With the inauguration of CHASNUP III, the third unit of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant in Mianwali district, the total nuclear technology based power generation has reached the mark of 1040 megawatt, still much below 8000 Megawatt, the target set by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
Pakistan has now four nuclear power generation facilities, promising some bailout to the South Asian country from the energy crisis being faced over the last one decade.
The construction of the Chinese-designed CNP-300 by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) began in March 2011.
The country has been producing energy for more than four decades with the first nuclear power plant KANUPP in Karachi established with the help of Canada in 1972. The other three nuclear power plants CHASNUPP I, CHASNUPP II and CHASNUPP III, are operating in Chashma, along River Indus in Punjab.
Chashma-3 was one of two CNP – 300 units being built at the site. Unit 4, which saw construction begin nine months after unit 3, is currently going on with commissioning and is expected to enter commercial operations in April 2017. Another two nuclear power plants K-2 and K-3 are going to be completed by the year 2021 to add another 2200 megawatt to the national grid.
But power generation in Pakistan has dwindled over the decades due to a variety of factors including corruption, governmental negligence, political opposition to various projects, line losses and fast-expanding requirements – creating a huge gap in demand and production.
The total generation capacity of IPPs (Independent Power Producers) is 7070 MW while total electricity generated from nuclear plants is over 1000 megawatts. The total power generation capacity of Pakistan is 21,143 MW but the actual average generation ranges between 11,000 to 15,000 Megawatt level. During the month of Ramadhan, there have been instances of generating up to 17,000 megawatts. The demand crosses staggering mark of 19000 during summers. This results in sometimes load shedding or outages of 8 to 10 hours a day.
Although, Pakistan inherited a very weak power generation system at the time of independence in 1947 – just 60MW of power generation capability for a population of 31.5 million, which yielded 4.5 units per capita consumption – it has also wasted many opportunities.
When Water and Power Development Authority was created in 1959, the country’s generation capacity had increased to 119 MW. The task of accelerating the pace of power development picked up speed and by 1970, in another five years the generating capability rose from 636 MW to 1331 MW with installation of a number of thermal and hydel power units. The construction of Mangla Dam and later Tarbela Dam helped Pakistanis have access to more cheap hydel power.
In the year 1980 the system capacity touched 3000 MW which rapidly rose to over 7000 MW in 1990-91.
During the 1990s, private sector was engaged in the power generation by allowing them set up Independent Power Plants (IPPs). Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Project with a generation capacity of 1480 megawatts helped decrease the energy woes of the country.
As for expansion in hydel power generation, Pakistan’s domestic politics along provincial lines have for long blunted the possibility of materializing Kalabagh Dam, which neutral experts, say will benefit the entire country. A new large project on Diamer Bhasha Dam has also not seen much progress.
Meanwhile, the demand for electricity has been soaring at a rate of 10 percent per annum, frustrating any efforts to address the energy crisis. The power load management was introduced during military dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s regime but the power crisis got worst during the PPP government that succeeded Musharraf’s rule. Pakistan Muslim League of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif won the 2013 elections with the promise to end power outages and blackouts. But it is still struggling to fulfill its promise.
According to energy experts, there is a need for quantum jump in power generation with the construction of hydel power projects – that will provide much cheaper electricity to run the industry and lit houses in a country of 200 million people, and growing.
Pakistan needs to have more and more electricity from low cost fossil fuels like natural gas and coal instead of relying on furnace oil and diesel that have been responsible for the so-called circular debt in the power sector in the recent years and becomes a drain on national economy.
In recent years Pakistan has seen some new projects and is now building the largest solar Park, and with Chinese help also pursuing a number of smaller energy generation projects under China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must work against time to fulfill his political promise or else the rhetoric would cost him dearly, come 2018 election.
For Pakistan energy shortage is both a political and economic issue at the same time. The CPEC energy initiatives and alternate sources of energy combined could be the best answer to Pakistan’s energy problems in the absence of large hydel projects.
Story first published: 31st December 2016