ISLAMABAD: A massive breakdown that left nearly half the country without electricity for over 12 hours last week was caused by temporary and substandard work, obsolete material and tampered connectors installed on a tower of two mega nuclear power plants in Karachi, the government said on Wednesday.

“The first reason for the [Oct 13] blackout was temporary and substandard work on tower No. 26 of Karachi nuclear power plants K-2 and K-3 three years ago, i.e. in 2019,” the energy ministry’s power division said in a statement, citing an inquiry committee report.

The committee also found that a fault in the transmission system put a “question mark” on the standard of material used in 2019 and the qualification of those working on it. It noted that the connectors used were not designed for a transmission line but were modified and used for temporary interconnection, the power division said.

“The project team used 25-year-old damaged connectors on towers No. 26, 26-A and 27,” the statement quoted the inquiry committee as saying but without releasing the full report.

Inquiry committee report points to temporary, substandard work on K2, K3 N-plants three years ago; disciplinary action under way in light of findings

The report said that regular repairs and maintenance work had not been carried out despite the severity of the temporary arrangement made in 2019 and the sensitivity of nuclear power.

The power division said it was taking disciplinary action against those who were held responsible by the inquiry report.

The four-member inquiry committee was formed by the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC), which runs the country’s national grid, after the breakdown to find out what caused the fault and if it could have been avoided. It was led by its technical general manager, Mohammad Mustafa, and also comprised general manager Anwar Ahmad Khan and chief engineers Mohammad Ijaz Khan and Mohammad Zakaria.

The committee’s findings are in line with initial reports that the breakdown originated due to the overloading of 27-year-old existing lines near two major nuclear power plants of 1,100 megawatts each because of a delay in the completion of new lines, which should have been ready before these two plants.

Power generated by the K2 and K3 nuclear plants was being evacuated through two 500-kilovolt transmission lines of NK1-Jams­horo and Hub-Jamshoro, located in Karachi’s south and were already overloaded and obsolete as these were commissioned in 1995.

The failure of old connectors shifted the entire 2,200MW load of nuclear plants to the Hub-Jamshoro line, which could not sustain that extra burden.

The system operator tried to shift partial load to the Port Qasim-Matiari line, which also could not be immediately energised as the Port Qasim plant was already closed.

This automatically closed several other power plants of about 1,800MW in a cascading effect that affected 500kV and 200kV lines up to Gati-Faisalabad, besides shutting down the power supply to Hesco, Sepco, Mepco and Fesco, and to some extent to Lahore through the Matiari-Lahore 600kV high-voltage direct current transmission line.

Power sector experts said the NTDC, like any other electricity grid in the world, was a highly technical institution that should be run by qualified engineers who plan safety measures, stabilise the system and maintain a balance between demand and supply with technical expertise.

The transmission and despatch company has remained under the control of generalist cadres and saw 13 managing directors in 10 years.

Besides, 11 of these directors have been non-engineers, mostly joint secretaries from the power division on a deputation or acting charge basis, which seriously affected the continuity of planning and implementing such projects that take years to come to fruition.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2022

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