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Pakistan builds case for full membership of NSG

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Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal |

As Pakistan builds a case for full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the country is endeavoring to improve its image. Without satisfying the international community that it is a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan will not receive the votes it needs at the cartel’s next plenary meeting for its membership application. Therefore, it is working to demonstrate that it abides by its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Since 1957, the IAEA has been promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy. At the same time, it ensures that recipient states do not misuse any assistance with nuclear energy by using it for military programs. In addition, it also helps to ensure the safety, security and sustainability of nuclear power.

As a promoter of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the IAEA plays a significant role in establishing contact between states supplying and receiving nuclear expertise. Before technology is transferred, the former ensures the latter has reached agreements on facility safeguards with the agency.

Keeping its civilian nuclear program under IAEA safeguards is advantageous for Pakistan.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

The promulgation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which came into force in 1970, increased the responsibilities of the IAEA safeguards mechanism. Under Article III of the NPT, non-nuclear-weapon states pledge to accept IAEA safeguards to verify that their nuclear activities serve only peaceful purposes.

This process became more stringent with the establishment of the NSG in 1975. It introduced a comprehensive monitoring mechanism — including strict IAEA safeguards on nuclear facilities in recipient states — to prevent the diversion of nuclear material from peaceful-use facilities to military sites.

Read more: Pakistan’s nuclear plants are heavily protected: IAEA Chief

The general impression is that IAEA is a global authority responsible for nuclear safety and security. In reality it is not. It does not determine whether safety measures at a nuclear plant are adequate. Its main roles are advisory and for monitoring purposes. It can, therefore, only help countries ensure the nuclear facilities they build are secure. If an accident occurs at a plant, the country bears sole responsibility for the disaster.

Energy scarcity is holding back Pakistan’s economic prosperity. Unstable oil prices and the depletion of the country’s natural gas resources necessitate the development of a long-term energy-mix strategy. Therefore the amount of nuclear power generated in the country has been gradually increasing. Currently, four nuclear power plants are in operation at two sites — in Karachi and Chashma — with a combined capacity nearly 1,040 megawatts. All of the facilities operate under IAEA safeguards.

The IAEA has been promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy. At the same time, it ensures that recipient states do not misuse any assistance with nuclear energy by using it for military programs. In addition, it also helps to ensure the safety, security and sustainability of nuclear power.

The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has announced plans to increase output to 8,800MW by 2030. The construction of additional nuclear power plants is not possible without assistance from foreign vendors but, other than China, supplier nations are hesitant to provide nuclear assistance to Pakistan because the country does not have comprehensive IAEA safeguards on all nuclear facilities, and also is not a member of the NSG.

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With the assistance of China, PAEC is building three new nuclear power plants: Chasma-IV, and Karachi Nuclear Power Project Unit-2 (K-2) and Unit-3 (K-3). Chinese firms are selling reactors to Pakistan under a grandfathered clause of international law. These units are also under IAEA safeguards. Moreover, Pakistani nuclear-medicine oncology and radiotherapy institutes, and nuclear-agriculture research institutes are also monitored by the agency.

However, Pakistan is not party to the NPT. Its military facilities are neither monitored nor safeguarded by the agency. Notwithstanding, it has been an active member of the IAEA since 1950s and cooperates with the agency. It receives IAEA assistance in diverse fields, ranging from nuclear power development to human health, agriculture and livestock, and in return it provides the international agency with nuclear expertise and human resources.

Energy scarcity is holding back Pakistan’s economic prosperity. Unstable oil prices and the depletion of the country’s natural gas resources necessitate the development of a long-term energy-mix strategy.

On March 14, 2017, Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, visited the K-2 and K-3 plants in Karachi. He expressed his satisfaction over the construction work. “I am very impressed to see that Pakistan has taken all possible nuclear safety and security measures,” he said, adding that the reactors have the most advanced safety features. This can only have a positive effect on Pakistan’s international image.

Read more: Is ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence’ an effective nuclear policy for Pakistan?

Keeping its civilian nuclear program under IAEA safeguards is advantageous for Pakistan. This arrangement allows the country’s nuclear establishment to share with other nations its experience and expertise in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, safety and security.

More importantly, IAEA certification that Pakistan’s nuclear security meets international standards reassures the people of the country and alleviates the fears of mismanagement of nuclear material or a disaster.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is also an advisor on Non-Proliferation to SASSI, London and a course coordinator at Foreign Services Academy for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Email: jaspal_99@hotmail.com. This piece was first published in Arab News. It has been reprinted with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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