Karachiites ignore doomsayers
Human Rights activists and NGOs have been raising alarm over the decision to set up two nuclear power plants K-2 and K-3 in Karachi. As reported by Pakistan Observer, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) conducted a public hearing on Monday on the issues of environmental pollution raised by the NGO representatives and other public figures. A great majority of those who appeared in the public hearing expressed their solidarity with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and endorsed their decision for setting up the nuclear plants in Karachi at Paradise Point. National Command Authority (NCA) adviser on Nuclear Projects Dr. Ansar Parvez (HI) also addressed the public hearing and dispelled fears about radiation. Dr. Ansar Parvez has Masters Degree in Physics and Nuclear Technology, Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA, and 30 years practical experience in related field.
He is Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and was chairman of the Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 2010-2011. With his academic background and vast experience in the nuclear field, he is an authority on the subject and other academics in nuclear physics pale before him. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy and others not only opposed the setting up of two N-plants at Karachi but also presented doomsday scenario that Karachi would have to be evacuated if a nuclear disaster occurs. In a bid to allay fears surrounding the K2 and K3 nuclear plants, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) had held a workshop for journalists at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) in February 2015. Many environmentalists and civil society organisations have been expressing concerns over the safety of the two Chinese-funded plants.
These plants will be completed in the next seven years and add 2,200MW to the national grid. In the interactive discussion with the media following a visit to the site, PAEC Chairman Ansar Pervaiz described the concerns as “twisted facts being presented by certain groups”. In one of the presentations, Dr. Talat Fatmi, a professor at the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences termed the possibility of radiation “a figment of imagination”. He had added that in the worst-case scenario like the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, not a single death was reported and the World Health Organisation said in its report that the chances of cancer occurring in the area were also negligible. However, he maintained that the safety and security measures taken by the PAEC were foolproof. He had cited the example of Kanupp, which has been running for the last 40 years without a glitch.
China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) was contracted to build two reactors for the Karachi Coastal Nuclear Power Project in Pakistan, and Beijing committed $6.5 billion to finance construction of the $9.59 billion undertaking. In March 2014, The Newsweek’ cover story titled ‘The nuclear shadow over Karachi’ was authored by academics Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Zia Mian, and A.H. Nayyar. They raised alarm over nuclear plants to be constructed by CNNC, ignoring the fact that much of its technologies and designs were developed with Westinghouse and Areva SA. The authors stated: “The fundamental concern is that nearly 20 million people are living in Karachi, and about one out of every 10 Pakistanis could be at risk from these reactors….This brand of reactor known as the ACP-1000 has not yet been tested anywhere”. But, nuclear scientists of PAEC and Chinese scientists are competent and have practical experience in the relevant field.
Referring to the Fukushima nuclear accident the authors had stated: “Safety systems can fail catastrophically. The accident in 2011 struck Japanese reactors of a well-established design that had been operating for decades. Still, all kinds of things happened that were not expected by the reactor operators or managers or by nuclear safety authorities”. It is strange that immediately after the announcement of the K-2 and K-3 projects, the academics started saying that there was no information of emergency plans drawn up including for possible evacuation of millions of people from Karachi in case of severe nuclear accident occurs at the new reactors. Now in the latest ‘Newsweek’, the authors raised alarm that along with natural disasters and operator err, there is risk of deliberate sabotage or terrorists attack. They referred to terrorists attacks on GHQ, the Navy Mehran base and the Air force’s Kamra Air base.
The authors had hypothesized and painted a gloomy picture by stating: “Unmanageable chaos -roads would be jammed, and emergency personnel and law enforces would be rendered immobile or might prefer to save themselves or take flight”. But this was an outrageous claim. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission insists the reactors will be safe. The details reveal that China would construct plants ACP-1000 variety, the type that constitutes the vast majority of western nuclear plants, and is based on an extension of Westinghouse Electric Company’s AP-1000 model. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, it adopts both ‘active’ and ‘passive’ safety features. In fact, safety against both natural and man-made disasters is one of the outstanding features of this new design. Given this background, one can only expect the safety features of ACP-1000 to be stronger and certainly not any weaker, than the existing nuclear plants.
In any case, it is highly unlikely that the PAEC, the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) or the IAEA would allow construction to follow through unless it is established that all safety concerns have been addressed, for this is precisely their job. But detractors of Pakistan’s nuclear program, or who have been using every ruse and trick to sabotage Pak-China nuclear deal are expressing unwarranted concerns. The nation has been listening to the vows of members of Obama administration that America would help Pakistan in overcoming the energy crisis, but nothing has been done, and such ideas have not gone beyond ‘noble’ sentiments. In 2010, during Indo-US strategic dialogue, India had told the US that it had serious objections to the proposed China-Pakistan nuclear deal. India did not feel any qualms that it had an agreement with the US; thus India had no moral high authority to criticize establishment of N-plants in Karachi.