Role of nuclear energy in mitigating climate change
THE effects of environmental and climate change are proving progressively dangerous, what was a “what if scenario” has now become our daily reality.
Climate and environmental risks and hazards – including extraordinary weather events, water scarcity and failure to adapt to and mitigate environmental change – are among the top hazards facing the world .
An abundance of carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as other ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere, due to ever-increasing consumption of hydrocarbons, continues to exacerbate the problem. Policy makers, scientists and citizens in general are gradually realizing the need to address environmental challenges through activism, participation, discourse and pragmatic measures.
Global warming is the fundamental driver of climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) works to prevent the average global temperature from rising more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels to prevent unmanageable effects on the climate.
Although Pakistan is not among the major contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, yet Pakistan is one of the most at risk and vulnerable countries due to climate change. Pakistan was ranked fifth on the list of most vulnerable countries according to the Climate Risk Index (CRI) 1999-2018.
Pakistan is an agriculture-based country and according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-21, the agricultural sector contributes 19.2% of GDP and provides employment to around 38.5% of the labor force. The current Pakistani government is paying particular attention to reducing global warming through the Prime Minister’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Program.
Similarly, the government also introduced Pakistan’s first-ever Electric Vehicle Policy 2020-2025, which envisaged targeting a robust EV market having a 30% and 90% share in passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. 2030 and 2040 respectively.
This would not only reduce a heavy annual oil import bill of around $13 billion, but also prevent environmental degradation.
The world is changing rapidly, our dependence on energy, both for human well-being and for the continued development of society, has increased dramatically.
Since Pakistan’s power sector is the largest contributor to GHG emissions, thermal generation accounts for the largest share of electricity generation. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2020-21, the share of thermal power in 2021 (July-April) increased to 59.4% from 58.4% in 2020 (July-April).
Therefore, it is imperative to consider alternative/carbon-free means of electricity generation. After thermal, hydel has the largest share of electricity production and its share fell to 30.5% in 2021 (July-April) from 30.9% in 2020 (July-April).
Also, due to the increasing demand for energy, we cannot rely on hydel, as a major contributor to electricity generation, in the long term, as water resources are being depleted faster and faster. in the world in general and in Pakistan in particular. While nuclear and renewable energies have respectively only 7.8% and 2.23% of shares in the production of electricity.
The National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) has prepared the Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) 2018-40.
This plan is a component of the Integrated Energy Plan, which will integrate electricity, as well as oil demand and supply plans until 2047. Such pragmatic policy instruments are historic achievements for the entire energy sector. electricity from Pakistan.
The IGCE participates in the conversion of the electricity production sector from thermal to renewable energies and nuclear. Renewables like wind and solar are still dependent on the vagaries of the weather and their adoption is still in its infancy. There is no alternative available in terms of a reliable, economical and carbon-free replacement for nuclear energy.
Some myths exist about nuclear energy. Critics of nuclear power point to incidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, while ignoring how those incidents led to better security mechanisms and protocols to reduce the risk of future incidents.
Plane crashes haven’t stopped us from flying, as people recognize it as an efficient and safe way to travel. We use radiation in nuclear medicine techniques to treat cancer. We go to bed in the light of day hoping that the radiation from the sun will make us healthier. Radiation can be horrible and risky if not used wisely, but it can be used to our advantage.
We must achieve a similar acceptance of nuclear energy. Today, all new nuclear power plants are thoroughly tested by independent players and must pass design approvals by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Pakistan has extensive experience in operating nuclear power plants as the country’s first nuclear power plant, Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), became operational in 1972.
This plant, a variant of the CANDU reactor built by the Canadian General Electric Company, had a capacity of 137 MW and operated safely for five decades. Four nuclear power plants – Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-1 (C-1), Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-2 (C-2), Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-3 (C-3) and Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit- 4 (C-4), generating 1300 MW of power in total – are operated at Chashma.
There are two other power stations namely Karachi-2 (K-2) Nuclear Power Plant and Karachi-3 (K-3) Nuclear Power Plant with generation capacity of 1100MW each recently installed in Karachi with help from China.
According to the IAEA, nuclear energy produced around 10% of the world’s electricity in 2018. In 2020, 13 European Union (EU) member states producing nuclear electricity produced 683,512 GWh of electricity nuclear.
This represents nearly 25% of total EU electricity production. Thus, we cannot achieve the Paris Agreement goals of reducing global GHG emissions without going nuclear.
For a country like Pakistan, nuclear power has multiple benefits: it would prevent further environmental degradation, reduce the hydrocarbon import bill and help settle the balance of payments, provide reliable power and uninterrupted, would reduce the cost of electricity and, therefore, enable the manufacture of less expensive and competitive goods on the market.
In addition, by-products of nuclear technology are used for nuclear medicine, radiotherapy, food fermentation, agriculture and biotechnology, in addition to offering the possibility of producing a skilled and sustainable jobs.
—The author is an IT professional with a keen interest in science and technology issues.