Earth News Journal 41: Pakistan, China Nuclear Pact

A recent ‘boom’ in nuclear power interests has arisen in the lands of Pakistan and China, according to a November article from The New York Times.

These two countries, neighboring nations intent on industrializing, have agreed to operate a new $9.59 billion nuclear power complex in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. Both the scale and cost of this 2,200-megawatt power project are quite massive, indeed – “dwarfing previous reactor projects built along with China at Chashma, in Pakistan’s interior.”

Long-suffering from an energy crisis, Pakistan has devoted much of its political agenda in the past decade to cultivating more efficient, wide-scale power sources. In May 2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif clinched his position as a governing official by promising to end “crippling shortages” of energy in his country.

The source of funds for this colossal Pakistani-Chinese plant is still largely undetermined, though, evident by the limited number of reports submitted from Pakistani financial assistants. The International Monetary Fund approved $6.6 billion worth of loans to Pakistan in September of 2013, citing a desire to aid the nation’s economy and an attempt to tackle its impeding energy crisis. Nonetheless, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif guaranteed the Chinese investors that his government will promptly support the project.

China’s role in this nuclear production includes supplying the enriched uranium as the plant’s fuel source, while also providing the land on which to build the new power complex. According to officials, this six-year plant will be constructed around “two new-model Chinese ACP-1000 nuclear reactors.”

Both countries have expressed interest in expanding civilian nuclear energy as partners in the past, so the public declaration of a joint-project came as no surprise. Though, the political controversy surrounding this new complex is murky, especially concerning China’s involvement.

Within the past few years, China has joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an “agreement by 47 countries to limit exports of nuclear technology and materials.” China is convinced that the NSG will not raise a ruckus over the recent Pakistani agreement, as the “issue never caused a big fuss in previous NSG meetings,” stated Zhang Li, an expert on Pakistan at the Institute of South Asian Studies at Sichuan University in southwest China.

Even so, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated in the past that “China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan is entirely peaceful and comes under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.” Only time will tell if this nuclear complex can lift Pakistan out of its economic and energy deficits, or if the production of additional nuclear reactors will recharge unsettled Cold War sentiments in the twenty-first century.

Reflection

Nuclear power has always made me feel uneasy. Perhaps it’s the looming threat of radioactive particles contaminating my groundwater drinking supplies, or perhaps it’s the fear of being trapped in the middle of an all-out nuclear war (“Bombs away!). This new declaration for an advanced nuclear reactor in Pakistan, a notoriously unstable Middle Eastern country, collaborating with China, a rising superpower, has me quite concerned. Human governments should be investing their resources in renewable forms of energy – Solar, Wind, Hydroelectric, Geothermal – not continuing to construct non-renewable, environmentally-unstable sources of energy. Arguably, nuclear power plants are not as ‘fossil fuel friendly’ as their companions, the coal-burning power plants and the oil-refining factories, but there are numerous other drawbacks to relying solely upon nuclear complexes. For instance, a number of by-products from nuclear power conversion, radioactive isotopes such as plutonium-239, have half-lives of up to hundreds to even thousands of years. That means these particles need to be securely stored for many decades, without disturbance or potential leakages. Herein lies another problem: where do we store radioactive materials safely for many generations? Underground, underwater, or in storage-holding tanks? All of these methods have been previously examined, though considerable health concerns have occurred with each as a direct result of nuclear contamination. As human beings, we can learn to cultivate the Earth’s perpetual resources to our advantage, while living harmoniously alongside Earth’s other native creatures. Nuclear power is not the solution – it’s just a distraction.

Masood, Salman, and Chris Buckley. “Pakistan Breaks Ground on Nuclear Plant Project With China.” New York TImes. N.p., 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 06 May 2014.

This post also appears on Blogspot