Nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy feared that if the two nuclear plants are set up near Karachi, even a small earthquake or a terrorist activity can damage the reactors.
“I am worried that an operator’s error or act of terrorism can cause destruction to the nuclear reactors of these power plants,” he said. “In case of any accident, the deaths in Karachi may not be in hundreds but in hundreds of thousands.”
Dr Hoodbhoy, nuclear physicist Dr AH Nayyar and civil society activists had gathered on Wednesday to discuss the merits of setting up two large nuclear power plants, K-II and K-III, along Karachi coastline. The seminar, titled ‘Impacts of Nuclear Power Projects K-II and K-III along the Coastal Areas’, was organised by Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), ActionAid Pakistan and Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) at Regent Plaza on Wednesday.
The speakers demanded the government re-conduct all the studies necessary to install the plants and take the public into confidence.
In his speech, Dr Hoodbhoy recalled that a human error at the Chernobyl power plant in the 1980s caused between 8,000 and 24,000 deaths - several more died from cancer. “The effects of the radiation emission from Fukushima reactors are still being felt after three years,” he pointed out, adding that countries, such as Germany, Japan and Switzerland are now shifting to alternative energy options.
He regretted that developed countries are closing down nuclear power reactors, and China cannot find a buyer except Pakistan in the whole world. China is providing $6.5 billion as loan to Pakistan to purchase the nuclear reactors, he added. “We need to eye our Thar coal power and keep the option of small dams open.”
In his presentation, Dr AH Nayyar said that the current total installed capacity of nuclear power plants is 725megawatt including KANUPP and Chashma plants and all the plants cover three per cent of the total energy production of Pakistan. By 2030, Pakistan intends to install 8,800MW. For K-II and K-III, only the SITE Evaluation Report has been prepared and the Reactor Safety Report and Environmental Impact Analysis has yet to be made. He also feared that in case of a nuclear accident, it will be difficult to evacuate the entire population of Karachi, as there is no effective disaster management system.
“The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission needs to assert its importance by establishing more nuclear power plants and claim its share on national resources,” he said, adding that the commission has a budget of Rs56 billion this year.
K-II and K-III project director Azfar Minhaj defended the project by saying it has been approved by the elected governments and all the stakeholders necessary. “The project has not come from the sky in a day but has taken six years in which studies and surveys were conducted,” he said.
Minhaj told The Express Tribune that they are building the plant 12 metres above the sea level, which is safe as the estimated height of tsunami waves in a worst-case scenario will be 2.8 metres. If the safety system of the plant fails, only the population within a 16-kilometre radius will need to be evacuated. “That area ends before Gulbai and has a population of not more than 100,000,” he explained.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2014.