Future of nuclear energy in Pakistan

By Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed

Over the years, fuel prices of fossil fuel (oil, gas and coal) have raised significantly and Pakistan is one of the affectee of this rising/inflated fuel prices at international level. As thermal power is providing a major chunk of power in Pakistan, so once the international prices of fuel are increased, the cost of power is also increased.

One of the latent sources of energy in Pakistan is its hydro potential. It is estimated that its latent source of energy—hydro—can produce 60,000 MW of power every year if properly explored. However, for last 15 years, only 1,890 MW of power is being produced from this vast source of energy. Besides the advantages of this source, there are inbuilt discrepancies in building new hydro projects. Most of the potential is located in mountainous region, away from load centers. Therefore, it will cost heavily (high investment cost and losses in electricity transmission) for the transmission of power the generation plants. Similarly, one the biggest challenge in building new dams for power generation is socio-political issues i.e. water allocations among the provinces, resettlement of people and heavy project investment. Most likely impact of building new hydro projects is in the form of climate change. Climate change through building new hydro projects could be the alteration of seasonal flow in Indus River System, increase flow in the rivers for a few decades which could cause decline in the flow leading to serious impacts on hydro power production.

Pakistan has significant reservoirs of oil, gas, and coal. The following table shows the amount of power which can be produced through these proven reserves sources of energy in Pakistan. It is also estimated that Pakistan is stated to have potential of shale oil (9 Billion Barrels and shale gas resources. However, these resources are not yet reassessed and discovered.

Fuel UnitProven Reserves
Oil, Million Barrels 3,421
Gas, Trillion Cubic Feet2,714
Coal (Proven reserves), Billion Tons432
Total resource1,861,750
Hydro Megawatt 54,000,543

Currently, thermal power (oil and gas) is contributing a chief amount of power in the overall energy mix graphs of generation in Pakistan. Although, Pakistan has significant reservoirs of oil and gas which are still to be uncapped, but right now power generation in Pakistan is mostly from imported oil. The country meets it’s more than 82 percent of oil requirements through imports. Oil based generation has increased to 35 percent leading to increased cost of electricity generation mix. It has also increase government subsidies, as a result the balance of payments (Circular debt) are becoming worst due to oil imports.

The demand and supply gap could increase by 17 billion cubic feet per day by 2030. However, the import options from Iran (Iran-Pakistan Project IP) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (TAPI) are consideration projects to meet the future demand of power in Pakistan.

Pakistan has considerable coal reservoirs, which can be exploited to power generation. At Thar (Sind) 95 percent of coal resources are located. Current resource classification of Thar field is total 186 billion tones.

Several projects on imported coal are in planning stage. However, these reservoirs are of lower quality. Thar coal is lignite with more than 40% moisture. Power plants at mine mouth because of high moisture and low energy contents, resulting in large investment on electricity transmission. One of the adverse effects of energy production through coal is its impact on global climate change. Pakistan stands in the list of those countries that contributing least amount of Green House Gases (GHG) internationally, and Pakistan is producing least amount of energy from coal. However, in future the countries which are utilizing coal from energy production are more focusing on the alternative of the fossil fuel (Coal), as it produces more CO2, which is causing climate change effects (Global Warming).

Theoretically, speaking the potential of wind energy to produce power is approximately 100,000 MW and its capacity factor is approximately 23-28 percent. In this regard, some of the projects are completed e.g. FFC energy limited (49.5) has been completed. Similarly, the installation of wind fans project (56 MW) at Jhimpir is near completion. Three other projects of 50 MW each are also under construction.

Likewise, solar energy potential in Pakistan is high, but Research and Development (R & D) in this regard needs further explorations. Punjab government has signed an agreement with Canadian solar company to set up a 500 MW project at Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Cholistan. Besides the advantages of alternative sources of energy, wind and solar are energy saver not capacity saver.

Nuclear contribute 700 MWs to the overall electricity generation in Pakistan. Currently, Pakistan has three operational nuclear power plants, KANUPP-1, CHASMA-1 and CHASMA-2, which are the main contributor to the national grid. Independent Power Plants (IPPs) are producing 37.9 percent of electricity in Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) is only contributing 3.2 percent of electricity in the overall power production in Pakistan. So, the question arises here is whether Pakistan has the potential to explore the nuclear energy to end its unending power crisis?

Right now, Pakistan is building its fifth nuclear power plants KANUPP-2 (1100 MW) at Karachi. Pakistan has also completed the construction work of CHASMA-3 (C-3) and CHASMA-4 (C-4), which will start pouring 655 MW of electricity into the national grid till 2016.

Nuclear Power Plants in Operation
Power PlantCapacity (MW)Year of Commissioning
KANUPP-1 137/100 1972
CHASMA-1 3252000
Nuclear Power Plants Under Construction
Power Plant Capacity (MW)Year of Commissioning
KANUPP-2 1100-

Nuclear Vision 2050 envisages greater than 40,000 MW nuclear power by 2050 or about 15% of the projected capacity of the country.

Currently, energy demand in Pakistan during summers is 18000 MW and supply of power is 13000 MW, which cause 5000 MW of gap in the demand-supply chain. It is estimated that in next 10 years the demand will grow exponentially making the current demand to twice of present level. The existing installed capacity is 21000 MW which includes thermal, hydro, and nuclear capacities. Here, nuclear option can be best employed to meet the future challenges of demand in Pakistan. Nuclear power plant development in next 17 years can produce 7370 MW of energy and the expansion of nuclear power plants till 2030 will enable the country to raise nuclear power level from 750 to 8,800 MW.

Pakistan is long being denied by its legitimate right of acquiring nuclear technologies to expand its civil nuclear program. China has cooperated with Pakistan to construct nuclear plants in Pakistan. Pakistan is facing discriminatory standards at international level to have civil nuclear technologies. On other hand, India is being benefited by Indo-US nuclear deal through 123 nuclear agreements at various levels e.g. a special waiver was given to India to enter into Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and country specific International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Moreover an American think tank, Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) has released its comparative nuclear security indexation encompassing worldwide nuclear material security. This study has assessed Pakistan as the ‘most improved’ country among nine nuclear armed states. The white house has acknowledged in the way like “Pakistan is engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues and is working to ensure its strategic export controls are in line with international standards.”

Although, no one can deny the fact, other sources of energy are also reliable and existing power infrastructure is most based on hydro and thermal power generation, but expansion in the existing nuclear infrastructure can bolster and foster its aims to end the power crisis. Right now, to end the energy crisis in Pakistan seems to be not plausible, but the future investment on nuclear infrastructure can reduce the power crisis.

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Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed

Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed works at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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