By Sher Bano*
The development of Pakistan’s nuclear program in the early ’50s was primarily meant for peaceful purposes. Since then, Pakistan has been using nuclear technology for the socio-economic development and betterment of society. In this regard, over the years, sufficient human resources and infrastructure have been developed in compliance with the international practices of nuclear safety and security and regulatory control. This is further evident from the fact that Pakistan has achieved significant success in utilizing nuclear technology in public spheres ranging from; energy, agriculture, health, and industry. However, unfortunately, the international community, specifically the West is quite reluctant to acknowledge Pakistan’s success in peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Furthermore, Pakistan has been facing discrimination from the international community at various international forums related to the use of nuclear technology. Despite this, Pakistan’s successful journey of utilizing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes would likely continue in the years to come.
Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), established in 1956 is the pioneer government agency to oversee the peaceful uses of nuclear technology in the country. It was established to contribute to Pakistan’s overall economic development through the utilization of nuclear energy in various public fields. These include; medical diagnosis/therapy, agricultural production, nuclear energy for power generation, and some other functions that involve peaceful uses of nuclear technology. In the early ’70s, PAEC constructed the first-ever 135 Megawatts (MWs) nuclear power plant at Karachi KANUPP. This was also the first-ever nuclear power generation plant in the developing or underdeveloped world. The successful launch of this power plant later led to the development of four more nuclear plants at Chashma, the CHASNUPP-1, CHASNUPP-2, CHASHNUPP-3, and CHASHNUPP-4. Furthermore, Pakistan also intends to build two nuclear power plants known as K-2 and K-3 at Karachi, one at Chashma, and two at Muzaffargarh. This is part of Pakistan’s long-term plan to produce 40,000 Megawatts MWs of electricity by using nuclear energy by the year 2050. Here it is quite noteworthy to specify that nuclear power generation is believed to be one of the economical and reliable sources of electricity generation. Such credentials have included Pakistan among the list of 30 countries that have fully operational nuclear plants. Along with this, Pakistan is also among the only ten countries in the world that have completed the nuclear fuel cycle.
Likewise, in the field of agriculture, nuclear technology has contributed to various landmark achievements for Pakistan. In this regard, the PAEC has developed multiple facilities for the advancements in the field of agriculture and food in collaboration with the IAEA. It has also launched various programs to increase the nutritional value of staple foods so that it can meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eliminate malnutrition and hunger. Furthermore, various irradiation techniques have been used in the agriculture sector to enhance the quality of food and to extend the shelf life of products at the farms. Also, PAEC is working on various food fortification initiatives to enhance the vitamin and mineral content in the food and to eradicate malnutrition. This is further evident from the fact that nearly 98 new high-yielding and stress-tolerant crops have been created by using nuclear technology. For the availability of clean water in the country, PAEC for years has been collaborating with IAEA to analyze and detect pollutants in water by using isotopic and nuclear techniques. Pakistan has also built laboratories by collaborating with IAEA for mass breeding of insects that fight pests attacking the crops and thus the use of pesticides is decreased.
In Pakistan, nuclear technology has significant use in the field of medical science especially for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer disease. In this regard, over the years, 18 cancer treatment centers have been developed by PAEC where nearly 0.7 million cancer patients have been treated to date. This counts for almost 80% of the total cancer patients from all over the country. Radiation and various other nuclear techniques are used for treating cancer. Likewise, various cancer awareness campaigns are being run by the PAEC so that cancer gets diagnosed at the early stages. Other than these, PAEC has been collaborating with international organizations like the WHO, IRC, IAEA, and UICC, etc. This has facilitated the access of Pakistani scientists and doctors to the relevant international institutions and provides opportunities for training in the field of nuclear medicines. Taking part in various seminars and workshops also keeps the nuclear medical professionals updated about the latest developments in this field.
Moreover, in the field of technical industry, the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) Taxila is one of the leading organizations in Pakistan’s engineering sector. It works with an aim of indigenization, self-reliance, and import substitution and to give technical support to the country’s industrial sector. It also focuses on enhancing manufacturing, design, testing, and inspection capabilities to produce high-tech parts, components, and equipment for the thermal, hydel, and nuclear power plants and alternate energy projects. It is a state-of-the-art facility for forging, fabrication, machining, welding, and heat treatment. It is Pakistan’s first engineering establishment that is certified by PNRA (Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority) to develop Nuclear Safety Class 1, 2, and 3 components and equipment in the country.
Hence it is quite comprehensible that Pakistan has successfully demonstrated its commitment towards using nuclear energy for the socio-economic development of the country. This implies that there is another side of the nuclear coin of Pakistan’s nuclear program and that is the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Based on this, the international community needs to admit Pakistan’s continuous efforts of compliance with the international practices of nuclear safety and security and regulatory control. The international arrangements like the NSG and other such cartels, which are supposed to facilitate and promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, need to acknowledge Pakistan’s achievements in this regard. The grant of NSG waiver to India while ignoring Pakistan’s outstanding track record in peaceful uses of nuclear technology has raised questions on the credibility of international arrangements. There is a dire need for openness to new contenders with a non-discriminatory approach. Last but not the least, there should be discrimination between proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology at the international level.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.