Nuclear energy a long-term alternative to Pakistan’s power crisis

By Chaudhry Kamran Naseer

The provision of energy is considered as one of the basic elements for both economic growth and a higher standard of living. Pakistan is currently facing a big crisis in the energy sector. And due to the gap between demand and supply of energy, many fields of the economy have been affected. There is a dire need to focus on electric generation to meet the increasing demand of electricity; this demand exists mainly because of the increasing population growth and to maintain a sustainable economic growth rate.

 

The most vital question while looking at the problem is to find out an environment-friendly source for electrical production; which at the same time is cost-effective. Nuclear energy at present contributes to about 16 per cent of the world’s electricity and it is provided by the 440 nuclear power plants in 31 different countries such as America, France, Japan, Russia, China, India etc. The United States alone has 104 nuclear power plants while similarly Japan has 55 operating nuclear power plants.

Technological developments in nuclear power generation and fission research have lessened the number of problems in reactor constructions, operations and simultaneously increased efficiency. Moreover these technological advancements have also provided a better way to meet the increasing energy needs in a cost competitive manner. As a result, it has become an attractive source of energy and hence future energy demands are expected to be dealt with by the use of nuclear power. The percentage of nuclear power reactors around the globe is estimated to increase to 60 per cent by 2030, according to Yury A. Sokolov, the head of department of nuclear energy and deputy director general of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

When taking Pakistan into consideration, the Foreign Minister of France has agreed to provide civil nuclear technology to Pakistan and is expected to sign the agreement regarding this in August. If this deal comes through, it will undoubtedly be a great achievement for the country. France is one of those countries that have advanced nuclear technology, specifically in their power generation plants. It derives 78 per cent (63 giga watts) of its electricity with the help of 59 nuclear power reactors and is the world’s largest exporter of electric power, exporting 18 per cent of its total production to Italy, Netherlands, Britain, and Germany. Due to its low cost of electric generation the country earns 3 billion euros per year from electric production, thus having the lowest electricity cost in all of Europe. Conclusively, it can be said that beneficing from France in this field will have a great impact on the economy of Pakistan.

Nuclear power is free of pollution and has no environmental affects such greenhouse gases or acid rain, it is cost competitive and safe but most importantly it can provide a continuous electric supply throughout a year. This continuous supply can be achieved because nuclear plants are independent of seasonal effects. The latest nuclear plants are smaller in size and more efficient. Another advantage of nuclear power plants is that it doesn’t require constant re-fuelling or charging. The plants only need to be charged once a year, as compared to thermal or coal plants which need charging all year around.

A further important feature of nuclear power is the fact that its fuel cost amounts to 20 per cent of the electricity generation cost whereas the fuel cost of fossil fuel-fired power plants amounts to 50-70 per cent of the generation cost. This makes the overall cost of nuclear electricity generation relatively stable and hence inelastic to possible future escalation of fuel prices.

In 2005, a study was undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to calculate the kilowatt-hour power cost. The study was conducted under the assumption that oil prices in 2010 would hike up to US $ 50 per barrel. The study provided statistics for power generation costs for one kilowatt-hour for the three most important energy sources i.e. nuclear energy, coal and gas.

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Country name Costs in cents / kilowatt

          hour at 85 per cent load factor

          Nuclear         Coal    Gas

France 2.54    3.33    3.92

Japan  4.80    4.95    5.21

Canada         2.60    3.11    4.11

USA    3.01    2.71    4.67

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From the above data it is evident that if oil prices increase with a corresponding increase in natural gas prices, as a result gas power generation costs will be much higher in comparison to nuclear power generation. It can be debated that uranium prices are also increasing and hence they will adversely affect the nuclear power generation cost but it must be noted that uranium’s contribution to the overall cost of the electric production is relatively small, so even a large fuel price escalation will have a relatively minor effect. For instance, a doubling of the uranium market price would increase the fuel cost for a light water reactor by 26 per cent and the electricity cost by about 7 per cent whereas doubling the gas price would typically add 70 per cent to the price of electricity from that source.

Due to the advantages in nuclear energy production, many different countries have planned to produce more nuclear energy in the near future. For example, Japan plans to increase its nuclear power share of electricity from 30 per cent in 2006 to more than 40 per cent within the next decade. Russia already had five plants under-construction in 2007 and has significant expansion plans for the future. China is experiencing a huge energy growth and is trying to expand its nuclear power-four reactors were under construction in 2006 and plans for a five-fold expansion by 2020 are under way. India’s plans include an 8-fold increase by 2022 in 10 per cent of the electricity supply and a 75-fold increase by 2052 to reach 26 per cent of the electricity supply. India recently made a civil nuclear agreement with the United States of America to achieve these goals.

Currently Pakistan has two nuclear power plants in operation, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) and the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant unit-1 (Chashnupp-1) and a third one is under construction and will be named Chasnupp-2. Unlike Kanupp which is PHWR type, Chashnupp-1 and Chashnupp-2 have pressurised light water reactors (PLWR) with the capacity of 325 mega watt, approximately double than that of Kanupp. This under construction third nuclear power plant of the country is expected to start producing in 2011.

To meet the forthcoming increase in electric demands which has resulted from the diminishing energy resources, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission has given a target to the government. The target is to enhance the nuclear power capacity from the present 400 mw to 8,800 mw by 2030, comprising 2 units of 300 mw, 2 units of 600 mw and 7 units of 1000 mw. This will increase the share of nuclear production to a total of 8 per cent in the electric production of the country. However, observing the progress of neighbouring countries such as India and China we have to accept that we are still lagging behind in the field of energy, where a lot of improvement is still required. To keep up to par with its neighbours it is necessary that Pakistan must try to ensure their agreement with France as it will open a new chapter of progress for the country. Furthermore, Pakistan should also try to get support from other civil nuclear exporters like Russia. Also, while nuclear power plants are in their construction and installation stages they require the needed machinery which are imported from abroad. This results in a decrease of the country’s foreign reserves. If these machines were prepared locally, a vast amount of foreign reserve could be saved; it will result in a massive decrease in the installation cost of nuclear power plants. Similarly, it will play a significant role in decreasing the poverty level in the country by creating employment opportunities. In this respect the government should attract foreign investors to promote the country’s local industries.

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/jul2009-weekly/busrev-06-07-2009

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