Why ‘Yes’ to nuclear energy?

By Sidra Rehman

Nuclear power is the greenest option for Pakistan which should not be ignored by the critics of nuclear energy in the country.

Sindh High Court has recently disposed off a petition against the construction of two nuclear power plants on Karachi’s coast, now allowing Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to restart work that will add 2200 megawatts of electricity to the energy deprived city. Quaintly, the environmental and safety concerns still linger with some media and liberal circles.

Some facts are conveniently ignored while raising environmental, safety and other concerns about nuclear energy’s use in electrical power generation. The feasibility study of plants being constructed for Karachi was approved by International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) and will be under its stringent safeguards.

Pakistan has a completely independent and continuous regulatory mechanism once plants are conceived, built and operated. Pakistan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) is an independent organization, which was established to ensure foolproof safety and good practices in nuclear energy sector and fulfills the obligations Pakistan has taken as signatory of international Convention on Nuclear Safety. The CNS ensures public and environmental safety from ionizing radiation. The PNRA operates without any pressure from the PAEC or the Government and it has its own strict rules of reactor operations and licensing.

Before the development of a nuclear reactor, a complete feasibility study is made, emergency plans are developed according to the design of the power plant and even de-commissioning plans are made. The PAEC follows these international best practices.

The fuel used to run power plants produces waste product, which is radioactive and has to be safely stored. The nuclear waste from the spent nuclear fuel is initially stored safely in the nuclear power plant. Once the two nuclear power plants in Karachi come online, their spent fuel storage site would be having enough capacity for a long time. For instance, the total spent fuel produced in forty-four years of Pakistan can be housed in a place as small as a squash court filled with water.

Like the safety concerns, the environmental concerns about upcoming power plants at Karachi are unfounded. Some of the top scientists have recently reiterated that nuclear power is the greenest option. In an open letter to be published next month in the journal Conservation Biology, more than 65 biologists, including a former UK government chief scientist, support the call to build more nuclear power plants as a central part of a global strategy to protect wildlife and the environment. Why is it that some quasi-liberals and physicists in Pakistan oppose it? The public says yes to nuclear energy because it is safe and a sustainable source. Those who know it and still oppose it have some other agendas to push, for which we should be wary off.

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Sidra Rehman

Sidra Rehman is Islamabad-based defense analyst

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