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PAEC finally plans public hearing on nuclear power plants

Updated January 18, 2015

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— Reuters/file
— Reuters/file

KARACHI: To counter allegations against a nuclear power plant to be built in Karachi, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission is finally going to hold a public gathering by “the end of February or beginning of March,” according to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission chairman.

Speaking at a press meeting at a hotel, PAEC Chairman Dr Ansar Parvez said the nuclear project “will not impact the environment”.

In a presentation detailing basic information regarding the project, and the time and cost it will take to be built, project’s general manager Azfar Minhaj at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp) said the project is “getting undue attention because anything related to nuclear power is considered a threat by the people.”

Read: Safety concerns over nuclear power plants project site

Since its inception in November 2013, the construction of the power plants K-1 and K-2 to be built by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) near the old Kanupp has drawn much criticism. It was largely directed towards the PAEC’s lack of concern for the environmental hazards.

A group of rights activists also took the PAEC to court after it failed to call a public hearing to clear the air about the project and its possible impact on the environment as well as human life. Their main concern was about the distance between the nuclear power plants and residential areas, said to be 30 kilometres only. Looking at these reservations, the Sindh High Court stayed the project construction until a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is done and presented.

In this regard, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) carried out an evaluation and safety analysis in January 2014, the PAEC chairman informed the audience comprising reporters and bloggers.

This is the first time the PAEC spoke out about the issue since the filing of the case in the Sindh High Court.

When the chairman was asked if they had made a mistake by not holding a public hearing earlier, he said: “We couldn’t hold the public hearing due to some contractual bindings and some political issues. But we are here now to answer all the relevant queries about the project.”

Taking his presentation forward, Mr Minhaj said the site chosen for the new project, which was adjacent to Kanupp, had been studied thoroughly.

“Seismically, it is protected against tsunamis and flooding, sub-soil conditions and absence of ground water. Our detailed seismic and tsunami studies have confirmed that there is a wide margin of safety in the project,” he claimed.

He added: “Chernobyl-like situation cannot occur in Karachi, because the design of the reactor has additional barriers to ensure that the radius during an emergency situation will remain confined to the low population density areas around the site, which can be evacuated.”

The chairman said that the plant would add more than 2,000 megawatts to the current electricity supply “which will be a big boost for the country’s as well as Karachi’s economy”.

According to the data provided by the commission, worldwide 71 nuclear power plants are under construction. Of them, 25 are in China, nine in Russia, six in India, five each in the United States and South Korea and four in Pakistan and the remaining 17 plants are in 10 other countries.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2015

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