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TEXT: Nuclear fission is a process in which atomic nucleus of elements like uranium is divided into two fragments of roughly equal mass. During this process, huge amount of energy is released. Nuclear power generation is an electricity production process in which power plants derive their heat from fission in a nuclear reactor in a controllable manner to boil water, produce steam to turn turbines.

Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I) was the world's first research reactor that produced usable electricity through atomic fission, sufficient to illuminate four 200-watt light bulbs on 20th December, 1951. The reactor was located at Idaho, USA and laid the foundation for the development of higher-power reactors. Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant producing 5 megawatts of electricity was the world's first nuclear power plant connected to the power grid. The plant started its operations on 27th June, 1954 in Obninsk, Soviet Union.

Nuclear energy is amongst the most reliable energy source as Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) have the highest capacity factor more than 92%. That is nearly twice as reliable as a coal (48%) or natural gas (57%) and almost 3 times higher than wind (35%) and solar (25%) plants. NPPs require low maintenance as they are designed to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can operate for a long period before requiring refueling (typically every 1.5 or 2 years). Moreover, NPPs have the longest operational life as the US has just started to grant authorizations for their reactors to operate for up to 80 years. Most importantly, in case of NPPs, carbon emission is almost zero, besides being economically competitive.

According to Nuclear Technology Review 2021 of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear energy provides about 10% of the world's electricity. At the end of 2020, the world's total nuclear power capacity was 392.6 GW(e) generated by 442 operational nuclear power reactors in 32 countries. Nuclear is the world's second largest source of low-carbon power after hydel. In 2020, 13 European Union (EU) Member States with nuclear electricity production generated 683,512 GWh of nuclear electricity. This accounts for almost 25% of the EU's total electricity production. Currently, there are 54 units under construction in twenty countries including China, India, Russia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Finland and France. Nuclear power is indispensable when we consider how we can ensure a stable and affordable electricity supply while addressing climate change. China is building more new nuclear reactors than any other country, with plans for as many as 150 by 2030, and will overtake the US as the operator of world's largest nuclear-energy generation system.

History of peaceful application of nuclear technology in Pakistan started when Atomic Energy Agricultural Research Centre, Tando Jamwas setup and formerly inaugurated in early 60's of last century. The Centre introduced nuclear techniques in the field of agriculture, for better survivability and yield of various crops. And with the establishment of radiation diagnostic and therapeutic facility at Karachi which is now known as Atomic Energy Cancer Hospital, Karachi. Then, the first nuclear reactor, Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), was installed at Karachi in 1971 with Canadian assistance. The reactor was a CANDU-type pressurized heavy-water reactor with a total gross energy generation capacity of 137 Megawatts (MW). The vendor support was withdrawn in 1974. The operational life of the reactor was 30 years, however, the competent, hardworking and skillful manpower of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) indigenously extended its operational life for a further period of 20 years. KANUPP completed on 1st August, 2021, its 50-years long safe and secure operations and then shutdown permanently.

Four NPPs - Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-1 (C-l), Unit-2 (C-2), Unit-3 (C-3) and Unit-4 (C-4), generating about 1330MW energy in total - are being operated at Chashma, District Mianwali. These NPPs were installed with Chinese assistance. C-2 and C-4 have achieved the milestone of operating continuously for over a year. While, C-2 is one of the top performing power plants in the country as capacity factor of the plant throughout its operation remained above 99%.

KANUPP Unit-2 (K-2) is one of the two similar NPPs located near Karachi. It was connected to the national grid in March last year and started its commercial operation on 21st May, 2021. The plant is the first NPP in Pakistan with generation capacity of 1100 MW. The second one is KANUPP Unit-3 (K-3) also has a generation capacity of 1100MW. The plant had achieved criticality on 21st February, 2022 and was undergoing certain safety tests and procedures before it could finally be connected to the grid. The plant connected to the grid on testing basis on 4th March, 2022 and will begin commercial operations soon.

K-2 and K-3 are state-of-the-art Hualong One HPR-1000 reactors, which is a 3rd Generation pressurized water nuclear reactor. These plants have double containment design, with the outer containment providing an additional layer of protection.

Being Generation-III NPPs these plants are extremely safe and Pakistan has developed and employed a robust security mechanism for this facility. As both of these plants come online, the share of nuclear energy in Pakistan would reach around 15%. This percentage would be achieved through a power generation technology that is environmentally friendly, safe and reliable and for a country like Pakistan which is aiming to achieve economic stability and hosts a large population, nuclear power generation is indispensable as it is reliable, sustainable and financially viable.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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