KARACHI: The Sindh High Court restrained the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) on Thursday from carrying out work on two nuclear power plants in Karachi without adhering to environmental laws.
A two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar issued the directive on a petition challenging the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) which approved the two plants.
The petition, filed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Dr Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, Dr A.H. Nayyar and Arif Belgaumi, named the PAEC, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA), Sepa, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pepa) and environment and alternative energy department of Sindh as respondents.
The court asked the respondents to file their replies to the petition by Nov 11. Notices were also issued to the advocate general and deputy attorney general.
The court asked the proponents of the project not to commence work unless they met the requirements set under Section 12 of the Environmental Protection Act and put the project to the EIA as prescribed under the law.
The petitioners’ counsel, Advocate Abdus Sattar Pirzada, informed the court that the PAEC had recently started preparing sites for the two nuclear power plants — K-2 and K-3 — adjacent to the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). Besides, subsequent plans for two more plants — K-4 and K-5 — were also under consideration.
He said that each of the plants would produce about 1,100MW electricity, adding that KANUPP, also known as K-1, was to be decommissioned and its spent nuclear fuel would remain within its premises.
The counsel said the reactors had purportedly been designed and would be built by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) on a design known as ACP-1000. He pointed out that even in China there was no operating ACP-1000 reactor.
“The ACP-1000 reactor so far exists only on paper and in computer programmes and any real life experience, tests and trials that the CNNC will get on the ACP-1000 design will be from operating the K-2 and K-3 reactors in Karachi,” he added.
Advocate Pirzada said that since ACP-1000 technology would be used for the first time in the proposed nuclear reactors, the safety precautions required to be adopted by the PAEC and PNRA were unclear and uncertain, posing a great risk to the health and lives of the people of Karachi.
He said Karachi was one of the most densely populated cities in the world with an estimated population of about 21 million, but it lacked the infrastructure for a mass evacuation of its inhabitants, which might be necessary in the wake of a possible nuclear accident.
The counsel said the respondents had failed to make any credible plan for the evacuation. He referred to a nuclear accident in Japan and said that radioactivity contaminated areas were up to a distance of over 30km from the plant, but contaminated food and water were found within a distance of 250km and a portion of the area continued to remain uninhabitable till todate.
Similarly, the counsel said, as a consequence of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, large areas around the accident site remained contaminated and uninhabitable even after 28 years.
He said the EIA submitted by the PAEC to the then provincial environmental protection agency was in gross violation of the law because its review was carried out by Pepa without inviting public participation and relevant information was kept secret from the public at large in a highly surreptitious manner.
The petitioners requested the court to declare the EIA and its subsequent review as illegal, unlawful and of no legal effect and direct the PAEC to submit a fresh EIA to Sepa and Pepa to carry out a well-publicised public review of it in accordance with the Section 17 of the 2014 Act.
They also requested the court to restrain the respondents from carrying out work on the nuclear power plants till the outcome of the review of the new EIA and evacuation plan.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2014