Nuclear power is one of the most efficient, reliable and environment-friendly sources of energy, which is restricted to very few countries, mainly due to political and technical reasons. The fast depleting fossil fuel reserves are forcing several countries, including some of the oil-rich ones, to shift towards nuclear power to ensure long-term energy security. Pakistan has a modest nuclear power programme, which is making important contributions towards national development. This needs to be expanded to meet future requirements and guarantee Pakistan’s energy security.
Pakistan started its peaceful nuclear programme in 1954 as part of the US Atoms for Peace initiative. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established in 1956 and in 1957, Pakistan became one of the founding members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 1960, the first nuclear medical centre was established in Karachi and in 1963, the foundational stone of the Pakistan Institute of Science and Technology was laid. The agreement for Pakistan’s first nuclear power plant (NPP) was signed with Canada in 1965 and by 1971, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) started its operations.
After India’s nuclear weapon test of 1974, Pakistan was unfairly punished and in 1976, Canada stopped fuel supplies for KANUPP, which was operating under the IAEA safeguards and did not pose any proliferation risk. This embargo, in a way, helped the country to develop its indigenous capability and Pakistan started producing fuel for KANUPP in a short period of two years. Over the last 40 years of its life cycle, KANUPP, which is the oldest reactor of its kind in the world, continues to operate safely with IAEA certification. It is a reflection of Pakistan’s technical expertise in the nuclear field.
Due to the growing energy demand, Pakistan plans to increase the share of nuclear energy to 8,800 megawatt electrical by the year 2030. This would constitute 5.41 per cent of the overall energy mix. Other sources of energy — hydel, coal, renewable, oil and gas — would still have the major percentage. In order to expand the share of nuclear energy, which could significantly reduce reliance on external sources of energy, Pakistan needs to invest more in terms of financial resources and overcome politically-motivated barriers through diplomatic means in the form of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Pakistan and India are both non-NPT nuclear weapon states and thus remain technically ineligible for nuclear trade with the NSG. The NSG, however, accorded a waiver in September 2008, allowing India to enter into civil-nuclear cooperation agreements with the NSG members. In November 2010, the US also declared that it will support India’s full membership in the NSG. If India could be given a waiver and considered for full membership of the NSG, Pakistan has no lesser credentials. Making an India-specific exemption and denying the same to Pakistan, is not only discriminatory, but it also contradicts Article III(C) of the IAEA Statute, which does not precondition assistance on peaceful uses of nuclear energy “to any political, economic, military or other conditions incompatible with the provisions of the [IAEA] Statute”.
Pakistan has vast experience in the nuclear field. The safe operation of nuclear power plants over the past several decades is a reflection of the expertise and professionalism of its scientists. Pakistan, however, needs access to nuclear energy to meet its growing development needs. This requires removal of artificial and discriminatory barriers in the form of NSG restrictions, which can be made possible by launching a major diplomatic offensive as Pakistan cannot afford to remain in a state of perpetual discrimination.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2012.
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