TEXT: Nuclear fission is a process in which the atomic nucleus of elements like uranium is split into two fragments of approximately equal mass. During this process, a huge amount of energy is released. Nuclear power generation is a process of generating electricity in which power plants derive their heat from fission in a nuclear reactor in a controllable way to boil water, produce steam to run turbines.
Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I) was the world’s first research reactor to generate usable electricity by atomic fission, sufficient to light four 200-watt light bulbs on December 20, 1951. The reactor was located in Idaho, USA. United States, and laid the foundation for the development of higher power reactors. The Obninsk nuclear power plant producing 5 megawatts of electricity was the world’s first nuclear power plant connected to the electricity grid. The plant began operations on June 27, 1954 in Obninsk, Soviet Union.
Nuclear energy is one of the most reliable sources of energy, as nuclear power plants (NPC) have the highest capacity factor, over 92%. This is almost twice as reliable as a coal (48%) or natural gas (57%) plant and almost 3 times higher than wind (35%) and solar (25%) plants. Nuclear power plants are low maintenance as they are designed to operate 24/7 and can operate for a long time before requiring refueling (usually every 1.5 or 2 years). In addition, nuclear power plants have the longest operational life since the United States has just started granting licenses for their reactors to operate for up to 80 years. More importantly, in the case of nuclear power plants, the carbon emissions are almost zero, in addition to being economically competitive.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Nuclear Technology Review 2021, nuclear energy provides around 10% of the world’s electricity. At the end of 2020, total global nuclear power capacity was 392.6 GW(e) generated by 442 operational nuclear reactors in 32 countries. Nuclear is the second low-carbon energy source in the world after hydel. In 2020, 13 Member States of the European Union (EU) with nuclear electricity generation produced 683,512 GWh of nuclear electricity. This represents nearly 25% of total EU electricity production. Currently, 54 units are under construction in twenty countries including China, India, Russia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Finland and France. Nuclear power is indispensable when we think about how we can ensure a stable and affordable electricity supply while fighting climate change. China is building more new nuclear reactors than any other country, with plans for as many as 150 by 2030, and will overtake the United States as the operator of the world’s largest nuclear power generation system.
The history of the peaceful application of nuclear technology in Pakistan began when the Atomic Energy Agricultural Research Center, Tando Jam, was established and inaugurated in the early 60s of the last century. The Center has introduced nuclear techniques in the field of agriculture, for better survivability and yield of various crops. And with the establishment of a radiodiagnostic and therapy facility in Karachi, now known as Atomic Energy Cancer Hospital, Karachi. Then, the first nuclear reactor, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), was installed in Karachi in 1971 with the help of Canada. The reactor was a CANDU-type pressurized heavy water reactor with a total gross power generation capacity of 137 megawatts (MW). Supplier support was withdrawn in 1974. The operational life of the reactor was 30 years, however, the knowledgeable, hardworking and skillful workforce of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) extended its operational life for a further period of 20 years. KANUPP completed its 50-year safe and secure operations on August 1, 2021, then shut down permanently.
Four nuclear power plants – Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-1 (Cl), Unit-2 (C-2), Unit-3 (C-3) and Unit-4 (C-4), generating approximately 1330 MW of power at total – are being mined in Chashma, Mianwali district. These nuclear power plants were installed with Chinese assistance. C-2 and C-4 have passed the milestone of operating continuously for over a year. While C-2 is one of the best performing power plants in the country, the plant’s capacity factor throughout its operation has remained above 99%.
The KANUPP-2 (K-2) unit is one of two similar nuclear power plants located near Karachi. It was connected to the national grid in March last year and started commercial operation on May 21, 2021. The plant is the first nuclear power plant in Pakistan with a generating capacity of 1100 MW. The second is KANUPP Unit-3 (K-3) also has a production capacity of 1100MW. The plant had reached criticality on February 21, 2022 and was undergoing certain tests and safety procedures before it could finally be connected to the grid. The factory connected to the network on a test basis on March 4, 2022 and will soon begin commercial operations.
K-2 and K-3 are state-of-the-art Hualong One HPR-1000 reactors, which is a 3rd generation pressurized water nuclear reactor. These plants have a dual containment design, with the outer containment providing an additional layer of protection.
Being Generation III nuclear power plants, these plants are extremely safe and Pakistan has developed and used a robust safety mechanism for this facility. With the commissioning of these two plants, the share of nuclear power in Pakistan would reach about 15%. This percentage would be achieved through environmentally friendly, safe and reliable power generation technology and for a country like Pakistan which aims to achieve economic stability and is home to a large population, nuclear power generation is a must. because it is reliable, durable and financially viable.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022