ISLAMABAD, Aug 7: Pakistan has decided to build a $1.192 billion (Rs72.2 billion) facility to develop the capacity to manufacture the full cycle of nuclear fuel and nuclear power plants.
Dawn has learnt that the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) will set up a Pakistan Nuclear Power Fuel Complex (PNPFC) to attain the capability to manufacture pressurised water reactors (PWRs) and nuclear power plants (NPPs).
Knowledgeable sources said Pakistan took the decision because of denial of technology from the suppliers to all except the favoured countries.
They said the complex would comprise a Chemical Processing Plant (CPP), Fuel Fabrication Plant (FFP), Nuclear Power Fuel Testing Project and Seamless Tube Plant-1 (STP-1).
According to the sources, the PNPFC would play a significant role in strengthening the national energy programme by increasing the share of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix. Since nuclear power is relatively cheaper, reliable and has higher availability factor, the net economic effect is proposed to be transferred to the consumers.
The prime objective of the complex is the establishment of infrastructure for the production of PWR fuel, including essentially required input feed material.
Being an indigenous facility, the complex will assure regular supply of nuclear fuel to PWRs of the NPPs. It will cost over Rs36.1 billion to the national exchequer.
The Chemical Processing Plant, which will cost Rs28 billion, is meant to produce nuclear fuel and structural materials and natural UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) gas from the commercially available yellow cake (U3O8) and convert depleted UF6 gas into depleted uranium metal (DUM).
The plant will act as a roadmap for ultimately achieving the capability of fulfilling one-thirds of the total fuel requirement needed for the NPPs, planned to be constructed by 2030. Initially, the PAEC is expected to construct six to eight NPPs indigenously.
In recent years, with an enormous increase in oil and gas prices, nuclear power has become more viable economically and a reliable source of electricity generation. According to the PAEC, the proposed CPP will help in assured and continuous supply of nuclear fuel/structural materials to other constituent plants for the fabrication of fuel assemblies to generate electricity through the NPPs.
The FFP is proposed to be built at a cost of Rs3.7 billion and its prime objective is to develop capability for indigenous fabrication of fuel assembly (FA) for fulfilling the major share of fuel requirements for existing and future NPPs.
The PAEC has informed higher authorities that an indigenous FFP is required to ensure reliable and uninterrupted fuel supply “which may otherwise be affected any time because of international politics and pressure”.
At present, the government is importing nuclear fuel from China for the 300MW Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-2. The fabrication cost is about $486 million and the proposed FFP will enable the country to achieve self-reliance for PWR fuel fabrication technology for the assured supply of nuclear power to existing and future NPPs.
The NPFTP is proposed to be built at a cost of Rs1.2 billion. Its main objective is to establish experimental infrastructures which are needed to qualify the indigenously produced fuel system covering its mechanical, thermal, hydraulic and functional requirement aspects. It will help in the attainment of testing and analysis capability of nuclear fuel systems and resolution of manufacturing, design and safety issues of fuel systems for existing and future nuclear power plants.
In the second phase of the project, the facility infrastructure proposed in phase-1 will be expanded to attain complete technological capability for the qualification/development of un-graded version of nuclear fuel systems applicable to existing and future NPPs.
The objective of the STP-1, proposed to be built at a cost of Rs3 billion, is the establishment of an infrastructure for the production of structural materials (Zr-4/SS Tubes and Rods) to be used by the Fuel Fabrication Plant to manufacture nuclear fuel for NPPs. The plant is expected to help the PAEC attain 100 per cent capability of technology involved in the manufacturing of pressurised water reactors for NPPs.
The plant will produce high-precision cladding tubes and rods of Zircalogy-4 (primarily) and nuclear grade stainless steel for nuclear power plants.