Regime, at IAEA’s third International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS) . This effort calls for the urgent need to recognize the best practices Pakistan has in place for safety of its peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Time has come that Pakistan’s remarkable experience in safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants should be acknowledged admiring the efforts and commitments Pakistan has in place for its peaceful nuclear programme as a responsible Nuclear State.

Apart from reminiscing our successes at this moment, this occasion also requires to analyze the option of choosing nuclear energy for electricity generation and why we should continue to keep it in our energy mix.

The energy sector plays a vital and important role in the development and economic growth of any country. Electricity—as a highly versatile form of energy—stimulates economic performance and plays an important role in the development of every sector of the economy. Pakistan's growing population also needs access to comparatively cheap, clean, safe and reliable power to improve its living standards.

At present, though, no single energy source excels in all measures, each having some pros and cons, most rational national policies seek to diversify their energy portfolios in order to take advantage of the benefits different energy-supply technologies offer and to mitigate any disadvantages. Nuclear power despite some challenges appears to be one of the most attractive sources in terms of a small environmental footprint, reliable energy generation, security of the energy supply, and other important measures.

Currently, approximately 12% of the electricity demand of the world is met by nuclear energy. Nuclear power as a source of energy remains of potent value for Pakistan as the country is facing shortages and unreliability of supply when needed. Although, setting up nuclear power plant is expensive, it is more viable than other forms of energy. For example, wind and hydro energy are dependent on strong wind cycles and rains or melting of glaciers to produce energy whereas in nuclear energy, the enriched nuclear material has a fixed life for which it can produce energy not depending on external variables. It will be in fitness of things for Pakistan to develop its nuclear energy sector that will help it not only in overcoming the energy shortages but also revamp its industrial progress.

Moreover, nuclear power plants have on average a better capacity factor, which means they operate at full power on average 336 out of 365 days per year with 29 days off the grid for maintenance.

From the climate change point of view as well, of which our country falls in the worst affected category, nuclear power seems a suitable option. Nuclear power produces one of the lowest green house gas emissions per unit of electricity generated on a life cycle basis. Climate change mitigation is one of the leading reasons for the deployment of nuclear power according to an IAEA publication.

Constructing and operating nuclear plants helps to stabilize electricity prices, thus moderating electricity bills for households and businesses. It creates jobs, boosts the local economy. For a number of sustainable development indicators, nuclear power compares favorably with other power generation technologies.

PAEC being cognizant of all this has been playing a very important role in utilizing nuclear energy for power generation since long and is committed to do so in the years to come.

Hence in view of pros of nuclear power generation, the acumen and experience PAEC has acquired through mutually beneficial cooperation over the years, and the impeccable record of safety and security of its nuclear power plants, it deems fit for the top leadership of Pakistan to focus on further benefiting from this technology by adding this to its energy mix while planning for future energy needs as nuclear has the potential to meet the country’s energy requirements.

The author works as Principal Scientific Information Officer in SI & PR Division of PAEC

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021