Fear grows over new nuclear reactors in Karachi

Published: March 6, 2015
ACP-1000 reactors will stand less than 20 miles from Karachi's densely populated metropolis of 20 million residents. STOCK IMAGE

ACP-1000 reactors will stand less than 20 miles from Karachi's densely populated metropolis of 20 million residents. STOCK IMAGE

KARACHI: A real nightmare could be unfolding in Karachi as Pakistan will be supplied with two large nuclear reactors from China to aid the country in its energy crisis, The Washington Post reported. 

There has always been fear among world leaders that terrorists may try to steal one of Pakistan’s nuclear bombs and detonate it in a foreign country, however, some have said that the real nightmare could be unfolding in Karachi after the reactors are supplied.

The new power plants which comprise a new design are not yet in use anywhere in the world and will be each supplying 1,100 megawatts to Pakistan’s national energy grid. The reactors are being built next to a much smaller 1970s-era reactor located on a popular beach where fishermen still make wooden boats by hand.



The new ACP-1000 reactors will stand less than 20 miles from Karachi’s densely populated metropolis of 20 million residents. Many have come forward in argument against the government’s nuclear ambitions, questioning whether this was the best place to build the nuclear reactor.

“You are talking about a city one-third the population of the United Kingdom,” said Abdul Sattar Pirzada, a Karachi lawyer who is seeking to get the project halted. “If there would be an accident, this would cripple Karachi, and if you cripple Karachi, you cripple Pakistan,” he added.

Recommendations put forward by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission pertaining to nuclear power plant construction state that any new reactor should be situated away from a very densely populated area, preferably with fewer than 500 people per square mile within a 20 mile radius.

The same zone where the power plants would be constructed holds about 6,450 people per square mile a Pakistani nuclear physicist wrote in Newsweek Pakistan last year.



Concerns have been expressed by some US diplomatic officials about China’s role in providing nuclear energy to Pakistan.

Pakistan still remains to be one of the few developing nations which is still pursuing civilian nuclear energy options since the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

With three operative nuclear power plants, Pakistan has turned to China for help in expanding the capacity of these plants. Efforts are underway to double the size of the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant in Punjab, as well as to build the new Karachi reactors.

“The risks are there. You cannot discount them, but you prepare for them,” said Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s water, power and defense minister. “We are a nuclear power, so don’t underestimate us,” he added.

The ACP-1000 reactor was developed by China and cost about $5 billion each to build. The design of the reactor is based on one that France built in China in the 1980s.

Despite Pakistan’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the international ban on the transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan, the China National Nuclear Corporation will still be supplying the ACP-1000 reactor to Pakistan.

“We are going to be the guinea pigs,” said Arif Belgaumi, a Karachi architect who wants the international community to pay closer attention to the government’s plans.

“China’s expanding civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan raises concerns and we urge China to be transparent regarding this cooperation,” the US Embassy said in a statement on Thursday.

Of particular concern with supplying Pakistan with the reactors is the threat of terrorism with Karachi’s long history of security lapses. If a major attack or accident were to occur at a nuclear power plant, activists said there would be unimaginable chaos.

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Reader Comments (53)

  • SK
    Mar 6, 2015 - 11:15AM

    Concerns are genuine but unless there are any real alternatives and quick ones, this project must go on to power up grid to energize industry at lower rates and to light up end consumers in Karachi and surrounding areas.Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2015 - 11:51AM

    This is risking the lives of Karachiites. This should be stopped at all costs!Recommend

  • Been
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:01PM

    Nuclear revitalization would never ever be transpired if nuclear energy was unsafe. Nuclear energy is a clean, safe, reliable and competitive energy source. As Nuclear energy by far has the lowest impact on the environment since it does not release any gases like carbon dioxide, methane which are largely responsible for greenhouse effect. Of all energy sources, nuclear energy has perhaps the most less impact on the environment, including water, land, habitat, species, and air resources. Nuclear power reactors have a foremost environmental benefit that they do not emit the gases that contribute to global warming, acid rain, or urban smog.Recommend

  • Biaa Shahid
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:15PM

    These concerns are irrelevant and are being used by the western lobby in order to slower down the progress of the country in carrying out the project of installing and operating nuclear power plants. People sitting in the nuclear establishment of Pakistan specifically PAEC and PNRA are not illiterate that they have made clear the apprehension of people rather they are enough capable to tell and incorporate all the pros and cons regarding the nuclear power project. Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2015 - 12:20PM

    But what in case of a leak in one of the reactors? Shouldnt be located so close to populated areas.Recommend

  • Engr.Bilal
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:22PM

    Once again one sided image has been shown from untrustworthy societies.I request government keep building these Nuclear reactors until the power crises has not been solved and keep taking Nuclear reactors from China until America doesn’t provide nuclear capabilities to Pakistan as he do with India. Recommend

  • A J Khan
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:33PM

    Nuclear power stations operate in 31 countries.

    France (73.3%), Belgium (52.1%) Hungary (50.7%) and Slovakia (51.7%) use them as the primary source of electricity.

    According to the World Nuclear Association, a nuclear power advocacy group, over 45 countries are giving “serious consideration” to introducing a nuclear power capability with Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Vietnam, Belarus, and Jordan at the forefront.

    China, South Korea and India are pursuing ambitious expansions of their nuclear power capacities, with China aiming to increase capacity to at least 80 GW by 2020.

    Pakistan is pushed towards hydro carbons fuel which is expensive, environmentally not supported & beyond the purchasing power of people.
    Calculated risks and safety measures are key to such projects around the world.Recommend

  • Rehman
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:36PM

    PAEC has an enviable record of operation nuclear power plants for more than four decades without radioactivity releases that could be in any way be harmful to the environment, the general public, or even plant personnel. This has been done through technical excellence, thorough training, meticulous compliance with national and international safety standards, and according the highest priority to safety. Recommend

  • JD
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:44PM

    I don’t have a great feeling about his. There hasn’t been developed a safe way to utilize nuclear energy as yet. But wind and solar energy is definitely stepping up. That’s what we should be focusing on. We can’t even pull out people from the debris of a building (see: margalla collapse, earthquake), how can we deal with a potential nuclear disaster?Recommend

  • Waseem
    Mar 6, 2015 - 12:58PM

    Pak has much better record on Nuclear safety compare to Russia and Japan. On the other hand nuclear energy has no damage for environment compare to any other fuel

    The generation of electricity through nuclear energy reduces the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels (coal and oil). Less use of fossil fuels means lowering greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and others).

    Currently, fossil fuels are consumed faster than they are produced, so in the next future these resources may be reduced or the price may increase becoming inaccessible for most of the population.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 6, 2015 - 1:07PM

    The nuclear reactors MAY cause harm……our political dispensation WILL destroy us.Recommend

  • AsR
    Mar 6, 2015 - 1:12PM

    Best site for the these reactors is the eastern punjab, sparsely populated and close to load centers e.g Lahore, peshawar and faisalabad.Recommend

  • AF
    Mar 6, 2015 - 1:24PM

    @Shahid : Who bothers for the life of Karachiites which may go at stake ?
    It is our so called rulers, who are more keen to watch the major share of these reactors’ output utilized at Raiwind.Recommend

  • TA
    Mar 6, 2015 - 2:02PM

    There is no issue with regard to setting up the nuclear plants, however, the location does need to be reconsidered, perhaps near Gwadar ot near Hubco.Recommend

  • Ibrahim
    Mar 6, 2015 - 2:33PM

    The best solution is to reconsider the placement of these two reactors. Surely in rural areas of the province there is acres and acres of land which is sparsely populated and in case anything goes wrong then a lot of people wont be affected + due to lack of population it will be easier to secure those areas as well. Recommend

  • Chachoo
    Mar 6, 2015 - 3:20PM

    @AsR: South Punjab could not be selected for the reactors. The reason is that Nuclear reactors need a lot of water for cooling purposes and South Punjab is a desert like region. They could only be developed around the river fronts and such reactors are already being operated in Mianwali zone and producing more than 700 Megawatts of Power. Recommend

  • Mar 6, 2015 - 4:33PM

    Criticisms and apprehensions of our nuclear energy programme are based on 2 things, One, sheer ignorance and even a reluctance to acquaint one self of the facts. Just the word nuclear strikes fear and makes some people believe that the worst will happen. It is time that such people make the effort to educate themselves. The second factor is the US lobby which definitely does not wish Pakistan to enhance cooperation with China in this or any other field. The Washington Post story is misleading, starting as it does with a highly negative and irresponsible opening sentence. And Express Tribune has gone one step further by editing the original Post story and leaving out even the few points in defence of the nuclear power plants which the Post had included to pretend that their story is balanced.Recommend

  • Babar Ali
    Mar 6, 2015 - 5:11PM

    Electricity is being supplied in most of the first world by nuclear means including USA, France, Japan and Britain. This method is very mature and all this hullabaloo is just to unnecessarily provoke negative sentiments.

    The nuclear safety best practices are available through EIA and a better planning can mitigate a lot these risks.Recommend

  • Salman
    Mar 6, 2015 - 5:45PM

    The safety element has been factored in the design of the new power plants for Karachi. It includes the incorporation of multiple barriers in the design and many levels of safety assurance throughout the design, construction and operational phases. Post-Fukushima, nuclear power plants are being equipped to cope with the most unlikely scenarios of total blackout and non-functionality of several of the engineered safety features built in the plant. It is learnt that these safety upgrades are already being implemented in the present operating plants and would be inbuilt features of the new Karachi plants. Recommend

  • Dani
    Mar 6, 2015 - 5:47PM

    the relevant authorities, particularly the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) have meticulously examined and scrutinised the entire project, in which exercise it has also consulted with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on all technical aspects of the planned power plants. The provincial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also given its approval after due diligence. Recommend

  • Shakil Khan
    Mar 6, 2015 - 5:56PM

    Is it co incidence any power or mega project in Pakistan is projected as controversial with help of media and bought out local actors?
    be it Kalabagh Dam, Economic Corridor, Iran Pakistan gas pipeline, and now this!

    Pakistan has right to produce energy from any source it may deem fit, imported fuel doesnt generate cheaper energy. Recommend

  • woody
    Mar 6, 2015 - 6:53PM

    The proximity to Karachi raises obvious issues — but the decision was never about safety it was about using land owned by some powerful people. Building a nuclear power plant near a highly populated city isn’t very bright – building one near a dangerous city loaded with gun toting extremist is outright stupid.Recommend

  • ahmad
    Mar 6, 2015 - 7:37PM

    Pure propaganda from western media outlets to harm nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and ChinaRecommend

  • ABS
    Mar 6, 2015 - 7:43PM

    “The same zone where the power plants would be constructed holds about 6,450 people per square mile”.

    Thats a balant lie, you will not see any populated zone within 3 mile radius from the plants, and after that there are only low population zones, containing < 1000 heads per square mile.
    You would be surprised to know that the residents of low population zones are poor people who have(with their own consent) built their residences on the coastal belt(half of which are not brickless).Recommend

  • Raj - USA
    Mar 6, 2015 - 8:38PM

    If Pakistan insists and gets sovereign guarantees and warranties from China, similar to what India is insisting on its nuclear suppliers, there should be no problem. Recommend

  • zara haq
    Mar 6, 2015 - 8:53PM

    Plz educate these goofs. Many comments here will be by propagandist indians. And we know most of our ngos are coming from where.
    Seriously, some of these are trying old stuff, like they are chinese reactors, bad in quality etc etc
    Any power project any any power project, as power is backbone to economy’s survival, any project that gets started is so shamelessly and in planned away surrounded in controversies.
    What do you people want? Continuously dying industries, economic deceleration due to power shortages. Is that what you want?
    Kanup is a respected and reliable institution.
    Kalabagh dam, economic corridor, ip line, gadani project, reko diq project. Each time a new show sets up.Recommend

  • Shahid
    Mar 6, 2015 - 9:25PM

    There is no fear of Karachi nuclear power plants among people, only few pessimists, which I do not understand why only one has thought that nuclear disaster can happen. World is moving forward in the future with different uses of nuclear technology. Even our rival neighbor India is growing its nuclear technology to meet the energy needs. We should not forget that our capable nuclear team has the ability to operate larger nuclear projects than this! Nuclear energy has tremendous benefits, it can provide less than Rs. 10 per unit and it is environmental friendly. Government and the honorable nuclear scientists and engineers are in support of Karachi nuclear program and they are confident that Karachi nuclear project will give us long life and stable electricity.Recommend

  • fawad
    Mar 6, 2015 - 9:59PM

    Pakistan is becoming field experiments site for Chinese untested reactor. Why not China is building tested and tried one here, why new experimental kind?? has someone asked this, or China is ready to build only these, (for less money) so that they can see what happens?? Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Mar 6, 2015 - 10:09PM

    As an Indian I sincerely hope that Pakistanis solve their power shortage as that is a must for your economy and well being.
    However, Pakistanis should be very careful getting an untested nuclear power plant that is made in china (it is not simple as assembling iPhones and making knock-off merchandise) Lives of millions of Pakistanis and their future generations is at stake if this untested nuclear power plant is defective. Look at Japan’s nuclear plant accident during tsunami; and the Japanese are the best at engineering and quality control.Recommend

  • mubashar
    Mar 6, 2015 - 11:44PM

    coal is a pollutant as well as furnace oil and gas…if you import gas you are still causing damage to the nature..you build dams and their will be people opposing it…solar and wind are financially impossible and yes when you make batteries for solar power they have to be disposed off..that is also an environmental hazard… so nuclear is just like any other source of energy..u follow the procedures nothing would go wrong…you dont do that even dams can break… so u can keep going round and round, the solution lies in front of you… nuclear hydel wind/solar all have to be developed….esp for a country like pakistan which has depleting gas reserves and almost imports all of its oil products..Recommend

  • bechari-awam
    Mar 6, 2015 - 11:54PM

    We have already debated that before. All these ignorants should look no further than Toronto map and just watch for two giant nuclear reactors close to 401 just a few miles from the most densely populated areas of Canada. Nuclear technology is the safest of all other modes of producing electricity and we can count on fingers any accidents in last 50 years as compared to even the deaths caused by lightning.Recommend

  • zara haq
    Mar 7, 2015 - 12:39AM

    And I was referring to kanupp institute for nuclear and power engineering ,because its graduates are hired for maintaining kanupp. And its a good respected institute. So as far as the competence goes its fine.Recommend

  • Kashif
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:30AM

    We are a nuclear power, so don’t underestimate us,”.. says Khwaja Asif.. what a fool. These nuclear reactors should be located in remote areas and provisions made for the national grid to connect those areas.. rather than bringing certain death to people of Karachi.Recommend

  • Humza
    Mar 7, 2015 - 6:20AM

    @Kashif: I think you need to take a look at a map of Europe or North America to see how many nuclear plants are located close to cities. Despite the fears associated with nuclear energy is it still the best option for improving energy supply and causing little damage to the environment. We are all worried about global warming and nuclear is the only sure way to meet energy needs without destroying the earth. As for situating nuclear reactors in a remote area, why don’t they do that in Europe? Why are so many reactors situated close to big cities all over the world?Recommend

  • Deepak
    Mar 7, 2015 - 9:01AM

    One important thing, Keeping this too close to Karachi may be very dangerous, we had a chemical spilloff of a kind, in Bhopal, Pakistan has energy demands, but I hope that life of people living in the city will be safeguarded, But yes there should be a strong liability clause, India inspite of getting nuclear waiver couldn’t do business because Americans weren’t ready to accept liability upto our comfort level, and we had one horrible incident in Bhopal, wherein like most countries in subcontinent, the instigator (who was an american) was let off!

    Power blackouts are bad, and the only way to ensure safeguards is by upping the liability clause, It is high time that Pakistan does business keeping their interests in Mind. Recommend

  • Siraj Ahmed
    Mar 7, 2015 - 1:38PM

    We all know the quality of Chinese products. We bought Chinese railway engines recently and we all know how they all lying unworkable. Can we take such big risk with the substandard Chinese Nuclear technology? Even China does not want to use them so why risk it in Pakistan? Recommend

  • M.A Khan (Engr.)
    Mar 7, 2015 - 2:58PM

    People listen, this is a PWR (pressurizer water reactor) don’t compare it with Chernobyl’s accident. PWR type reactor are inherently save reactor. If any accidental condition produce during operation this type of reactor automatically stop Nuclear Reaction by it self, that the beauty of this reactor. Secondly people working at PAEC are also Pakistani, they know very well what they are doing. In the end Pakistani people are operating nuclear plant since 1970’s so huge experience in operation of Power reactor. Okay bye………Recommend

  • M.A Khan (Engr.)
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:06PM

    Also don’t compare it with Japan accident they have BWR (boiling water reactor) this type of reactor produce more electrical power but unsafe in case of accident on the other hand in Pakistan we have PWR(pressurized water reactor) technology which is far safer than Japan BWR. You people don’t know any thing…………. Recommend

  • SAK
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:44PM

    Unlike Pakistan, or Karachi to be specific, over 18 million of U.S. residents live within a radius of 20 miles from nuclear power plants.
    nearly a million U.S. people live within a proximity of 5 miles

    feel free to verify my claims at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/42555888/ns/us_news-life/t/nuclear-neighbors-population-rises-near-us-reactors/Recommend

  • SAK
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:45PM

    Even the developed states like the U.S., UK, Japan, China, South Korea are looking at increasing their nuclear energy production. While developing states like India, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt are also moving in the direction of nuclear energyRecommend

  • SAK
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:46PM

    India is also not a party to the NPT and look at their nuclear trade and plans.
    Plus the treaty does not mandate any state to not cooperate with any other state for peaceful uses of nuclear technology. These reactors remain under IAEA safeguards and do not contribute to military nuclear program in any way.Recommend

  • SAK
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:48PM

    interestingly India is now a beneficiary of the NPT without taking its obligations!Recommend

  • SAK
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:50PM

    Taliban are mercenaries – see Ajit Doval’s speech in which he acknowledges that that India should pay them and other militants to destabilise Pakistan. The author has to do some reading or stop cherry pickingRecommend

  • Irum
    Mar 7, 2015 - 3:51PM

    These people and gossipers have no electricity problem. They have double-generators and can afford to buy these and their fuel. A common person cannot. They move on vacations to West once Karachi rots in summers and faces electricity outages. They gossip about it because it does not affect them. Their likeminded have not allowed Pakistan to build dams and other inexpensive sources. They want us to buy expensive fossil fuel and remain dependent – autarky means power and PILER types do not want Pakistan to prosperRecommend

  • Amir
    Mar 7, 2015 - 4:58PM

    Nuclear technology is clean,green,cheap and safe…right.
    Only until something goes wrong then it becomes the most dirtiest,expensive and your worst nightmare.
    Makes the land inhabitable for the next 1000 years.
    advocates of nuclear technology won’t tell you this.
    Karachi is only 13 feet above sea level and in an earthquake prone zone.

    Mar 7, 2015 - 6:23PM

    The Nuclear Power Plants are designed with great Engineering Techniques… They are designed by considering every aspect. Statistics reveals that there is no chance of Tsunami in the location of these power plants… Moreover, there are many safety measures considered in the design of a Nuclear Power Plant… The containment building is designed in such a manner that it prevents the radioactivity leakage into the environment at any cost… So, I support these power projects & they should be build at any cost…Recommend

  • TK
    Mar 7, 2015 - 9:47PM

    What is the concern? Nuclear energy is good for India and bad for Pakistan’s economy! Is that the concern? The cooperation is happening under IAEA safeguards. However, there are growing Western concerns that the Indians will divert – as they did from Canadian reactors – material to blend in the weapons program!! Why is not that a concern?Recommend

  • Raghu2
    Mar 7, 2015 - 11:08PM

    Pakistan goes ahead with its atomic bombs and nuclear energy but expresses its reservations when US Indian deal was signed,expressing fear aobut Pak being in the explosion damage area if at all an explosion occurs. But I guess ,here we shouldnt be worried!!! and believe China tech is top notch.Recommend

  • Kashif
    Mar 9, 2015 - 6:03AM

    @Humza: FYI I live in London and have done so for over 27 years now.
    Unlike Europe Karachi has armed political activists running around on a daily basis shooting people. Several of those parties have agendas to damage and destabilise Pakistan.
    Unlike Europe we have people with AK47s and missile launchers on a mission to destroy Pakistan.
    Unlike Europe we are situated with hostile borders all around us.
    Our armed forces bases, airports etc arent safe and we want to put nuclear reactors nearby. Before we compare locations and proximities with US and Europe we need to also have same levels of security.Recommend

  • Natasha
    Mar 10, 2015 - 10:28AM

    There have been continued deliberations by the nuclear authorities of Pakistan to answer each and every concern about nuclear power plants in Karachi. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) have clearly indicated that nuclear power plants in Karachi are absolutely safe and without any nuclear hazard. The competent authorities are specialized in nuclear domain and know much better the nuclear danger than the common masses. How can they put their own country in nuclear danger? Of course not. The myths and fears against nuclear Karachi is more a matter of mere oppositions; based on myths rather than a reality. Recommend

  • Fatima
    Mar 10, 2015 - 10:32AM

    Karachi is one of the biggest industrial hubs of the country. The city suffered a lot due to severe energy crisis which actually affects its economic working very badly. The building up of two nuclear power plants in Karachi with Chinese collaboration aims to address all the energy woes of the citizens of Karachi. Pakistan is into nuclear from decades and possess comprehensive safety and security framework. The worries and fears have been generated on the notions of myths primarily far from factual grounds. Recommend

  • Mar 11, 2015 - 12:00AM

    There are mixed reactions of people, but if you provide them complete information they say that it is a good decision, and after IAEA has announced that they are safe the views are changing.Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2015 - 8:10PM

    Please read this article in response to the Article of Washington post.
    Separating myths from reality.


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