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Need for nuclear energy.

Industrial development in Pakistan has been at a standstill for a long time. This is for the simple reason that basic infrastructural facilities like electric power, water, gas, road and rail communications and telephone facilities etc. are deplorably inefficient and insufficient. The country produces 4500 to 5300 megawatts of electricity, depending on the vagaries of nature, against a current minimum demand of 8600 megawatts. Hydel, gas and coal resources of the country being strictly limited, loadshedding has been resorted to the decades, resulting in almost total paralysis of industrial and agricultural development. Corrupt practices in the form of massive theft of electricity (according to some report 33 per cent of electric energy is stolen) has contributed to the imposition of massive loadshedding and the forced closure of scores of industrial units in the public and private sector. The monetary losses to the state and entrepreneurs run into trillions of rupees due to insufficient and inefficient supply by WAPDA and other agencies.

In such a horrid scenario of energy shortage, tall claims of industrial and agricultural growth and production by officials and rulers is sheer propaganda and eyewash. Besides, Pakistan's effort to develop its hydel power potential has been sabotaged and subverted effectively by vengeful politicians out to grind their political axe at the cost of national development. Plans for the construction of major power projects, especially hydro-electric dams, have always been made the subject of intense controversy. All the major power dams - Warsak, Mangla, Tarbela and now the Kalabagh Dam - became controversial ventures due to disputes over power sharing, profit sharing and dangers to environment, croplands, habitations, ecology and what-not. Under such circumstances of energy deficiency and non-availability of other sources of energy, the only alternatives to correct the acute energy shortfall is nuclear power. For decades, Pakistani nuclear specialists have stressed that in view of diminishing hydroelectric, gas and coal resources, the only alternative for sustained energy development to keep pace with industrial and agricultural development is energy obtained from nuclear power.

It is fortunate that so far the politicians have not raised their brooms against nuclear power development. Hopefully, this national consensus will prevail and the will of the people, properly channelled by elected government, will force the bureaucratic establishment to bypass external pressures and vested political interests, to obtain nuclear energy for national development.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has done something to salvage national aspirations for nuclear energy development, which fifteen years back were conceived and formulated by her father. The agreement with France for the construction of a 600-megawatt nuclear power plant at Chashma, signed in 1975, could not be implemented because Paris succumbed to U.S. pressure. Especially after Henry Kissinger's August 1976 meeting with the late prime minister, U.S. threatened Pakistan with dire consequences if it went forward with plans to acquire nuclear reactors and a processing plant from France. France, which has a decision of independent decision making, resiled from its solemn commitment under pressure and cancelled the agreement for the supply of the reactor.

This was a big setback because Chashma nuclear energy project had involved a tremendous amount of work. Vast resources had been diverted and tremendous sacrifices made, even by the Defence establishment, for the sake of the project. It is worth recollecting that Washington at the time had tried to bribe Pakistan with the offer of 100 A-7 Crusader fighter bombers if Pakistan gave up plans for acquiring the reprocessing plant for Chashma. Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan, now ambassador in Washington and then chief of the PAF air staff, when asked by the late prime minister about his opinion, refused the juicy carrot from America in the interest of long-term development. The cancellation of the French offer and half to the Chashma nuclear energy project in 1979 therefore was a major national setback and its rejuvenation a welcome development.

France and the United States at the time were fully cognisant of Pakistan's legitimate needs to acquire nuclear power reactors for energy development. The U.S. representative at the International Atomic Energy Commission meeting in 1976 had voted in favour of Pakistan's application, yet France, astonishingly, collaborated with the U.S. and axed the solemn agreement to sell the 600 megawatt nuclear power reactor.

Thirteen years later, Mr. Francis Mitterrand, during the first ever visit of a French president to this country, on February 21, 1990, announced the offer of a 900-megawatt fully safeguarded nuclear power plant to Pakistan. It was thought that the restoration of democracy in Pakistan had been a major factor in influencing Paris to revise its unfair previous decision.

The French nuclear power plant, worth $ 1.5 billion, is based on a General Electric (U.S.) design of a pressurised water reactor. Similar nuclear reactors were first fabricated in the early 1970s to generate 500-600 megawatts of electricity. It was a similar design that was offered to Pakistan in the mid-1970s. During the early 80s. the design was updated and the advanced version has been uprated to 900 megawatts. It is worth noting that France has acquired very high expertise in the field of nuclear power generation. Today, there are 545 nuclear electricity generating stations in France which produce 80 per cent of the total electric energy needs of the French republic. In addition to meeting its own energy needs, France supplies electricity to neighbouring EEC countries from its nuclear power network. It is nuclear power which has made France into a powerful technologically advanced industrial nation. It is good to see that France, which has a very special place in the Western world, has placed its nuclear expertise at the disposal of countries like Pakistan.

The French-designed nuclear power reactors are basically of medium size, that is 400-950 megawatts. According to some experts, a 900 megawatt nuclear power station is highly efficient and cost effective. Larger generating plants create problems of heat transfer from the reactor, and special cooling apparatus for heat absorption costs a great deal of additional money. Nuclear reactors are size critical. This means that the reactor size is virtually static. To explain it further, nuclear reactors function like automobile or aircraft engines, and could be run at idle as well as at full power. Similarly, a nuclear power reactor, when run at full power, produces maximum rated electric power and maximum heat. If the nuclear reactor is run at maximum power, it generates excessive heat beyond cooling capability and could cause damage to plumbing and heat shield etc. Nuclear power reactors, therefore, are run at 70 to 80 per cent of the maximum rated power. The normal energy output of the French reactor for Chashma, therefore, would be 700 to 760 megawatts. The French plant will supplement the present acute shortage of energy and raise output to about 6000 megawatts. A 2000-megawatt shortfall of energy will still persist. This is planned to be bridged by the installation of two Chinese supplied fully safeguarded nuclear power plants of 300-megawatt capacity each. When installed and commissioned, the energy output will increase by another 480 megawatts, that is 240 megawatts for each, at 80 per cent output. This will increase net energy production to 6500 megawatts and just a shortfall of 1500 megawatts will remain. The commissioning of the HUB power plant near Karachi will add another 1200 megawatts to the national grid. Along with other ongoing projects, Pakistan may hopefully bridge the energy gap during the tenure of the PPP government.

But the energy requirements are increasing. Pakistan has one of the largest per capita energy consumption rates in the world. This means that we are amongst the most under-developed nations. Realistic plans for acquiring or fabricating nuclear power reactors should be formulated at the earliest to overcome the energy and poverty syndrome. This should be done by the acquisition of another nuclear power reactor of similar capacity. Measures should be taken in hand for the manufacture of nuclear power reactors in Pakistan with Chinese aid and collaboration. It is learnt that the People's Republic has already made an offer for joint designing and manufacture of nuclear power reactors in Pakistan. Such an offer should be positively responded to and bureaucratic red tape should be minimalised to expedite installation of Chinese designed nuclear plants at suitable sites at the earliest. Our industrial and agricultural development is unlikely to take off unless nuclear power plants are constructed on priority basis.
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Title Annotation:Pakistan
Author:Khan, Ayaz Ahmed
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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