Pakistan plans nuclear power surge
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - China, whose support of Pakistan's nuclear power industry has raised
concern in the West, reportedly plans to build a nuclear plant that will be
bigger than two already fully or nearly completed and two more agreed to with
China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) plans to build the newly proposed 1-gigawatt
plant. Critics say the latest move will stir international concern over the
security of nuclear materials in Pakistan, where Islamist extremists are waging
a bloody offensive, and over the possibility of material being used to power
China's nuclear industry executives, on the other hand, see abundant
opportunities to expand their business overseas and
want to use their experience with Pakistan's Chashma nuclear complex to
leverage other contracts abroad.
"Both sides are in discussions over CNNC exporting a 1GW nuclear plant to
Pakistan," Reuters quoted the company's vice president, Qiu Jiangang, as saying
at a ceremony in Beijing on Monday. "After the successful, safe operation of
the first 300-megawatt reactor in Chashma ... the second reactor is now under
testing and is expected to start formal operations by the end of this year."
Chinese companies in June signed the latest contract in Shanghai in relation to
two planned reactors at the Chashma complex in Punjab province. China says the
contracts, for the 650-megawatt Chashma-3 and Chashma-4, are part of a 2004
deal under which Chashma-1 and Chashma-2, referred to by Qiu, were to be
supplied. Pakistan also has an aging nuclear plant, its first, in Karachi,
which was commissioned in 1972 and is now only partially operational.
Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 nuclear power plants are being built by the Pakistan
Atomic Energy Commission with the cooperation of China Zongyuan Engineering
Corp, which specializes in foreign nuclear projects and is directly affiliated
China plans a huge expansion of its nuclear power in the next decade, and has
about 28 reactors under construction, some 40% of the world's total being
built. China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp last week started commercial
operations of the 1GW Lingao reactor in southern Guangdong province after the
plant was constructed in a record-breaking 57 months.
The government wants to harness this nuclear power expertise it is developing
at home to secure contracts overseas, where energy demand is increasing while
concern about highly polluting fossil fuel-driven plants is also growing.
"We must rely on the Pakistan Chashma nuclear power project to improve our
ability to contract for nuclear power projects abroad, and to open up the
foreign market for nuclear energy," an essay recently published in Seeking
Truth, a magazine issued by China's ruling Communist Party, said.
China claims its nuclear cooperation with energy deficient Pakistan is purely
peaceful and follows international safeguards, while Islamabad also underlines
the energy crisis the country faces.
"We are facing acute energy shortages and these nuclear power plants are
important for us to overcome these," Reuters quoted a senior Pakistani
government official familiar with discussions between Pakistan and China on
nuclear cooperation as saying.
"We as well as China have said time and again that all this cooperation is
under the safeguards of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and there
should not be any worries or concerns about it."
The US recently demanded an explanation from Beijing over its accord with
Islamabad for building Chashma 3 and 4, as China is a member of Nuclear
Suppliers Group (NSG), a regulatory body that oversees trade in nuclear fuel
Critics say the nuclear reactor deal requires special exemption from the NSG,
as Pakistan has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China
and Pakistan however point out that the US set a precedent by agreeing in 2006
to sell civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, even though Delhi had
yet to sign the NPT.
US President Barack Obama convened a summit in Washington in April that pledged
renewed world efforts to secure and safeguard fissile materials from falling
into the hands of militant groups. Beijing supported Islamabad in its quest for
civil nuclear technology when it declared at the summit that every country had
the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Deeply impoverished Pakistan may have to turn to Beijing for financing of the
proposed 1GW reactor. China is to provide 82% of the total US$1.91 billion
required for the two new Chashma reactors through a soft loan for a period of
20 years with an eight-year grace period. Pakistan is to arrange the rest.
In March, Washington made it known that energy was one of the sectors where the
US would cooperate with Islamabad. The US plans to help the country refurbish
three thermal and one hydro power plant that will add some 4,500 MW to the
The Rand Corporation, a US think-tank, recently urged the United States to
consider offering a nuclear deal to Pakistan.
"The deal could be based on an exclusive relationship with the United States,
rather than seeking broad accommodation with the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and
other regimes that limit the proliferation of nuclear technology and access to
materials for nuclear programs," the study suggested.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider (http://www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a
development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including
The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). He can be contacted at email@example.com.