Energy plays a vital role in the development of a country. A country's progress is also estimated by its energy demand and consumption. At present, the energy sector of Pakistan has an installed generation capacity of about 37,500 MW.
The minimum total demand at present is about 24,000 MW, whereas the maximum total demand in the summer is enhanced to nearly 29,000 MW. However, the transmission and distribution capacity of the energy sector in Pakistan is only approximately 22,000 MW.
This results in hours of electricity outages in the hot summer months. Besides that, over 50 million people are not connected to the national grid and don't have access to electricity. An unrelated but major problem that has plagued the energy sector of Pakistan besides distribution capacity is the cost of electricity production.
Energy production in a country must be affordable, reliable, and continuous, and it should not emit greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change.
There are many sources for producing energy. If we examine Pakistan's energy mix, we can clearly understand where action is needed to obtain cheaper, continuous, and green energy.
At present, the energy mix of Pakistan is 64% fossil (gas 34%, oil 16%, coal 14%), 20% hydropower, 9% nuclear, and 6% renewable (solar, wind). In Pakistan, fossil fuel consumption is disproportionally high.
Secondly, the use of imported gas and oil has increased the cost of electricity production many folds. Third, the cost of electric power generation plants operating on fossil fuels emits a lot of greenhouse gases.
It has also been realised by many international agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), that the energy source of a country has to be reliable and continuous. During a pandemic or any other similar situation, the uninterrupted supply of energy is also an essential factor for the security of a country.
The most important argument that supports this view is that those countries that have enough fuel for more than a year are in a better position to deal with the effects of a pandemic.
If a pandemic situation develops in the future, there can be a problem for countries like Pakistan with regard to importing gas and oil for electricity generation. Pakistan imports about 42% of its gas and oil for electricity generation and is dependent on foreign sources.
The logical solution to these problems is nuclear power. It has many advantages over other sources of energy. It is a mature and reliable technology. It ensures a continuous supply of energy, is cost-effective, has stringent safety standards, and is environmentally friendly.
Over the years, large nuclear-fueled power plants were installed in different countries, but now many other feasible options for producing nuclear power, such as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and Mini Nuclear Reactors (MNRs) are being developed.
These have many advantages over their larger predecessors. They have a low initial cost, are factory produced, require no refuelling, and are easily transportable. It is expected that the first commercial SMR will start operating in 2024 in a few developed countries that are developing this technology,
Nuclear power is one of the best and cleanest energy sources, produced by disintegrating atomic nuclei in a reactor in a controlled manner. The first commercial nuclear power generation started in August 1956 at Calder Hall, United Kingdom, with a 50 MW reactor.
Nuclear power generation picked up very quickly due to its advantages over all other forms of energy production. If we compare it with other energy sources, it has a clear advantage. For example, if 1 kg of uranium-235 produces the energy equivalent of 3000 kg of coal and 1 kg of coal produces about 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide, it means that 1 kg of uranium saves the world from 8400 tons of carbon dioxide.
Wind energy production uses a large area of land for installation. It uses sulphur hexafluoride gas for coating turbines, which stays for 1300 years in the atmosphere. Solar energy is a good renewable energy source, but there is a disadvantage to manufacturing solar panels.
They use heavy metals, hydrofluoric acid, and nitrogen trifluoride. Nitrogen trifluoride is 1700 times more toxic than carbon dioxide and stays for 100 years in the atmosphere. Another problem is that after completing their life span of 12-15 years, solar panels need to be disposed of.
It is estimated that about 10,000 tons of solar panel waste by 2021, will grow to 800,000 tons by 2040. As solar panels consist of heavy metals, their disposal will cause huge environmental problems.
Pakistan, a country with a population of more than 2.4 billion, has been striving for energy sufficiency since its inception. The energy sector of Pakistan needs a continuous increase in electricity production to meet the growing demand.
To meet the projected future demand of 42,000 MW by 2025, mitigate greenhouse gases, and assure continuous and reliable supply, nuclear power generation seems to be the best available technology for the present.
Pakistani scientists are very experienced and highly skilled and have more than 50 years of safe running, handling, and managing nuclear power plants and disposing of radioactive waste from nuclear reactors. At present, five Nuclear Power Reactors (NPRs) are working in Pakistan, producing about 2335 MW of energy, including K-2 and K-3. The other NPR C-5 is in different stages of construction, whereas the other 4 NPRs are in different planning stages.
Nuclear power plants have proven that they are essential to maintaining the energy supply and are thus a very important pillar for the country's energy security. The greatest advantage of nuclear power plants is that they can provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity for more than a year. With the advent of SMR technology, the running time will also increase, and refuelling the SMRs every year will not be needed.
Pakistan has to achieve its targets of producing nuclear power at about 14% of the energy mix of 3,350 MW by 2025, 8,800 MW by 2030, and 40,000 MW by 2048. This nuclear power production plan is a part of the Energy Security Plan 2005 given by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and approved by the Government of Pakistan.
Pakistan is on course to achieve the targets set to obtain nuclear energy for the country. This will also go a long way towards ensuring Pakistan's long-term energy program.