Nuclear power forms the backbone of low-carbon electricity generation. Alongside renewables, energy efficiency, and other innovative technologies, nuclear can make a significant contribution to achieving sustainable development goals while enhancing energy security.
Presently, Asia is leading the way in bringing new Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) online. According to the World Nuclear Association, Asian countries continue to dominate the market for building new NPPs. Two-thirds of the 61 reactors under construction around the world are being built in Asia. As Pakistan is facing severe energy crises, where, worsening blackouts are the latest manifestation of Pakistan’s economic distress. Such blackouts are becoming increasingly common.
Pakistan has various options to meet the growing demand for electricity i.e., indigenous coal, hydro, nuclear, and renewables. Picking the right combination of the future energy mix of a country is calculated based on a thorough comparative assessment of these technologies.
Indigenous available fuels are almost always given the highest priority if they are either sustainable or abundantly available to capitalize on in the long term.
During the year 2019 to 2020, 19 percent of Pakistan’s electricity was generated by four coal-fired power plants constructed under the umbrella of the CPEC project. These include CPEC 4.62 GW of coal-fired generation including the 1320 MW Huaneng Shandong Ruyi-Sahiwal Coal Power Plant, 1320 MW Port Qasim Coal Fired Power Plant, 1320 MW HubCo Coal Fired Power Plant, and 660 MW Engro Thar Coal Power Plant.
Nuclear energy has been a source of power for many countries for several decades and received increased attention in recent years due to its reliability and cost-effectiveness. In view of the looming energy crisis and the increasing cost of using fossil fuels to supply the country’s energy requirements, Pakistan sees nuclear energy as a viable option that can be employed to meet the rising energy demands. It is so because Pakistan is already relying excessively on coal-fired power plants which are volatile options considering the climate crisis and the environmental cost of carbon emission. Nuclear energy is a clean and cost-effective source of power that offers several benefits over traditional fossil fuels and renewable sources. Favorable cost economics, coupled with freedom from the import dependence on fossil fuels, make nuclear power more attractive for fulfilling the rising energy deficit. Moreover, unlike coal and natural gas, it emits very little carbon dioxide emissions. Further, once built, NPPs require very low foreign exchange for the import of fuel.
Pakistan has been utilizing nuclear technology for energy generation for five decades, in turn, providing clean and cost-effective energy to the nation.
Pakistan made an entry into the nuclear power club in 1972 when the first unit of electricity was sent to the Karachi grid from 137 PWR type KANNUP. Currently, there are six NPPs operating at two sites in the country which include two units of KANNUP (K-2, K-3) and four units of Chashma NPPs (C-1, C-2, C-3 & C-4). At present, the total nuclear-installed capacity is 3530 MW. Four units of Chashma are the best electricity-generating plants in terms of endurance and availability. Needless to mention, the dedication of Pakistani scientists is commendable for reasons that most plants are still operating after completing their design life with perfect safety. C-2 and C-4 made a national record for continuous longest operation for over one year. During the period of 2021, capacity factors of C-1, C-2, C-3, and C-4 were 86%, 98.7%, 91.3%, and 78.7% respectively which was well above the average of capacity factors of thermal power plants in the country. All this is the reflection of the solid foundations of a strong, viable, safe, and secure nuclear power program in Pakistan. Also, Nuclear power contributed to 8.4 percent of Pakistan’s total power generation between 2020 and 2021. The average tariff of operational NPPs for the analysis period is about 12.2/kWh, which is less than LNG and coal-fired power plants in the country.
The total power generation of the NTDC system in the month of February 2020 was about 7 billion units which increased by 16% to 8.1 billion units in the same month of the current year. Similarly, as per the data shared by National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), domestic nuclear energy production resulted in substantial savings compared to importing non-nuclear energy in 2022. After accounting for loan installments on NPPs, Pakistan saved $3 billion compared to importing oil, $2.2 billion in importing natural gas, and $1.6 billion in importing coal. Along with this, nuclear energy is an efficient source that provides large-scale power reliably without the fear of intermittency unlike wind and solar power. Nuclear energy has the potential to generate energy 90% of the time as opposed to wind and solar which only generate energy 25-40 percent of the time.
Pakistan has great potential for nuclear technology collaborations. There is a need to attract international and national investments by private companies in Pakistan’s nuclear power program.
Therefore, the promising policy strategy for Pakistan’s rising energy demands and to reduce the harmful impacts of climate change that it faces lies in balancing the continuous development of its established renewable energy sector, while technologically and economically stimulating its nuclear energy sector.
Hence, for Pakistan, relying more on nuclear energy would substantially contribute to saving foreign exchange which will indirectly reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel and provide cheaper energy to the national grid. Therefore, Pakistan must diversify its energy basket and seek out alternatives such as nuclear energy to meet its growing needs.
Unfortunately, in contemporary international politics, Pakistan has been consistently facing discrimination in the field of nuclear science and technology. Pakistan’s civilian energy program has contributed to its socio-economic uplift and a more comprehensive approach is needed to utilize this potential for the country’s economic growth. Furthermore, there is ample room available for Pakistan to enhance its nuclear power generation capacity to meet growing energy demands. In order to benefit from nuclear technology, country-specific discrimination against Pakistan must end and Pakistan should not be denied its legitimate right to use civilian nuclear technology for peaceful uses including electricity generation.
The author is a Mphil Scholar and works as a Senior Visiting Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. He has written extensively on strategic and nuclear issues on numerous national and international platforms. He tweets @shau_ni