Pakistan is deep in a power crisis. Quite aside from distressing domestic consumers, the country’s episodic and erratic electrical generating capacity is also nobbling Pakistani exports. Endemic energy shortages have crippled Pakistan’s textiles industry, which account for 63 percent of Pakistan’s exports and whose mills employ 20 percent of the nation’s workforce.
In the past year half of Faisalabad’s 250,000 power looms have gone out of business because of natural gas shortages, which power the looms. In discussing the power shortages Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Muzammil Sultan said, after noting that at least 200,000 workers have lost their jobs since last year. “We’re shipping only half the quantity we used to from this city,”
Accordingly, authorities in Islamabad are investigating any and all potential solutions to the country’s endemic power shortages and have settled on ramping up nuclear power production as a quick fix way out of the country’s energy deficit.
At last month’s Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Pakistan asked for access to nuclear technology for “peaceful uses on a non-discriminatory basis” assuring the international community that “Pakistan has taken effective measures ... to enhance nuclear security,” in an overt reference to the 2008 U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, contending that Pakistan “qualifies to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and other export control regimes.”
Islamabad clearly felt that Washington is pursuing a nuclear double standard, as three years ago at a NSG meeting in Vienna the United States won special exemptions for its burgeoning ally India, as many in the Bush presidency felt that New Delhi was a reliable counter against rising Chinese power. At the time, as India was and still remains a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as the NSG, India was technically prohibited from purchasing anything nuclear, even civilian nuclear reactors. But Washington subsequently used its diplomatic influence at the NSG to loosen the restrictions on India, up to allowing even the potential export of enrichment technology needed to make weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
So given the international community’s ambivalent policy towards nations with nuclear weapons programs outside the purview of the NPT, Islamabad is nevertheless planning to construct two coastal nuclear power plants (CNPP-1, CNPP-2) each with the capacity to generate 1,000 megawatts in Karachi to meet the future electricity needs of the business capital of Pakistan. A senior Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity said, "The presidency and GHQ are showing great interest in the projects which will have substantial allocations in the next budget. We have briefed the military leadership about the project and the presidency is also showing too much interest in the coastal nuclear power projects. Due to this reason, we are seeking major allocations in the public sector development plan for 2012-13. Right now we are in the process of carrying out the seismic survey of the coastal area where the nuclear plants are expected to be installed. There exists only one nuclear power plant in Karachi that can generate maximum 80 megawatts of electricity."
Pakistan currently operates three licensed commercial nuclear power plants and is the first Muslim country in the world to construct and operate civil nuclear power plants (NPPs), making the proposed Karachi facility the fourth. The scientific and nuclear governmental agency PAEC)is responsible for operating the NPPs.
However PAEC defines its project, and however much sympathy one feels for Karachi’s residents suffering under electricity shortages, increasing the country’s NPP capacity is a bad idea anyway one looks at it.
The 11 March Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan has driven a potentially fatal stake through the heart of global nuclear energy projects.
Secondly, given that Pakistan remains outside the NPT’s purview, any such project will most likely have to be indigenously funded, and it’s not as if Islamabad has money to burn on such prestige projects.
As for possible seismic activity, Karachi lies approximately 100 miles east of the triple junction between the Arabian, Indian, and Asian plates in the Arabian Sea, and on 19 January panic gripped Karachi when an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale jolted the city and other parts of southwest Pakistan.
Last but not least, a new NPP in Pakistan’s teeming tropical city, rife with insurgents, is hardly likely to become anything other than a terrorist magnet, whose interests could range from attacking the reactor complex to simply purloining the nuclear waste as a component for a possible “dirty bomb.”
Despite the country’s significant power problems, Islamabad should seriously reconsider placing a NPP in the midst of Karachi’s long suffering populace, as the possibility of a Fukushima type incident in a massive city of 13-15 million inhabitants would overwhelm the municipality’s ability to cope. In the 21st century nuclear world, there are some things worse than power blackouts.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com