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On June 20, China and Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of the Chashma 5 Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Mianwali, Punjab. The stated capacity of this NPP will be 1200 megawatts. China National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC) will build this power plant in collaboration with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). The project will assist Pakistan in transitioning away from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels, which account for more than 80 percent of its total energy production.

Pakistan sees nuclear power as cost effective way to meet its rising energy demand in the face of an energy crisis and the rising expense of fossil resources. Pakistan uses coal, natural gas, hydropower, renewable energy, and nuclear power. Pakistan can expand its energy production more using renewable and nuclear energy than hydro, coal, and natural gas. Thus, the nation wants to use more renewable energy. To increase energy security, Pakistani energy experts recommend reducing fossil fuel use and maximizing nuclear energy.

Pakistan’s civil nuclear energy program commenced way back in 1954, inspired by then-US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s ‘Atom for Peace’ speech delivered in December 1953. By 1959, PAEC had penned an agreement with the Canadian General Electric Company for the development of Pakistan’s first NPP in Karachi, known as KANUPP-I.

The Indian nuclear weapon development and test in May 1974 using plutonium (Pu244) from the Canadian CIRUS research reactor paved the way for the termination of Canadian nuclear cooperation with both non-NPT India and Pakistan.

China Pakistani civilian nuclear cooperation began in the late 1970s; however, an official agreement was signed in 1986 for the development of Chashma NPP projects that contributed to the enhancement of Pakistan’s industrial and technological capacity. The development of the new nuclear reactors is an addition to the nuclear agreement signed in 1986 before China’s adherence to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) because western scholars and policymakers accused China of violating the NSG’s guidelines.

Moving towards nuclear energy will provide Pakistan with an alternative to its rising energy demands, as nuclear energy is a clean, reliable, and stable source of energy production. Current energy generation by the NPPs according to the date available at the Finance Division’s website is 2530 megawatts (MW) that supplied about 7,076 million units of electricity to the national grid during July-March FY2021. However, with the completion of Chashma 5 NPP, this will further add 1200 MW to the national grid that will supply around 3350 units of electricity alone, which is strategically a significant development.

The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) estimates that domestic nuclear energy generation in 2022 will result in significant savings over non-nuclear energy imports. After deducting loan payments on NPPs, Pakistan saved $3 billion versus importing oil, $2.2 billion versus importing natural gas, and $1.6 billion versus importing coal. Increasing nuclear energy capacity would significantly contribute to Pakistan’s foreign exchange savings by reducing dependency on imported fuel and supplying cheaper electricity to national infrastructure.

Pakistan has been using civil nuclear technology for the country’s socioeconomic development in order to achieve the ‘SDG’ (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals). Nuclear technology is utilized in numerous disciplines, including medicine, hydrology, electricity generation, environment, basic sciences, and agriculture.

Pakistan’s civil nuclear engine for achieving its sustainable development objectives, which include enhancing the nation’s energy security by maximizing its nuclear energy potential and decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels.

The operationalization of CHASNUPP-5 will bolster Pakistan’s ambitions to use nuclear energy to increase its capacity to generate electricity. The CHASNUPP-5 is Pakistan’s first NPP, with a capacity to generate 1200 MW of electricity alone. The nuclear-powered energy generation are more dependable, have a high-capacity availability factor, are environmentally friendly, and maintain a sustainable electricity price due to lower fuel costs.

Pakistan’s adherence to global nuclear safety and security protocols is manifest by the fact that it has produced electricity from nuclear powered reactors for the past 48 years without a single accident. The IAEA has determined that the already installed civil nuclear reactors satisfy the safety requirements of the ‘Generic Reactor Safety Review’ (GRSR). The IAEA’s evaluation of the ACP-1000 reactor reveals that it is equipped with both active and passive technology and meets all safety requirements.

Pakistan’s endeavors to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes are unquestionably validated by these solid credentials. In addition, it would assist Pakistan in meeting its energy requirements via a more secure, peaceful, and safe nuclear energy program.

Consequently, to achieve a sustainable future, Pakistan is increasing its reliance on alternative sources of renewable energy. Pakistan is in the process of constructing additional NPPs to increase the role of nuclear power in meeting future energy demands. Pakistan would also need international assistance to achieve its objective of 8800 MW of electricity production by 2030, a vision set by the government under the energy security plan, as well as to enhance the development of its nuclear power industry.

Muhammad Usama Khalid is an Associate Research Fellow at the Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN), BUITEMS Quetta.

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