Despite the fact that its nuclear programme has always been facing internal and external opposition, Pakistan has signed an agreement with China for the construction of another 1,100MW nuclear power plant at Chashma site, to be known as CHASNUPP-5 or C-5. The corresponding contract signing ceremony between Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) was held in Islamabad on November 21, 2017.
Ironically, it took almost seven years to come to the stage of concluding the construction contract for the project. It was agreed between the two countries as late as in November 2010 to construct a fifth unit at Chashma, proposed to be of above 600MW capacity. In February 2013, however, another agreement was signed by PAEC with CNNC for a 1,100MW class reactor at Chashma. Though not publicised, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in January 2017, according to a press statement (that was never denied) had advised for capping nuclear power generation. It was said that Pakistan would be surplus in electricity and other energy resources by 2020 and therefore, there was no need to install the proposed nuclear power plants. This was a surprising move since Nawaz Sharif, while inaugurating CHASNUPP-3 (C-3) in December 2016, had instructed the PAEC to gear up efforts to surpass the target of 8,800MW by 2030, assuring of government’s fullest support for this national cause. Somehow, fortunately, the directive was not implemented in letter and spirit.
China is already constructing two nuclear power plants of 1,100MW each at Karachi, which is the first export of China’s latest generation reactor of APC 1000 design, now being marketed internationally as Hualong One unit. Construction of KANUPP-2 or K-2, which commenced in 2015, is in advanced stage, achieving more than 70 percent physical progress. Its reactor pressure vessel (RPV) was hoisted into place on October 11, 2017. All of the main reactor components - the RPV and three steam generators - have now been installed. Lifting of the four main components of K-2 marks the special feature of a "pre-introduction" construction method-- with the main reactor equipment installed before the dome of the containment building. Deployed for the first time in this type of nuclear power plant, this method significantly reduces construction time, compared with the traditional method of installing equipment through a hatch in the containment.
Construction work on KANUPP-3 or K-3 began in 2016, and so far above 40 percent physical progress has been reported. Commercial operations of K-2 and K-3 are scheduled for 2021 and 2022, respectively. With the completion of these two under-construction nuclear power plants in Karachi, the country would achieve cumulative nuclear power generation gross capacity to the level of 3,667MW. The latest nuclear power plant connected to the national grid is CHASNUPP-4 (C-4) of 340MW capacity, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on September 8, last year. An expansion of nuclear capacity has long been a central element of Pakistan’s energy policy. It is planned to launch two or three additional nuclear power plants, each of 1,100MW installed capacity by 2020.
According to a report from the World Nuclear Association, the nuclear industry brought more than 9,000MW of new plant capacity online worldwide in 2016, the largest annual increase in the last 25 years. Interestingly, the Asian countries continue to dominate the market for new nuclear power plants. Of the ten new nuclear power reactors that started up worldwide in 2016, eight were located in Asia. In the last ten years, nuclear generation has more than doubled in India and Pakistan, and more than tripled in China. Currently, nuclear power installed capacity is 391,521MW the world-over.
Nuclear power generation in Asia now represents 18 percent of the global total of 2,477 TWh (terawatt-hour). Asia will be the next region to see nuclear generation start up in a new country, with the first unit at Barakah, the UAE, due online in 2018, according to the report. A number of countries that do not currently have nuclear generating capacity have plans or proposals to construct nuclear power plants. A total of 57 reactors with a combined generating capacity of 60,430MW are planned or proposed in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.
Pakistan government’s claim that the country had become surplus in power generation and there was no load-shedding nationwide might or might not be realistic; there is a need to continue to establish more nuclear power plants in future for a number of reasons.
Nuclear power plants are cost-intensive, but cost of generation is much less than oil-fired plants and capital cost is recovered much earlier than thermal power plants. The design life of modern nuclear power plants is much longer, typically over 40 years, compared to a conventional fossil-fuelled thermal power plant.
Also, the nuclear plants provide reliable base-load electricity operating at capacity factor higher than 90 percent without any seasonal variations as in case of hydropower generation. Nuclear power is safe, reliable, economic and environment friendly. Currently, average tariff of CHASNUPP-1 (C-1) is Rs5.8 per kWh and that of CHASNUPP-2 (C-2) is Rs8.6 per unit, which is lower than any oil-fired power plant and comparable with some gas-fired power plants.
The writer is the former chairman of the State Engineering Corporation