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KARACHI: Construction activities are in full swing near the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) in the Paradise Point area, where the government has planned to build two more nuclear power plants (K-2 and K-3), a visit to the site showed.

The present development work, according to sources, is meant to set up physical infrastructure for the support staff while construction for the nuclear plants (with a capacity of 2,200 megawatts power generation) would be initiated at a later stage.

The entire area, spread over 585 acres, is under heavy security. A number of additional checkpoints have emerged in the area dotted by signboards informing the people that photography is prohibited at the ‘construction site’.

From the kind of security arrangements in place at the site, which are likely to get stricter in the coming months, one could easily assume that Karachiites would lose, besides suffering the adverse impact of the multi-billion project, a popular picnic spot — Paradise Point.

“They haven’t yet asked us to vacate the place, but they may do so anytime. Then we’ll have to leave. You are finding all other cabins empty because it’s still a bit cold. People prefer to come here in the summer,” said a vendor sitting in his small make-shift shop near the beach.

Though the project has attracted a lot of concerns from experts over nuclear safety, locals hope that it would help alleviate their financial troubles.

“There is no business left for small boat owners. The rampant use of illegal nets, operation of big mechanical boats, rising inflation and the absence of a jetty here have made our families to live from hand to mouth,” said Ahmed Baloch, a local social activist of nearby Abdur Rehman village, adding that the officials of the nuclear power plants had promised to provide jobs to their unemployed youth.

“Plans to generate electricity are good. It might help improve living conditions of our village facing acute shortages of water and electricity. There is no government-run hospital in our union council and we have to go to the city in case of a serious illness,” he said.

Thousands of people live in the villages surrounding the power plants estimated to cost between nine to 10 billion dollars while all of Karachi falls within 40 kilometres of the nuclear site, one of experts’ serious concerns.

‘A bad decision’

The fast pace of the development at the site could be taken as an indicator that the government is not bothered by concerns being raised by experts who have repeatedly demanded that a proper EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) of the project followed by a public hearing representing all stakeholders is carried out. “I still say that the site evaluation report of the project is highly flawed as it uses old population data (10 million) of Karachi, which, in fact, has 20m people now. It grossly underestimates the area’s vulnerability to earthquakes. Though the reactors’ safety report has arrived, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission is yet to share it with the public,” said Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar, an eminent physicist with interest in nuclear issues.

The project, he said, also lacked an evacuation plan that could tell how millions of people would be saved in case of a disaster, he added.

Sharing his views, technical adviser of the World Wide Fund for Nature Mohammad Moazzam Khan said that while pursuing energy solutions, the government must not ignore environmental concerns.

“Most power plants utilise huge quantities of water and dump their thermal effluents into the sea. Effects of thermal effluents on marine animals are usually catastrophic as most animals die. All plant and animal species in the marine water, which is pumped into the nuclear facility, also die,” he said.

The old nuclear power plant of Karachi, he said, used about 0.5 million gallons of water per minute.

Citing a research authored by him and former director of the National Institute of Oceanography Syed Hussain Niaz Rizvi in 1980, he said the paper indicated mass mortality of a large number of fish species due to the nuclear power plant’s operation.

The Karachi coast west of the Hawkesbay, he said, was mainly rocky, or rocky-cum-sandy in nature, which, he said, was considered highly rich in marine biodiversity.

“Many endemic species of fishes and invertebrates are known to occur in the area. The impact of power plants and their effluents on the marine biodiversity cannot even be imagined because of the extent of damage to such an environment,” he argued.

The present location for nuclear power plants, he said, was also not suitable because for about seven months wind blew in the south-west direction and in case of a disaster the whole population of Karachi would be affected.

“The location of the plants along the coast needs a detailed study so the impact could be minimised. The present location between the Hawkesbay and Mubarak Goth is not at all desirable,” he said.