Civil use of nuclear technology
THERE has been a campaign in the newspapers in past few months whereby disadvantages of use of civil nuclear technology have been highlighted. Dr. Pervaiz Hoodbhoy is prominent in proponents of this campaign against using civil nuclear technology as energy resource. Major arguments against use of civil nuclear technology are safety, security, health and environment issues. It is argued that civil nuclear technology is unsafe in various respects. While giving example of Fukushima, an accident which may occur in result of earth quack or other accident to the civil nuclear installation may cause huge damage to human lives. The nuclear technology is capable of converting it into nuclear weapons. Pilferage to nuclear material in the hands of nonstate actor may create security issues. Employees working at the nuclear facilities are exposed to health risks.
A fundamental question needs to look into as to what triggers a government to promote a particular energy source as a matter of policy and particularly in case of nuclear technology as resource for electricity? Four factors are important: (i) availability, (ii) reliability, (iii) sustainability and (iv) cost effectiveness. Taking example of electricity generation, as of today, Pakistan’s major reliance is on thermal, i.e. oil, which is the most reliable energy resource and frequently available. Pakistan is not rich in oil production; therefore, it has to rely on heavy oil imports which cause huge burden on Pakistan’s oil import bill. The cost of production is high which reaches to in case of diesel fuel above Rs. 20 per unit. Consumers cannot pay for this amount. Ultimately, the government has to subsidise it.
In view of the availability, reliability, sustainability and cost effectiveness, the govts create an energy mix whereby each of the energy resources contributes to meeting energy demands of country. It is applicable in Pakistan as well. While devising an energy mix, the govs look into their resources. Currently, Pakistan is promoting renewable energy resources at large scale in order to reduce reliance. However, this is not sufficient in meeting growing energy demands. Therefore, availability of nuclear technology in Pakistan has been considered appropriate to be utilised for energy requirements. The cost of electricity produced from nuclear fuel is as lower as around Rs. 8 to Rs. 9, which is even lesser than electricity produced from wind which, according to NEPRA latest upfront tariff of around Rs. 11 per unit.
It may be argued that a damage created from an accident in a nuclear power plant may not be compared with an accident in a playground –agreed in terms of quantum and implications. However, it may be seen that appropriate safety measures are adopted to reduce the risk of (i) accidents; and (ii) quantum of damage. Pakistan has nuclear regulatory authority in place to employ safety measures and regulatory monitoring in accordance with the safety standards of International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards. Pakistan has environmental protection laws in place and it may be noted that these laws and standards were updated in 1997 after Pakistan had signed various international environmental protocols. Similarly, health regulations are in place. Security, yes an issue. However, Security concerns are based on perceptions than evidence. Pakistan’s existing civil nuclear installations are not at actual security risk or have been attacked.
Therefore, the above angles may be considered while developing a critical view of use of civil nuclear technology as energy resource. It must be understood that civil nuclear technology is not considered as the only energy resource, but is considered to be a good reliable, sustainable and cost effective addition to Pakistan’s overall energy mix.