The misperceptions and misconceptions regarding the safety and security at Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) have given birth to several counter debates among the nuclear energy supporters and anti-nuclear energy lobby within Pakistan. The subject needs to shed light on the rationality of anti-nuclear activists’ concerns and anxiety that the power plants are not working under appropriately stringent security arrangement. Has Pakistan adopted advanced safety measures for its forthcoming Karachi Nuclear Power Plants Reactors especially following what happened in the Japan tsunami?
The Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-I (CHASNUPP-I) installed in 2000 and Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-II (CHASNUPP-II) installed in 2011 respectively, are the commercial nuclear power generation reactors near Chashma city, Punjab. ‘Chashma Nuclear Power Plant’s reactors and other facilities are being built and operated by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) with Chinese support.’
Both these Chinese plants are working efficiently and have room for two more units of CHASNUPP-III and CHASNUPP-IV for construction. It is noted that loan has been afforded by China on soft terms for both these underway reactors whose safety and security have been ensured as they have been previously tested as well as tried by Chinese experts.
The Karachi Nuclear Power Plants will house a reactor larger than the combined power of all the nuclear reactors operating in the country at the moment. The first plant KANUPP-I, was inaugurated in December 1972 with commissioning of the 137 MW nuclear energy, whereas ‘KANUPP-2, KANUPP-3 and KANUPP-4 will be built with the assistance of China to generate 2,400 megawatts.’ Primarily, the scheme of both reactors was an outcome of ‘Nuclear Energy Vision 2050, an official Development Plan, according to which nuclear power will generate up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity by the middle of this century. At present it produces less than a 1,000 megawatts.’ Undoubtedly, it is the first step towards ‘a load-shedding free Pakistan’ promised by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Spotlighting the subject matter, the pessimistic apprehensions on the contemporary debate over power plant’s effective running and the warnings given by the anti-nuclear activists deemed that “the 20 million people of Karachi are being used as subject in a giant nuclear safety experiment.” It has also been advocated that the, KANUPP-I and KANUPP-II designs are not satisfactory according to international standards. The admonition comes from Dr. AH Nayyar, a Pakistani Physicist and Nuclear Activist, Dr. Pervez Hoodboy, Pakistani Physicist and Nuclear Activist, and Dr. Zia Mian, Pakistani-American physicist. Both of these nuclear reactors are under strict safety guidelines — not only in their design but also take account of fear of tsunami and earthquake etc.
The last tsunami on Pakistani soil was recorded at the Makran coast in 1945. It was 10 meters high tsunami and resulted in a rough sea that day and nothing more’ according to some scientists.
Subsequently, the allegation that the Karachi coastal area or more precisely the K-I and K-II installation site is prone to earthquakes and tsunami, has been responded to, by the announcement made by Mr. Azfar Minhaj, Project Director for the Karachi Power Plant Project. He said that the reactor site is 12 meters above sea level. Accordingly, the PAEC affirmed it to be ‘providing optimum location for a nuclear power plant in general areas.’
Another hanging apprehension on KNNP is the accident due to disruption of electricity as it happened in the most recent 2011 Fukushima disaster. As a safety measure, an uninterrupted and continuous power supply has been ensured as reported by Umer Farooq, in his write-up quoted by some anonymous scientist that each plant will get two electricity connections from the national grid; two diesel-run power generators and an alternative air conditioning system. Even if all these measures fail, still there are a number of passive measures to cool down the plant.
Moreover, Dr. Ansar Parvez, Chairman, PAEC confirmed that “K-2 and K-3 are ranked amongst the safest reactor systems available anywhere in the world, as the ACP1000 model selected for the new reactors is based on the well-tested PWR concept of which hundreds of systems are operating around the world.” Mr. Minhaj explained the ACP1000 design as a Generation-III plant and boasts ‘Passive Safety Systems (PSS),’ which means that no active interference is needed if something goes wrong. These passive safety systems help the plant’s engineers or operators a maximum of 72 hours to act in case of emergency situations as its been incorporated with additional security measures unlike the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. Similarly, Pakistan’s nuclear reactors fulfil the IAEA safeguards as well.
In addition, the coastal vicinity where the plants have been installed are nearly 25 kilometres away from the populated areas. Contrarily, there are numerous power plants close to huge population centres like Guangdong in China, Kuosheng in Taiwan and Indian Point near New York City. Above and beyond, Fukushima disaster, where 200,000 people lived close to power plant reactors become easily victimized of the radiation leakage accident but as far as Pakistani coastal site is concerned, there is very little population even after 15 km of the reactor’s radius.
Pakistan’s position of NPP does not coincide with the wretched incidents of 1979 Three Mile Island, 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Accident and 2011 Fukushima (Japan) disaster. The Chairman, PAEC expressed his satisfaction over the KANUPP-I that it has been functioning for the last 40 years, where neither it released any radiation nor did it create any other problem for the population of the city. Furthermore, the K-II and K-III reactors according to the PAEC are double containment plants that mean radioactivity will remain inside the plant even in case of an accident; there would be zero chances of radioactivity coming out of a plant. The power plant does not emit greenhouse gas as well.
However, the speculations and presumptions regarding the safety, design and operating procedures will remain questionable till the NPPs become operational. Furthermore, the prevailing accountability of Pakistan’s options for nuclear energy would also incorporate the strategic perspective and geo-political considerations in its debate. Nevertheless, the fact, that Pakistan’s energy crises need some solution at this instant make the apprehensions part of the solution.