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The potential of nuclear technology in Pakistan

Pakistan needs to invest in the research and development of nuclear technology and space exploration to unlock its economic potential.

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When the Soviet Union opened the Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant in 1954, it became the first successful example of the nuclear weapons technology being used for producing renewable energy – albeit at a small scale. The world has since seen a steady increase in the economic use of nuclear technology in various fields. IAEA lists over 440 nuclear power reactors that are currently operational in 50 different countries around the globe.

These reactors supply over 10% of global power output and represent over 29% of the global renewable energy market. With the advent of the modern 3rd generation nuclear power technology – the share of nuclear power in the global supply chain is growing despite numerous challenges that have plagued its growth in the past.

Pakistan being an energy-hungry economy with excellent industrial growth potential continues to invest in renewable nuclear power. Having installed KANUPP, its first nuclear power plant, in 1972 in Karachi that produced 137mw of energy – the use of nuclear power in Pakistan has seen a sharp rise in recent times.

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In 2005, Pakistan adopted a National Energy Security Plan – that called for the installation of over 8800mw of nuclear power capacity in Pakistan by 2030. To achieve this objective, Pakistan has recently built the K-2 nuclear power plant in Karachi with assistance from China, which produces over 1100mw of clean, renewable energy.

It’s a 3rd generation HPR-1000 nuclear power plant, capable of producing 9 billion kilowatts of energy in a year that can power over 4 million Pakistani homes, and it also has quantifiable carbon reduction properties. Experts estimate that this reactor can reduce 8.16 million tonnes of carbon per year, which is equivalent to the plantation of 70 million trees, accelerating Pakistan’s transition to clean energy. Pakistan’s current nuclear output from its 4 nuclear power plants at Chashma in Khushab district stood at 1400mw, which has almost been doubled by the commissioning of the K-2 nuclear power plant.

The nuclear power output is set to rise again when the K-3 that is another 1100mw nuclear power plant is commissioned next year, that sets Pakistan on the course to meet its stated objective to produce over 8800mw of renewable nuclear energy by the end of 2030. These projects not only greatly benefit in mitigating the power crisis in Pakistan but also help the country meet its stated goal of producing 60% of its energy requirements from combined renewable sources by 2030.

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Although nuclear technology is a critical factor in Pakistan’s energy production sector – the use of nuclear technologies in Pakistan is not limited to renewable energy. Pakistan has invested heavily in nuclear technology over the past 5 decades and has amassed a vast scale of experience, know-how, and skills in almost every domain of nuclear technology. This trend is now acting as a catalyst for economic growth, industrial modernization, and several other fields such as nuclear medicine, plant genetics, water treatment, soil reclamation, advanced agriculture, climate change, hydrography, oil and gas exploration, and many other fields.

These skills and services are readily available to Pakistani industries, government institutions, and the private sector – a trend that will prove to be a game-changer. Nuclear technology is being used in Pakistan to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have been set by the United Nations.

Today, nuclear technology is being used for poverty alleviation projects in Pakistan – ranging from creating mutant, climate-resistant crop breeds to soil fertility and irrigation technology, from animal breeding to pest control – the nuclear-based technologies in Pakistan are playing a leading role in the agricultural technology sector.

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In the field of medicine, indigenous nuclear-based technologies are being applied in Pakistan – from sterilization of medicine to radiotherapy, radiopharmaceuticals and medical isotopes are all being produced in Pakistan by leveraging indigenous technology. Furthermore, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) is operating several hospitals to provide specialized treatment to cancer patients and actively works with other hospitals to provide these services to the public.

Nuclear technologies and skills are also being utilized in the education of advanced engineering, science through various institutions like PINSTECH, Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS), Karachi Institute of Power Engineering etc.

These institutions provide high-tech education, know-how, and skills to their students and technicians who would operate in a competitive scientific environment mainly but not limited to nuclear sciences and engineering fields. The students who graduate from these institutions are considered to be among the best and the brightest and have a high employment rate.

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Nuclear technology in Pakistan is also being utilized for clean water treatment, underground water table surveys, nuclear-powered seawater desalination, nondestructive testing of industrial equipment, oil and gas exploration using neutron probes, as well as advanced industrial welding and machine fabrication.

It is due to the availability of these highly sought-after skills and expertise that Pakistan has been able to engineer and provide highly sophisticated machinery, engineers, and technicians to the CERN research project in Switzerland that serves as the living reminder of the success of Pakistan’s nuclear technology ecosystem.

It is fair to assess that Pakistan’s nuclear industry is a game-changer for Pakistan across multiple sectors. It will not only help Pakistan achieve its clean, renewable energy goals but would also assist in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – both of which are due by 2030. The nuclear technology industry in Pakistan remains at the cutting edge of high-end engineering, skills, and expertise – that can be and should be leveraged for Pakistan’s industrialization efforts.

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Furthermore, there is a need for the government to invest in above the horizon nuclear research fields such as 4th generation nuclear power, fusion nuclear energy as well as space exploration. It is only possible by leveraging its strengths, and available technological skills, that Pakistan can achieve its true economic and technological potential to finally become a developed economy in the future.

Shahid Raza is the Director of SASSI Center for Defense Armament and Technology – Islamabad. He can be followed on Twitter: @schaheid. This article originally appeared at SASSI and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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