KARACHI, Jan 30: With the power crisis in the country continuing, the PPP-led coalition government is holding up work on finalisation of plans to construct a new 1,000MW nuclear power plant in Karachi, preferring instead to focus on other nuclear projects, Dawn has learnt reliably.
Well-placed sources at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission say that the signing of agreements with foreign countries on the new plant was to begin in 2008, but the government has so far shown little interest in the project, preferring instead to focus on the Chashma-III and IV projects (which will provide 300MW each).
Memoranda of Understanding for these projects were signed during President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to China in October last year.
The Kanupp-II project is being carried out by the PAEC, in conjunction with the federal government and the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA).
PAEC spokesman Tariq Rashid told Dawn that preliminary reports for the Kanupp-II project had already been carried out and land had been allocated by the Sindh government for the purpose. The new power plant would be built at the site of the current Kanupp plant, near Paradise Point, just outside Karachi.
Mr Rashid declined to comment further on the matter.
While no specifications have so far been issued, Anwar Ali, the chairman of the PAEC, during his last visit to Karachi said the capacity of the plant is to be greater than 1,000MW.
Karachi’s current power demand (during winter) is estimated at 1,500 MW, with the KESC generating about 800MW everyday.
“The decision to focus on the Chashma plants has been taken as the Chinese agency involved in the project is already working at Chashma, and would have to be moved to work on the Kanupp-II project and then moved back to work on Chashma III and IV,” said a source.
The source went on to say that if agreements for Kanupp-II were signed as planned, the plant would be ready by 2012. “A 1,000MW plant would provide much relief to citizens in Karachi,” according to Dr A.H. Nayyar of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. “Karachi has a huge problem with the KESC’s production capacity, and the current nuclear power plant [Kanupp] is hopeless and is shut most of the time.”
Dr Nayyar, a trained physicist, believes that the need for electricity is set to grow by about 10 per cent every year for Karachi, a figure “typical for megacities”. According to him a 1,000MW Kanupp-II plant would “wholly meet that increase in electric demand in 2012”.
Nuclear power projects tend to be relatively cheap to run, but involve very high initial costs. The source said the estimated cost for a 1,000MW Kanupp-II plant would likely run into the billions of US dollars.
If work had gone according to plan, the new Kanupp-II facility would be ready in time to replace the now aging Kanupp-I plant, which is set to be decommissioned in 2012.
Kanupp was originally commissioned in 1972, with a 30-year life, but after a life extension project carried out between 2002 and 2004 (and again during 2006), the plant was given 15 extra years of operational life.
Life extension first of its kind
The life extension project made Kanupp the first nuclear power plant of its type to have successfully implemented such a project. Other countries with CANDU-type nuclear reactors are now also planning life extensions for their facilities.
The project, implemented mainly between Dec 2002 and Jan 2004, including upgrades to emergency systems, reactor regulating computers, fuel systems, a seismic hazard reassessment as well as the replacement of several dozen pumps and motors and the inspection of other parts. The major parts of the power plant, i.e. the reactor core, the fuel channels, the PHT piping and feeders were all in good condition, and were adjudged not to need replacement or repair.
“Kanupp currently generates 90-95MW of power, with around 8-10MW being consumed locally at the site, and the remaining 80-85MW supplied to the KESC,” according to officials at the power plant.
The PAEC rated the efficiency of the plant at 27.42 per cent before the life extension project, and Global Security, an international think tank, rates it as one of the least efficient plants in the world. Officials are quick to clarify, however, that that rating is based on the entire lifetime of the plant, and that Kanupp has remained shut down for long periods due to both the life extension project, and the nuclear embargo imposed on Pakistan in 1976.
“After the imposition of the embargo, the PAEC had to become self-reliant in the field,” said Mr Rashid, the PAEC spokesman “and so we established several training institutes and began to work towards that.” As a result, the Kanupp Institute for Nuclear Power Engineering (Kinpoe) was established, nuclear fuel was locally developed and heavy water upgrade projects were put into place. Kanupp first ran on locally-produced nuclear fuel bundles in 1980.
‘We are committed to safety’
“Kanupp has never been found to be operating outside of IAEA regulations regarding safety,” say officials at the nuclear power plant. “In fact,” they add, “all of our readings for effluents are within four per cent of the IAEA guidelines, well within the safe zone.” Officials say that because of sanctions on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the PAEC was “extra careful” about always remaining within IAEA safeguards.
Spent nuclear fuel is disposed of by storing it in a pond monitored by live-cameras operated by the IAEA. The water is not drained into the ocean, according to plant officials, and the method is international-recognised as being an effective means of containing any radiation from spent nuclear fuel bundles. Sea-water is used to cool the nuclear reactor, and is fed back into sea after being treated.
Regular environmental radiation testing is carried out both at Kanupp, and in the city of Karachi, according to Mr Rashid. Tests are carried out at the Mauripur Kanupp colony, Karachi Institute of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine (commonly known as Kiran hospital) in Safoora Goth, in Qayyumabad and at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. Samples are also taken from about 10-12 other randomly selected sites in the city, according to Mr Rashid. He said the radiation levels at all of these sites have so far been absolutely normal, with no dangerous readings.
But while the PAEC says all safety readings are within acceptable limits, Dr Nayyar of the SDPI says he was told “in the strictest possible terms” by the PNRA that no independent testing of radiation levels would be allowed near the PAEC’s power plants.