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 first research reactor in the world to produce usable electricity by nuclear fission, enough to light four light bulbs of 200 watts 20 December 1951. The reactor was located in Idaho, 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 first nuclear plant in the world connected to the grid. The plant began operations June 27, 1954 in Obninsk in the Soviet Union.
Nuclear energy is one of the most reliable sources of energy, for nuclear power plants (NOC) have the highest capacity factor above 92%. This is almost twice more reliable than a coal plant (48%) or natural gas (57%) and nearly three times higher than wind power plants (35%) and solar (25%). Nuclear power plants require little maintenance because they are designed to work 24 hours on 24, 7 days out of 7 and can operate for a long time before requiring refueling (usually every 1.5 or 2 years). In addition, nuclear power plants lifetime operational longest since the United States are just starting to grant permissions to operate their reactors to 80 years. More importantly, in the case of nuclear power, carbon emissions are almost zero, in addition to being economically competitive.
According to the Nuclear Technology Review 2021 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear power provides about 10% of global electricity. End 2020, total global nuclear power capacity was 392.6 GW (e) generated by 442 nuclear reactors operating in 32 countries. Nuclear power is the second source of energy to low carbon in the world after hydel. In 2020, 13 Member States of the European Union (EU) with nuclear electricity produced 683,512 GWh of nuclear electricity. This represents almost 25% of the total EU electricity. Currently, 54 units are under construction in twenty countries including China, India, Russia, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Finland and France. Nuclear power is essential when we consider how we can ensure a stable electricity supply and affordable while fighting against climate change. China is building more new nuclear reactors than any other country, with projects up to 150 by 2030 and overtake the United States as operator of the largest system of nuclear power generation in the world.
The story of the peaceful application of nuclear technology in Pakistan began when the Agricultural Research Center for Atomic Energy, Tando Jam, was established and inaugurated in the early 60s of last century. The Center has introduced nuclear techniques in agriculture for better survivability and performance of diverse cultures. And with the creation of a facility ray diagnostic and therapy in Karachi, now known as the Atomic Energy Cancer Hospital, Karachi. Then, the first nuclear reactor, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP), was installed in 1971 in Karachi with Canadian help. The reactor was a heavy water reactor CANDU pressurized with a gross capacity of power generation of 137 megawatts (MW). The vendor’s support was withdrawn in 1974. The operational lifetime of the reactor was 30 years, however, the skilled workforce, hardworking and skillful of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has extended its operational life for another 20 years. KANUPP completed on 1 August 2021 its operations safe and secure for 50 years and then stopped 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 energy total – are being exploited at Chashma, Mianwali district. These nuclear power stations were installed with Chinese assistance. C-2 and C-4 have reached the milestone of operating continuously for over a year. While C-2 is one of the most efficient power plants in the country, the capacity factor of the plant throughout its operation 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, sustainable and financially viable.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022