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Nuclear Power in Pakistan

(Updated March 2014)

  • Pakistan has a small nuclear power program, with 725 MWe capacity, but is moving to increase this substantially.
  • Pakistan's nuclear weapons capabilities of has arisen independently of the civil nuclear fuel cycle, using indigenous uranium.
  • Because Pakistan is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, due to its weapons program, it is largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, which hinders its development of civil nuclear energy. However, China is positive about nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

Pakistan in 2010 produced 94.5 billion kWh of electricity, 33 TWh of this from oil, 26 from natural gas and 32 from hydro. Nuclear power makes a small contribution to total energy production and requirements, supplying only 3.8 TWh (3.8% of the electricity in 2011). Consumption in 2010 was about 77 billion kWh after 16% transmission losses. There was no import or export. Total installed capacity is about 20 GWe, but often only about 12 GWe is operable. In 2005 an Energy Security Plan was adopted by the government, calling for a huge increase in generating capacity to more than 160 GWe by 2030. Significant power shortages are reported, and load shedding is common.

In July 2013 the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved 3.5 GWe of new power projects totalling Rs 1303 billion ($13 billion), comprising 2200 MWe nuclear, 425 MWe gas combined cycle, and 969 MWe hydro. These are designed to reduce the high reliance on oil and to reduce power costs.All depend on Chinese support.

Nuclear power

The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) is responsible for all nuclear energy and research applications in the country. The PAEC is reported to have two divisions which are responsible for nuclear power programs: Nuclear Power Generation (NUPG) and Nuclear Power Projects (NUPP). The NUPG directorate oversees the operational units, and the NUPP directorate is concerned with design and construction of planned units, and is closely aligned with the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA).

PAEC's first nuclear power reactor is a small 137 MWe (125 MWe net) Canadian pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR) which started up in 1971 and which is under international safeguards – KANUPP at Paradise Point in Sindh province, about 25 km west of Karachi. It is operated at reduced power, and is under review by PAEC because of its age.

The second unit is Chashma 1 in Punjab province in the north, a 325 MWe (300 MWe net) two-loop pressurised water reactor (PWR) supplied by China's CNNC under safeguards. The main part of the plant was designed by Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute (SNERDI), based on Qinshan 1. It started up in May 2000 and is also known as CHASNUPP 1. Designed life span is 40 years. It, and the following 3 units, were built using international design codes and standards.

Construction of its twin, Chashma 2, started in December 2005. It was reported to cost PKR 51.46 billion (US$ 860 million, with $350 million of this financed by China). A safeguards agreement with IAEA was signed in 2006 and grid connection was in March 2011, with commercial operation in May.

Operating Reactors in Pakistan

Reactor Province Type MWe net Construction start Commercial operation Planned close
Karachi 1 Sindh PHWR 125 1966 12/72 2019
Chashma 1 Punjab PWR 300   June 2000 2040
Chashma 2 Punjab PWR 300 2005 May 2011 2051
Total (3)     725 operating  

Karachi is also known as KANUPP, Chashma as CHASNUPP.
Enriched fuel for the PWRs is imported from China.

The 2005 Energy Security Plan included intention of lifting nuclear capacity to 8800 MWe, 900 MWe of this by 2015 and a further 1500 MWe by 2020. Projections included four further Chinese reactors of 300 MWe each and seven of 1000 MWe, all PWR. There were tentative plans for China to build two 1000 MWe PWR units at Karachi as KANUPP 2&3, but China then in 2007 deferred development of its CNP-1000 type which would have been the only one of that size able to be exported. Pakistan then turned its attention to building smaller units with higher local content. However, in 2013 China revived its 1000 MWe designs with export intent, and made overtures to Pakistan for the ACP1000 design.

Chashma 3&4

In June 2008 the government announced plans to build units 3&4 at Chashma, each 320 MWe gross and largely financed by China. A further agreement for China's help with the project was signed in October 2008, and given prominence as a counter to the US-India agreement shortly preceding it.

In March 2009 China's SNERDI announced that it was proceeding with design of Chashma 3&4, with China Zhongyuan Engineering Corp (CZEC) as the general contractor and China Nuclear Industry No.5 Construction Company as installer. In April 2009, a design contract with SNERDI was signed, and the government said that it had approved the project at a cost of $2.37 billion, with $1.75 billion of this involving "a foreign exchange component". In March 2010 Pakistan announced that it had agreed the terms for Chashma 3&4, whereby China would provide 82% of the total US$ 1.912 billion financing as three 20-year low-interest loans. It would also provide fuel for the reactors’ lifetime nominally of 40 years.

The main construction contract was signed in June 2010, and the two 340 MWe CNP-300 (315 MWe net) units are to be completed in eight years. They will have a design life of 40 years and be under IAEA safeguards. Construction of unit 3 officially started at the end of May 2011, and unit 4 in December 2011. The dome of unit 3 was fitted in March 2013. Early in 2014 PAEC said they were several months ahead of schedule.

In April 2013 it was reported that the PAEC would receive a significant increase in budget appropriation to expedite construction of Chashma 3&4.

However, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) raised some questions about China's supply of Chasma 3&4. Contracts for units 1&2 were signed in 1990 and 2000 respectively, before 2004 when China joined the NSG, which maintains an embargo on sales of nuclear equipment to Pakistan. China argued that units 3&4 are similarly "grandfathered", and arrangements are consistent with those for units 1&2.

Chashma 5

In November 2010 the PAEC is reported to have signed a construction agreement with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) for a fifth unit at Chashma. In February 2013 a further agreement was signed by PAEC with CNNC for a 1000 MWe unit at Chashma. It was reported that China expected that this deal would be controversial under the NPT and guidelines of the NSG. Early in 2013 CNNC confirmed its intention to build a 1000 MWe class reactor, and said it would be an ACP1000 unit, though not necessarily at Chashma. The status of any continuing plan for Chashma 5 is very uncertain, and it may have been displaced by plans for a plant near Multan in southwest Punjab.

Karachi coastal power project

In June 2013 the Planning Commission said that two CNNC 1000 MWe class reactors would be used for Karachi 2 and 3 (KANUPP 2&3) near Karachi unit 1. Two coastal sites had been under consideration for the twin 1100 MWe units. CNNC in April 2013 announced an export agreement for the ACP1000, nominally 1100 MWe, apparently for Pakistan. This was confirmed in June by the PAEC which said that the next nuclear project would be 1100 MWe class units which it would build, the Karachi Coastal Power station, costing $9.5 billion. 

In July 2013 ECNEC approved two units of the Karachi Costal Power Project with net generation capacity of 2,117 MWe. The total cost of this is estimated at Rs 959 billion ($9.595 billion), with $6.5 billion (68%) being vendor finance. PAEC also said that 82% of the total cost would be financed by China. At the end of August contracts were signed in Shanghai with CNNC, China Zhongyuan Engineering Co. Ltd. (CZEC), China Nuclear Power Engineering Co. Ltd. (CNPE), Nuclear Power Institute of China (NPIC), and East China Electric Power Designing Institute (ECEPDI). Ground breaking at the site near Paradise Point, 25 km west of Karachi, took place in November 2013, and first concrete is envisaged by the end of 2014. Construction is expected to take 72 months.

In the light of its inability to buy uranium on the open market, PAEC says that Pakistan has agreed with China to provide lifetime fuel supply for the reactors, this being specified as 60 years.

The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority has received the safety analysis of China’s ACP1000 reactor from CNNC and is expected to take at least a year to complete the review before granting a construction licence.

Nuclear Power Reactors Under Construction and Planned

Reactor Province Type MWe gross Construction Start Planned Commercial Operation
Chashma 3 Punjab CNP-300 340 May 2011 Dec 2016
Chashma 4 Punjab CNP-300 340 Dec 2011 October 2017
Karachi Coastal 1 Sindh ACP1000 1100 late 2014  
Karachi coastal 2 Sindh ACP1000 1100 late 2015?  
Total (4)       2880  
Karachi Coastal is also known as KANUPP 2&3

Further nuclear capacity

In August 2011 it was reported that Pakistan aimed for 8000 MWe nuclear at ten sites by 2030. PAEC has apparently selected six new sites on the basis of the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) advice. These are Qadirabad-Bulloki (QB) link canal near Qadirabad Headworks; Dera Ghazi Khan canal near Taunsa Barrage; Taunsa-Panjnad canal near Multan; Nara canal near Sukkur; Pat Feeder canal near Guddu and Kabul River near Nowshera. Early in 2012 PAEC said that four reactors were planned for the Taunsa-Panjnad canal near Multan in Punjab.

In January 2014 PAEC announced its intention to build five further 1100 MWe nuclear plants to meet anticipated electricity demand, and have 8.9 GWe of nuclear capacity on line by 2030. "With more than 55 reactor-years of successful operating experience to its credit, the PAEC can confidently move from technology acquisition status to actually starting contributing sizable electrical energy to the system." Then PAEC was quoted as saying that eight sites would be chosen for a further 32 units, four 1100 MWe units at each, so that nuclear power supplied one quarter of the country’s electricity from 40 GWe of capacity, this evidently presupposing more than a tenfold increase in electricity demand by a future date well beyond 2030.

PAEC said an initial 1100 MWe plant would be built at Muzaffargarh, on the Taunsa-Panjnad canal near Multan in southwest Punjab. It was also reported that discussions with China were under way to supply three nuclear power plants for about $13 billion.

Fuel cycle

The government has set a target of producing 350 tonnes U3O8 per year from 2015 to meet one-third of anticipated requirements then. Low-grade ore is known in central Punjab at Bannu Basin and Suleman Range.

A small (15,000 SWU/yr) uranium centrifuge enrichment plant at Kahuta has been operated since 1984 and does not have any apparent civil use. It was expanded threefold about 1991. A newer plant is reported to be at Gadwal. It is not under safeguards. It is not clear whether PAEC has any involvement with these plants.

Enriched fuel for the PWRs is imported from China.

In 2006 the PAEC announced that it was preparing to set up separate and purely civil conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication plants as a new US$ 1.2 billion Pakistan Nuclear Power Fuel Complex (NPFC) for PWR-type reactors which would be under IAEA safeguards and managed separately from existing facilities. At least the enrichment plant would be built at Chak Jhumra, Faisalabad, in the Punjab and have a 150,000 SWU/yr capacity in five years – about 2013, then be expanded in 150,000 SWU increments to be able to supply one third of the enrichment requirements for a planned 8800 MWe generating capacity by 2030.

However, if Pakistan cannot obtain exemption for Nuclear Suppliers' Group trade sanctions in order to build more nuclear power capacity and obtain more uranium in the near future, there may be no point in proceeding with this civil Fuel Complex.

Wastes

The PAEC has responsibility for radioactive waste management. A Radioactive Waste Management Fund is proposed in a new policy. Waste Management Centres are proposed for Karachi and Chashma.

Used fuel is currently stored at each reactor in pools. Longer-term dry storage at each site is proposed. The question of future reprocessing remains open.

A National Repository for low- and intermediate-level wastes is due to be commissioned by 2015.

Regulation

The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) is responsible for licensing and supervision, and regulates the safety and security of all civil nuclear materials and facilities. In respect to the Chashma reactors, and presumably also the Karachi Coastal Power project, it works closely with China's NNSA. It was formed in 2001, superseding the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Board (set up by PAEC) and the Directorate of Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection.

Pakistan is party to the convention on nuclear safety and two international conventions for early notification and assistance.

R&D and other activities

The Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH) near Islamabad is managed by the PAEC and is one of the largest science and technology research establishments in the country. It has conducted research into reprocessing used nuclear fuel, though today it claims to be focused on research in medicine, biology, materials and physics, including production of medical radioisotopes.

Pakistan has a 10 MW pool-type research reactor, PARR-1, of 1965 vintage, supplied by the USA under the Atoms for Peace program. It was converted to use low-enriched uranium fuel in 1991, and upgraded from 5 to 10 MW. PARR-2 is an indigenous 30 kW miniature neutron source reactor (MNSR) based on Chinese design and using high-enriched fuel operating since 1974. Both are located at the PINSTECH Laboratory, Nilore, near Islamabad. They are under IAEA safeguards.

New Labs is reported to be a reprocessing plant for weapons-grade plutonium production, and not under safeguards. It is run by PAEC and operational since 1981. This was apparently the culmination of a plutonium weapons program predating the Kahuta HEU weapons program.

A larger "multipurpose" reactor, a 50 MWt PHWR near Khushab, 200 km south of Islamabad, started operating in 1998 and is evidently for producing weapons-grade plutonium. A larger heavy water reactor was built at Khushab from about 2002, and appeared to be operational at the end of 2009. In 2006 building of a third reactor, similar to and adjacent to the second, started, with construction proceeding rapidly. A similar, fourth reactor has started construction a few hundred metres away, and was observed to be more than half complete late in 2013. These apparently add up to a substantial plutonium production capacity. Khushab is reported to be making demands upon the country's limited uranium resources. A small heavy water plant is nearby. Reprocessing of military material is reported to take place at Chashma, 80 km west, and a second reprocessing plant is apparently under construction there.

The Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) at Kahuta in Punjab is described as a weapons engineering R&D institute and research laboratory, focused on producing high-enriched uranium using centrifuge technology originally stolen from Urenco by Dr Abdul Q Khan. Set up about 1976 as the Engineering Research Laboratories it was a key part of Pakistan's weapons program, supported by the Army Corps of Engineers in competition with the plutonium program being pursued by PAEC. It was renamed in honour of Dr Khan 1981.

Non-proliferation

Pakistan is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but does have its civil power reactors and two research reactors (PARR 1 & 2) under item-specific IAEA safeguards. An agreement for two further 340 MWe reactors came into force in April 2011. Pakistan has refused calls for international inspections of its enrichment activities.

Pakistan's Kahuta project (incorporating Project-706) to produce a uranium bomb was launched in 1972, following a disastrous war with India. It was partly financed by Libya to 1979. In May 1974 India exploded a nuclear test close to the Pakistan border, galvanising Pakistani efforts. The project was disbanded in 1983 after a successful cold test of weapon components.

In May 1998 Pakistan exploded five atomic devices in Baluchistan. At least one was evidently made from enriched uranium, but the Chagai II test in Kharan desert used plutonium produced by New Labs.

Pakistan is reported to be the sole nation blocking agreement of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) in Geneva negotiations.

Through the activities of Abdul Q.Khan, a centrifuge plant and nuclear weapons designs were supplied clandestinely to Libya from the late 1990s to 2003 to furbish a weapons program there. He also transferred centrifuge technology to North Korea in the 1990s, and to Iran. This is the main basis for the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) refusing to ease nuclear trade sanctions for Pakistan, as it has for India. China is the only country to act in defiance of trade sanctions, and has deepened cooperation since the international US-led concessions to India in 2008.

Addressing at the 3rd Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague in March 2014, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan had been running a safe and secure nuclear program for over four decades with the expertise, manpower and infrastructure to produce civil nuclear energy. He called for Pakistan’s inclusion in all international export control regimes, especially the Nuclear Suppliers Group. He pointed out that international treaties and forums would supplement Pakistan’s national actions to fortify nuclear security.

Domestically, he said that today the country’s nuclear security is supported by five pillars – a strong command and control system led by the National Command Authority (NCA); an integrated intelligence system; a rigorous regulatory regime; a comprehensive export control regime; and active international cooperation. The security regime covers physical protection, material control and accounting, border controls and radiological emergencies, he said.

Pakistan is a major recipient of technical cooperation from the IAEA, and is one of 35 members of the IAEA Board of Governors, though it remains outside the NPT.


Appendix:

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION ISSUES

This appendix is based on paper by Michael Wilson, 1995, The Nuclear Future: Asia and Australia and the 1995 Conference on Non-Proliferation, publ. by Griffith University. Used with author's permission.

Pakistan (along with India and Israel) was originally a "threshold" country in terms of the international non-proliferation regime, possessing, or quickly capable of assembling one or more nuclear weapons. Their nuclear weapons capability at the technological level was recognised (all have research reactors at least) along with their military ambitions. Then in 1998 India and Pakistan's military capability became more overt. All three remained outside the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which 186 nations have now signed. This led to their being largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant or materials, except for safety-related devices for a few safeguarded facilities.

Regional rivalry

Relations between Pakistan and India are tense and hostile, and the risks of nuclear conflict between them have long been considered quite high.

In 1974 India exploded a "peaceful" nuclear device and then in May 1998 India and Pakistan each exploded several nuclear devices underground. This heightened concerns regarding an arms race between them.

Kashmir is a prime cause of bilateral tension, its sovereignty being in dispute since 1948. There is persistent low-level military conflict due to Pakistan backing a Muslim rebellion there.

Both countries engaged in a conventional arms race in the 1980s, including sophisticated technology and equipment capable of delivering nuclear weapons. In the 1990s the arms race quickened. In 1994 India reversed a four-year trend of reduced allocations for defence, and despite its much smaller economy, Pakistan pushed its own expenditures yet higher. Both then lost their patrons: India, the former USSR, and Pakistan, the USA.

Pakistan has offered to disarm and join the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty if India would, although both countries sees the NPT as unfair and India would prefer other international arrangements for limiting weapons proliferation.

Pakistan's weapons technology is based on the production of highly enriched uranium suitable for nuclear weapons, utilising indigenous uranium. It has at least one small centrifuge enrichment plant. In 1990 the US Administration cut off aid because it was unable to certify that Pakistan was not pursuing a policy of manufacturing nuclear weapons though this was relaxed late in 2001. In 1996 USA froze export loans to China because it was allegedly supplying centrifuge enrichment technology to Pakistan.

Pakistan made it clear since early 1996 that if India staged a nuclear test, it had done the basic development work and would immediately start assembling its own nuclear explosive device. Its nuclear weapons capability has since been demonstrated, and it is assumed to have enough highly-enriched uranium for up to 40 nuclear warheads.

In April 1998 Pakistan test fired a long-range missile capable of reaching Madras in southern India, pushing home the point by naming it after a 12th Century Muslim conqueror. This development diminished India's military advantage over Pakistan.

Since then Pakistan has been exposed as having supplied sensitive nuclear technology, notably centrifuge enrichment designs and equipment, to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Its non-proliferation credentials therefore stand in stark contrast to India's. Pakistan's security concerns derive from:

  • India's possession of a nuclear weapons capability,
  • its development of short and intermediate-range missiles and, since their partition in 1947,
  • its defeat by India in two of three wars, notably in East Bengal, now Bangladesh, in 1972.

Nuclear Arms Control in the Region

The public stance of Pakistan and India on non-proliferation differs markedly.

Pakistan has initiated a series of regional security proposals. It has repeatedly proposed a nuclear-free zone in South Asia and has proclaimed its willingness to engage in nuclear disarmament and to sign the NPT if India would do so. This would involve disarming and joining as non-weapon states. It has endorsed a US proposal for a regional five power conference to consider non-proliferation in South Asia

India has taken the view that solutions to regional security issues should be found at the international rather than the regional level, since its chief concern is with China. It therefore rejects Pakistan's proposals.

Instead, India's 'Gandhi Plan', put forward in 1988, proposed the revision of the NPT, which it regards as inherently discriminatory in favour of the five Nuclear-Weapons States, and a timetable for complete nuclear weapons disarmament. It endorsed early proposals for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and for an international convention to ban the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes, known as the 'cut-off' convention.

The USA has, for some years pursued a variety of initiatives to persuade India and Pakistan to abandon their nuclear weapons programs and to accept comprehensive international safeguards on all their nuclear activities. To this end the Clinton administration proposed a conference of nine states, comprising the five established nuclear-weapon states, along with Japan, Germany, India and Pakistan.

This and previous similar proposals have been rejected by India, which countered with demands that other potential weapons states, such as Iran and North Korea, should be invited, and that regional limitations would only be acceptable if they were accepted equally by China. The USA would not accept the participation of Iran and North Korea and such initiatives lapsed.

Another, more recent approach, centres on the concept of containment, designed to 'cap' the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, which would hopefully be followed by 'roll back'. To this end India and the USA jointly sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution in 1993 calling for negotiations for a 'cut-off' convention. Should India and Pakistan join such a convention, they would have to agree to halt the production of fissile materials for weapons and to accept international verification on their relevant nuclear facilities (enrichment and reprocessing). In short, their weapons programs would be thus 'capped'. It appeared that India was prepared to join negotiations regarding such a Cut-off Treaty under the UN Conference on Disarmament (UNCD).

However, despite the widespread international support for a FMCT, formal negotiations on cut-off have yet to begin. The UNCD can only approve decisions by consensus and since the summer of 1995, the insistence of a few states to link FMCT negotiations to other nuclear disarmament issues has brought progress on the cut-off treaty there to a standstill. In connection with its 2006 agreement with the USA, India has reiterated its support for a FMCT.

Bilateral confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan to reduce the prospects of confrontation have been limited. In 1990 each side ratified a treaty not to attack the other's nuclear installations, and at the end of 1991 they provided one another with a list showing the location of all their nuclear plants, even though the respective lists were regarded as not being wholly accurate. Early in 1994 India proposed a bilateral agreement for a 'no first use' of nuclear weapons and an extension of the 'no attack' treaty to cover civilian and industrial targets as well as nuclear installations.

Having promoted the CTBT since 1954, India dropped its support in 1995 and in 1996 attempted to block the Treaty. Following the 1998 tests the question has been reopened and both Pakistan and India have indicated their intention to sign the CTBT. Indian ratification may be conditional upon the five weapons states agreeing to specific reductions in nuclear arsenals.

See also: Nuclear Power in India.


Sources:

PPNN Newsbriefs 1995-98, Issue Review #5, 1995.
Australian Safeguards Office
IAEA 2003, Country Niuclear Power Profiles
Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission website, www.paec.gov.pk
Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) website, www.isis-online.org