Civil use of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - — The writer is free­lance colum­nist based in Islamabad. Nabeel Hus­sain Email: nabeel­hus­sain90@gmail.com

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.

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