Pakistan’s Energy Security and Role of Nuclear Energy

Energy Security is defined as “an adequate and reliable availability of energy” resources at affordable prices. In modern literature energy security in   not a one-dimensional concept rather it has many dimensions and factors. Thus, it is a nexus of various factors which includes political, economic, geo-political, institutional and regulatory aspects. As concept of “availability of energy resources” is a central aspect in energy security there are certain important pre-requisites attached to it which includes the variety, balance and disparity.  In equation of energy security “variety” aims to include the “economically available primary sources”; term “balance” requires a balance or reliance of a country on energy sources in “overall energy mix” and last but not the least “disparity” analyzes the differences among these various options in terms of delivery modes or characteristics.

Pakistan’s energy mix or energy history is predominantly under the influence of discoveries and usage of natural gas reserves. According to the statistics mentioned in Asian Development Bank’s Working Paper in 2005, 50% of Pakistan’s energy mix was based on gas reserves, which lead to the plateaued of the gas resources because of no major additions of any more gas fields. Subsequently, Pakistan relied on oil imports to fulfill the energy demands of the country. In beginning of the second decade of the 21st century Pakistan faced very serious energy crisis where in summer many parts of the country face electricity blackouts for 10-12 hours and in winter domestic users and industries faced the low gas pressure or low supply. According to the reports of Economic Survey of Pakistan during that time Pakistan was losing around USD 4.8 billion of Gross Domestic Production annually for five consistent years. Resultantly, initially to counter its energy crisis Pakistan started importing oil, coal, and recently LNG, which caused higher prices of energy sources in Pakistan. Other than a cause of inflation and higher prices thermal energy sources in any energy mix are also massive source of climate change.

In recent years, Pakistan has taken a lot of steps to not only counter its energy crisis but also to diversify its energy mix. In this regards, according to the most recent estimates of April 2020, Pakistan’s installed capacity of electricity generation increased by 7.5 % by reaching 35,972 megawatts in comparison to 33,452MW in April 2019. Moreover, to diversify its energy mix, Pakistan also increased reliance on hydro sources of power and increased hydro-power generation by nearly 5%. Another important factor with a lot of potential to tap is “nuclear power”, in year 2020 Pakistan increased energy generation through nuclear power plants from 3% to 8.2 % in its overall energy mix. Other than renewable energy sources like Hydro-power and Solar, Wind, and Bagasse-Based Power options, for future energy generation sources Pakistan should seriously pursue nuclear energy for achieving energy security. As even today the biggest energy source for country is thermal power, which means reliance on natural gas and import of oil and LPG that are already causing high inflation and energy crisis (especially in winter of 2021) in country.

According to the report prepared by the UNSECE expert group on the issue of resource management, nuclear energy is “indispensible tool” for achieving the sustainable development goals. As nuclear energy is a “green source of energy”, it plays crucial role in availability of “affordable energy” to masses, which is necessary for the economic growth, industrial innovation, water irradiation. Resultantly states achieve the goal of poverty alleviation, achieve zero huger goals and mitigate the impacts of climate change. These all factors are parts of UN’s Sustainable Developmental Goals. Today, Pakistan is working to achieve UN SDG’s in fields of energy, health, agriculture, environment, hydrology and basic sciences. Thus, today by utilizing nuclear energy in its full potential, Pakistan can also achieve sustainable developmental goals.

Another important aspect for Pakistan which increases the feasibility of the nuclear energy for country is its ability to not contribute in global warming. Pakistan is a country which faces annual losses in terms on human and financial resources due to the severe impacts on climate change. Although Pakistan is not the country which is contributing in greenhouse gas emissions but the impacts on temperature, environment and rain patterns in Pakistan are evident. According to the estimates by World Nuclear Organization, the greenhouse gas emissions have increased by the 40 % since 2000’s and if states will continue the current trends of growth, industrialization and urbanization it will be very hard to keep the rising global temperature below the 2 ‘C (agreed in 2015 Paris Agreement). In this regards, measures which can be easily taken to lower down the emissions of greenhouse gases includes the production of electricity by the nuclear power plants as nuclear power reactors produce almost one-third of less carbon dioxide emissions than solar power generators, also emit less carbon dioxide than hydropower generators, and produce the same amount of carbon dioxide as wind power generators. Thus, in this regard nuclear power is one of the substantial alternatives that could bring more diversification in the global energy mix by significantly reducing the global warming and effects of climate change.

Though, Pakistan is still facing the energy shortfalls in country but it is aware that in future it needs to develop more diverse energy mix, which must lessen the reliance on non-renewable and imported energy resources. In this regards, other than hydro, solar and wind powers, nuclear power is also a very viable resource which can significantly contribute in Pakistan’s energy mix.  Today Pakistan’s civilian nuclear program, which also handles the energy generation power plants under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) is running nuclear power plants at two sites, one is Karachi and second is Chasma. Karachi hosts a small 90 MWe Canadian PHWR which started up in 1971, was Pakistan’s first nuclear power plant. It is operated at reduced power due to its age.

In March 2021 unit 2 at the Karachi power plant was connected to the national grid. It is a Chinese design HPR1000 (the export model of Hualong One), upon grid connection, the 1000 MWe unit almost doubled Pakistan’s nuclear generating capacity. Karachi 2 is the first of two HPR1000 units to be constructed at the site, with the second scheduled be connected to the grid in 2022. Cold testing at Karachi 3 began in April 2021. In Chashma, there are four 300 MWe units, all these units are CNP-300 models, which is based on Qinshan 1 in China. The first reactor in Chashma was connected to the grid in 2000 and the fourth in 2017. These projects depict that Pakistan aims for the expansion of its civilian nuclear power plant to meet its growing energy needs of the future. In January 2014 PAEC announced its intention to build five further 1100 MWe nuclear reactors to meet anticipated electricity demand, and have 8.9 GWe of nuclear capacity online by 2030.

Despite being outside the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a four-year technical cooperation project – “Strengthening and Enhancing Capabilities of Pakistan’s National Institutions to Support a Safe, Reliable and Sustainable Nuclear Power Programme,” referred to as PAK2007 – was launched in 2018. The IAEA amalgamated four of its pre-existing national technical cooperation projects, which supported regulators, operators, waste managers and non-destructive testers to bring together all the relevant nuclear power stakeholders. This considerably boosted international cooperation with Pakistan’s nuclear power programme. Furthermore, it reflects that Pakistan’s nuclear program is operating in accordance with the international regulations, norms, practices and guidelines.

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About Ahyousha Khan 2 Articles
Ahyousha Khan is Research Associate at Islamabad based think-tank Strategic Vision Institute.