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Nuclear Power Generation

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Nuclear Power Generation

We will be celebrating the 24th anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon tests – conducted on May 28, 1998 – this month. The day marks the historic achievement of nuclear deterrence capability that was pressingly needed against the adversaries as well as the confidence to be recognized as a major power in the international political system. After this historic feat, Pakistan preferred using this technology for peaceful purposes to indulging in a never-ending arms race in the South Asian region. Since then, the discourse on non-military aspect of nuclear technology and its enormous potential of peaceful application have overshadowed its military use.
Today, nuclear power plants provide reliable electricity in many countries including Pakistan where nuclear power generation has proved to be reliable, cost-effective and, above all, zero-carbon emission electric source. During the recent years, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has intensified efforts to meet the nuclear electricity generation target of 8,800 MW by the year 2030 as part of the comprehensive Energy Security Plan formulated in 2005. One of the primary motivations behind Pakistan’s increasing reliance on nuclear energy is worsening climatic conditions. Three of Pakistan’s major cities — Karachi, Lahore, and Faisalabad — have been placed on the list of most hazardous cities. Pakistan’s massive coal consumption for its energy needs also adds to environmental degradation, which contributes to 25 percent of the power generation mix. Therefore, nuclear energy, being affordable, clean and friendly to the environment, appears to be the best alternative for Pakistan’s energy needs.

At present, PAEC operates seven nuclear power plants with optimum capacity factor, generating 3,635MW of electricity in total and providing it to the national grid. Four nuclear power plants at Chashma are supplying 1,340MW while K-2 and K-3 at Karachi are feeding 2,220MW to the national grid, reaching 18.3 percent of the total electricity generation from all sources. Moreover, the third nuclear power plant at Karachi, commonly known as Kanupp-3 or K-3, having 1,145-MWe generation installed capacity and 1,100-MWe net capacity, has been recently connected to the national grid.

However, there is no denying the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear energy contributions are still meager when compared with a developed country such as France, where nuclear energy contributes to almost 70 percent. Moreover, 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 20 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.
At a time when the nuclear power capacity is fast expanding globally – at present, 442 nuclear power plants of total 393-GWe capacity are operational in 30 countries, another 52 reactors of cumulative capacity of over 54-GWe are under construction in 20 countries and the IAEA forecasts that global nuclear power capacity will double by 2050 achieving the mark of 792-GWe – it is, indeed, encouraging that the PAEC has intensified efforts to meet the nuclear electricity generation target of 8,800 MW by the year 2030. It is a part of the comprehensive Energy Security Plan formulated in 2005. Moreover, Pakistan has an ambitious plan-as per Pakistan’s Nuclear Energy Vision 2050- to have 44,000-MWe nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

It is to be noted here that Pakistan is one of the 30 countries in the world to operate a complete nuclear fuel cycle; yet, the country needs a significant build-out of electricity generation capacity to meet current and future demands and, for that, a low-cost nuclear energy option seems vital for Pakistan’s overall energy security.
With rising economic activity, the demand for uninterrupted and reliable power supply is also increasing. To meet the increasing energy demand, the burden lies on natural resources which are depleting at a rapid pace. Therefore, Pakistan desperately needs to devise a comprehensive policy to secure its resources, while sustaining its economic growth. In this regard, nuclear energy has the full potential to lift the burden from the rapidly depleting energy resources. Moreover, 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%) plant 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 the case of NPPs, carbon emission is almost zero, besides being economically competitive.
The writer is an Engineer, based in Lahore.

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