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    Role of nuclear power in climate change mitigation


    January 19, 2022 - Pakistan Observer

     

      THE effects of environmental and climate change are turning out to be progressively dangerous, what was a 'what if scenario' has now become our everyday reality.

      Climate and environment related risks and dangers - including extraordinary climatic events, water scarcity and the inability to adjust and relieve environmental change - are among the top dangers that the world faces.

      An abundance of carbon dioxide (CO2), along with other ozone depleting substances in the atmosphere, due to ever-increasing consumption of hydrocarbons continues to exacerbate the issue. Policymakers, scientists and people in general, progressively perceive the need to address environmentally-related challenges through activism, participation, discourse and pragmatic measures.

      Global warming is the fundamental driver of climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is endeavouring hard to prevent the rise in average global temperature beyond 2oC above pre-industrial level to forestall unmanageable effects on the climate.

      Although, Pakistan is not amongst the major contributors of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, yet Pakistan is one of the most at risk and vulnerable country due to climate change. Pakistan stood fifth on the list of most vulnerable countries as per Climate Risk Index (CRI) 1999-2018.

      Pakistan is an agriculture-based country and according to Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-21, agriculture sector contributes 19.2% to the GDP and provides employment to around 38.5% of the labour force. Special emphasis is being given by the current Government of Pakistan to reduce global warming through the Prime Minister's Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme.

      Similarly, the government also introduced the country's first-ever Pakistan Electric Vehicles Policy 2020-2025, which envisaged targeting a robust electric vehicle market having a 30% and 90% share in passenger vehicles and heavy duty trucks by 2030 and 2040 respectively.

      This would not only reduce a heavy annual oil import bill of about $13 billion but would also prevent environmental degradation.

      The world is changing rapidly, our dependence on energy, both for human wellbeing and society's continued development, has increased manifold.

      Since energy sector of Pakistan is the leading contributor towards GHG emissions, as thermal generation has the largest share in electricity production. According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-21, thermal power's share in 2021 (July-April) has increased to 59.4% as compared to 58.4% in 2020 (July-April).

      Therefore, it is imperative to consider alternative/carbon-free means of power generation. After thermal, hydel has the largest share in electricity generation and its share has declined to 30.5% in 2021(July-April) as compared to 30.9% in 2020 (July-April).

      Furthermore, due to increasing demand of energy we cannot count on hydel, as a major contributor of power generation, in the long run as water resources are depleting ever fast around the globe in general and Pakistan in particular. Whereas, nuclear and renewable have just 7.8% and 2.23% shares respectively in electricity generation.

      National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC) has prepared the Indicative Generation Capacity Expansion Plan (IGCEP) 2018-40.

      This plan is a component of the Integrated Energy Plan, which will incorporate power, as well as demand and supply plans of petroleum until 2047. Such pragmatic policy instruments are historic accomplishments for the whole power sector of Pakistan.

      The IGCE participates conversion of electricity generation sector from thermal to renewables and nuclear power. Renewables like wind and solar still depend on the whims of weather and there adoption is still in the earliest stages. There is no alternative available in terms of reliable, economical and carbon-free replacement of nuclear energy.

      There are certain myths that exist about nuclear energy. Critics of nuclear energy point towards incidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, whereas ignoring how these incidents have led towards better safety mechanisms and protocols to reduce risk of future incidents.

      Plane crashes have not stopped us from flying, because people recognize it as an effective and safe mean of travelling. We use radiation in nuclear medication techniques to treat cancer. We lie in the daylight trusting that the radiation of sun will make us healthier. Radiation can be horrendous and risky if not utilized wisely, yet it can be used to our advantage.

      We need to arrive at a similar acceptance of nuclear power. Today all new nuclear power plants are thoroughly tested by independent actors and must pass design approvals by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

      Pakistan has vast experience of operating nuclear power plants as the country's first nuclear power plant, Karachi Nuclear power Plant (KANUPP), became operational in 1972.

      This plant, a variant of the CANDU reactor built by Canadian General Electric Company, had a capacity of 137 MW and operated safely for five decades. Four nuclear power plants - Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-1 (C-1), Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-2 (C-2), Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-3 (C-3) and Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-4 (C-4), generating 1300MW energy in total - are being operated at Chashma.

      There are two more power plants namely Karachi Nuclear power Plant Unit-2 (K-2) and Karachi Nuclear power Plant Unit-3 (K-3) having generation capacity of 1100 MW each, recently installed in Karachi with the assistance of China.

      According to IAEA, nuclear power produced about 10% of the world's electricity in 2018.In 2020, 13 European Union (EU) Member States with nuclear electricity production generated 683,512 GWh of nuclear electricity.

      This accounts for almost 25% of the EU's total electricity production. So, we cannot achieve the objectives of Paris Accord to reduce global GHG emissions, without shifting to nuclear power.

      For a country like Pakistan, nuclear power has multiple benefits: it would prevent further environmental degradation, would reduce import bill of hydrocarbon and help to sort balance of payment, would provide reliable and uninterrupted power supply, would reduce cost of electricity and resultantly allow the manufacture of cheaper and market-competitive goods.

      Moreover, by-products of nuclear technology are utilized for nuclear medicine, radiotherapy, fermentation of eatables, agriculture and biotechnology, besides it also provides the opportunity to produce skilled workforce and sustainable employment.

      -The writer is an IT professional with a keen interest in issues of science and technology.

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