Amidst a barrage of negative news on both the political and the economic fronts, February 2, 2023 proved a red-letter day for Pakistan when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif formally inaugurated the 1,100 MW nuclear power plant in Karachi. This is the sixth nuclear power plant in the country, which has been built by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) with the help of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).
The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) Unit-3, or K-3 as it is generally called, has been supplying electricity to the national grid for nearly a year now. In fact, its formal inauguration was scheduled some time in March 2022, but due to the country’s continuing political instability, the event got delayed.
“Even the commemorative plaque with former premier Imran Khan’s name inscribed on it was ready, but then came the vote-of-no-confidence, and all the inauguration plans were turned upside down,” a PAEC official told Narratives, requesting anonymity.
But the name of the chief guest, who inaugurated this state-of-the-art modern facility, is a secondary story. The real highlight of the plant is that it is being operated by the Pakistani nuclear scientists, engineers, experts and technicians. “The Chinese helped us build this plant, but now it is a 100 percent Pakistani operation,” the PAEC official said.
On May 21, 2021, former Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the commercial operations of 1,100 MW K-2 at the KANUPP which is the oldest nuclear power facility in the country — operating since the early 1970s. However, the first small plant, KANUPP Unit-1 of 137 MW, built with the Canadian help, was permanently shut-down for decommissioning on August 1, 2021, after 50 years of operations.
In the vicinity of KANUPP Unit-1, the construction work on the two nuclear power reactors K-2 and K-3, started in August, 2015 and in May, 2016 respectively.
The two plants, located beside the Arabian Sea at the Paradise Point — once a key picnic attraction for Karachiites — are based on the latest Generation-III Chinese ACP-1000 design of the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) nuclear technology.
In this design, apart from other features, safety has been significantly enhanced by using passive safety systems, which do not require AC power to cool fuel and containment in case of an accident. The safety features of the plant covers severe accidents like station blackout or complete loss of outside power. The plant is protected by double-shell containment features. It is built to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.
According to the PAEC official, a tsunami at the Makran coast in 1945 resulted in a maximum wave of 1.5 meters at the coastline, where K-2 and K-3 are located. “The maximum simulated tsunami height at the site is 2.84 meters above mean sea-level if an earthquake of 9.2 magnitude occurs at the nearest point along Makran subduction Zone — some 220 km away from the site,” he said. “But these two plants are built 12 meters above the sea level, which is much more than 2.84 meters simulated tsunami wave height,” he added.
Nuclear power plants are considered the most environmentally-friendly as they do not emit harmful pollutants, including greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. A 1,000 MW coal, oil and gas-fired power plant annually emits on average six, five and three million tonnes of CO2 respectively, while the nuclear plant emissions are zero. Nuclear power is also the cheapest energy resource as compared to oil, coal and gas-fired power plants.
Pakistan is among the only 33 countries of the world, where nuclear plants are being used for generating electricity. Out of the 444 nuclear power plants operating the world over, six are located in Pakistan – two at KANUPP and four at Chashma.
Now the PAEC is planning to build a 1,200 MW power plant at Chashma (C-5) for which a contract has already been signed with the CNNC, which will provide 85 percent of financing of the estimated 21 billion RMB plant, subject to the sovereign guarantee.
Once the deal is signed, the C-5 will be operational in seven years. However, because of the country’s economic woes, the Shehbaz Sharif government is reluctant to give sovereign guarantee to this project. The PAEC sources say that it can fund the project from its own resources if the government gives a green signal.
The PAEC is all set to expand the footprint of nuclear energy as it has prepared plans to set up two new power plants — K-4 and K-5 — of 1,400MW each in Karachi, while two nuclear plants — M-1 and M-2 — of 1,400MW each are planned in Muzaffargarh, Punjab. But the PAEC would be needing government’s support to make these plans take-off.