KARACHI: Journalists were provided a rare access to the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) in the Paradise Point area on Saturday where plans to set up two more nuclear power plants have generated a lot of debate in recent months. The journalists were invited there to attend a workshop.

The event organised by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to allay public concerns over the new plants was the first since Pakistan had started using nuclear power with the commissioning of Kanupp (of 137 megawatts electricity production capacity) in 1972.

The Journalists were taken to the construction site of the twin nuclear power plants as well as different sections of Kanupp that included the main control room, emergency control room and turbine-cum-generator unit. They were informed that Kanupp had completed its designed life but had been granted another licence for operation till 2016 by the Pakistan Nuclear Regulating Authority (PNRA).

“The plant’s building is earthquake-resistant. Radiation levels in and outside the plant, weather conditions, temperature and wind velocity are constantly monitored while workers carry a meter that shows the level of radiation they might be exposed to. The health division handles the case if it occurs,” explained senior scientist Fazal Shabbir Hussain.

There were two supplementary control rooms at Kanuup to monitor plant operation and critical parameters or to shut down the unit in case of an emergency, he added.

According to Mr Hussain, the plant uses uranium and heavy water for electricity generation and is currently going through a two-month shutdown period for maintenance. It now has the capacity to produce 80 megawatts.

Replying to a question, he said that safety training and mock disaster exercises were regularly conducted at the plant that had suffered no accident so far. A lot of studies on the safety of the plant had been conducted, he added.

Later at a conference hall, the PAEC team gave a few presentations on PAEC progress and achievements and the salient features of the new plants. They highlighted the country’s growing energy demand and the benefits of nuclear power being a cheaper and more reliable source of energy as compared to other sources.

Among the speakers was Dr Inam-ur-Rehman, a former teacher who groomed many, including the present head of the PAEC at the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He paid glowing tributes to late Dr Ishrat Hussain Usmani, one of the chief architects of the country's nuclear power expansion.

“He had foreseen in 1960s that Pakistan would soon face restrictions regarding nuclear technology development. So, he lobbied for science and technology and convinced the government to send hundreds of Pakistani students abroad to acquire higher education in the field of nuclear technology,” he said.

Pakistan, he said, was only the 15th country in the entire world and the first in the Muslim world to have a nuclear power plant. “Still, Pakistan is the only country out of 58 Muslim countries having capability in all the five stages of developing nuclear technology for defence purposes as well as for electricity generation,” he said.

In the question-answer session, PAEC chairman Dr Ansar Pervaiz said that the design of twin nuclear plants (K2/K3) called ACP-1000 was based on a tested design (pressurised water reactor concept) and the only new thing about it was the addition layers of safety.

“The ACP 1000 is a generation three reactor with diverse safety systems including passive safety features that could handle extreme situations like a complete station black-out.

“The additional safety systems based on the lessons learnt from the Fukushima accident make the plant more robust against power failures, earthquakes, flooding and tsunamis,” he said.

The project’s environment assessment report, he said, was duly approved by the Sindh Environment Protection Agency, but not shared because of international politics as the country was already facing restrictions on nuclear technology's development.

Regarding the location's suitability, the audience was informed that several nuclear plants had been built closed to population in the world and it was incorrect to suggest that there was any risk to the whole city having to be evacuated.

The K2/K3 design further ensured that regardless of the accident type, it would be possible to keep the reactor core cool for at least 72 hours and limit the release of radioactivity. Besides, it would be ensured that no harm was caused to surrounding human population or marine life during operation through constant monitoring, it was pointed out.

“Not a single person has been killed or injured due to radiation release in the Fukushima accident. Long-term cancer fatalities have been estimated to be almost negligible in a thorough study released by World Health Organisation in 2013,” said Mr Fatmi during his presentation.

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