Nuclear Energy And Environmental Sustainability In Pakistan – OpEd


Nuclear energy can be used for climate change mitigation, amongst other peaceful uses. In 2022, the share of nuclear energy in Pakistan’s energy production reached its highest level. This indicates Pakistan’s efforts to increase environment friendly electricity production.

However, Pakistan is one of the most affected states by climate change. This situation necessitates a sense of responsibility on the part of developed countries to assist Pakistan in combating climate change challenges by using nuclear technology. 

Back to the Future: A Revival of Nuclear Age

Climate changeis the fluctuation in weather caused by a change in the earth’s temperature or frequency of rainfall. Scientists point out natural and unnatural causes for these fluctuations. Climate change is a massive challenge to the future of sustainability and human security – the UN declared it a “systemic threat to humankind.” Despite contributing only 1% of total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries to this threat. Nuclear energy is a sustainable and low-carbon energy source. The term “nuclear energy” has been stigmatised due to the fear of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In this revived age of advanced nuclear technology for peaceful civilian uses and battling against climate change, we are brought back to the future, but with a new approach.

The emerging technologies have brought us to an era of climate-resilient structural development, peace, and prosperity. The “Atoms for Peace” speech by Eisenhower in 1953 brought to light the importance of civilian applications of nuclear energy for development, cooperation, and the welfare of humanity. Moore’s “Creating Public Value: Strategic Management and Governance” devises an administrative plan where citizen welfare is the referent object of governance. It suggests a plan of governance that resonates with the holistic approach of Barry Buzan’s Securitization Theory, which provides for five sectors of security, i.e., political, economic, societal, military, and environmental security.

The wellbeing of the populace and economic prosperity of third-world countries are likely to be threatened by the impacts of CO2 emissions on fertile croplands, because most emerging nations rely largely on agriculture. The unfertile soils that encompass a major portion of these regions have rendered a large portion of the land in these regions unfit for cultivation. Tropical regions in developing countries are particularly sensitive to harm from environmental change.

Climate Change and Atoms for Peace: Pakistan’s Contribution

The advent of nuclear age brought with it immense optimism for atom-powered sustainable development. Pakistan has a long history with the international movement for peaceful uses of nuclear energy and its contribution to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for human security and prosperity. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have always cooperated and proven Pakistan’s commitment towards attaining this goal. Pakistan ranks this goal among its top priorities. Also, the efforts of PAEC for civilian uses of nuclear energy and Pakistan’s Scientific Community, including the inspirational Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam, cannot be ignored. Against this background, Pakistan is fighting hard to mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change, and demands international cooperation to successfully combat this challenge. 

The SDGs chart an ambitious course, but they also require developing countries to incorporate emerging technologies and science in their policies in order to achieve sustainability. Peaceful uses of nuclear energy provide a sustainable solution to combat climate change and attain the SDGs.

The developed countries, being a major contributor to the adverse effects of climate change, have a responsibility to provide solutions and scientific nuclear technology to states like Pakistan, which have suffered a lot. The IAEA has made significant efforts in promoting the notion of “Atoms for Peace and Development”. It is time for international cooperation to remove this stigma and join hands to combat this shared threat.

Atoms for Attainment of SDGs: Why Now?

Sustainable development of a state requires clean, affordable, and modern energy (SDG-7) as a pre-requisite. Nuclear power is a clean and reasonable source for electricity generation, and the output is independent of weather conditions. Nuclear energy is a storable and economical fuel that could be efficiently used to attain environmental security. Moreover, it does not contribute to GHG emissions. France generates 75% of its electricity through nuclear energy. Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are also utilizing nuclear power in a big way. If followed, they are a models for countries like Pakistan to reduce GHG emissions while utilising this inexpensive resource for electricity production. 

Pakistan’s intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the use of nuclear technology for power generation have been recognised as inevitable in Pak-INDC as envisioned in the National Climate Change Policy 2012. Pakistan’s partnership with Canada on the former’s first nuclear power plant construction, KANUPP, was based on the realization that Pakistan’s energy needs cannot be met with a limited supply. According to Buzan’s securitization theory, the second power plant construction of CHASNUPP-1 with a signed partnership with China National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC) and later three similar plants inspired by CHASNUPP-1 demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to meet energy needs to ensure economic, environmental, military, societal, and political security needs of the country and the region.

Safety is a top priority in Pakistan, and this is reflected in the country’s nuclear facilities. All facilities have a remarkable record of implementing IAEA safeguards, and these safety measures are further strengthened by PAEC. At the domestic level, there is an independent regulatory agency known as the PNRA, which also inspects and supports the maintenance of powerplants. Moreover, Pakistan invites review missions from World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) as well as allow IAEA inspectors to regularly visit for operational safety purposes.

PAEC has been using nuclear-based technologies in coastal areas precisely to inspect marine pollution (SDG-14) and assess food chain components using radioactive baselines to maintain a sustainable marine ecosystem. Furthermore, being an inclusive state open to partnerships, Pakistan has cooperated and been a part of several nuclear energy and environmental security related partnerships, including the IAEA, Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA), WANO, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), International Foundation for Science (IFS), Sweden, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and many more.

A Way Forward towards Environmental Sustainability

By 2050, Pakistan wants to have no carbon emissions from its energy industry. This objective will be greatly aided by Pakistan’s plan to meet one-fourth of its energy demands through nuclear energy by 2050. This objective is being hampered, though, by a lack of funding and many countries’ reluctance to cooperate on civil nuclear issues. A positive step towards attaining climate security is the global and local development of nuclear energy. Pakistan must contribute to the production of nuclear energy for civilian purposes to attain environmental sustainability. 

To pursue this goal, Pakistan needs global cooperation and a stable South Asia to ensure regional peace and national security, which are prerequisites to focusing on attaining environmental security through the most sustainable energy source of nuclear technology. The US, being a champion of globalization, must cooperate with Pakistan in this time of need to strengthen the relationship between the two states and to solidify her commitment towards the Agenda 2030, which demands global partnership (SDG17) to combat climate change (SDG13). In this regard, there should be a responsible consumption and production mechanism (SDG-12) to reduce GHG emissions in order to achieve environmental sustainability.

Syeda Saba Batool

Syeda Saba Batool is a Researcher at Center for International and Strategic Studies, Islamabad. She is also the Chair at Emerging Voices Network, BASIC, and London. She is currently pursuing her research degree of MPhil in International Relations from School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid e Azam.

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