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Pakistan: Court orders suspension of work on two Karachi reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green

On October 16, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was ordered by the Sindh High Court to suspend site preparation works for the construction of two Chinese-designed ACP1000 reactors at Karachi. The ruling followed a challenge to the project's compliance with environmental laws. The Court has given the PAEC, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and other parties until 11 November to file comments on the petition against SEPA's approval of the project.1

The petition was filed by human rights activist Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, physicists Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar, and architect Arif Belgaumi.2 According to Abdul Sattar Pirzada, counsel representing the petitioners, the Environmental Impact Assessment filed by the PAEC was in violation of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act. Key problems included the failure to hold any public hearings to take stakeholders' concerns into consideration, and the failure to publicly release relevant information about the project.2,3

In an apparent reference to China−Pakistan nuclear collaboration, the PAEC official in charge of the Karachi reactor project told the press that, "We requested SEPA not to hold a public hearing because of international politics."4

Pervez Hoodbhoy said the PAEC claimed it could not share environmental assessment reports on the project for "national security" reasons, and the Environmental Impact Assessment was approved by unnamed but handpicked persons.4,5

Dr Hoodbhoy wrote on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "Publics indoctrinated in the virtues of nuclear weapons let their nations' atomic energy establishments get away with almost anything. ... Nuclear establishments need not reveal their plans for disaster management, prove these plans' adequacy, develop environmental impact mitigation schemes, or educate the population about radiation hazards. These establishments, operating almost unchallenged, feel little need to make the case for nuclear power over alternative energy technologies. Bureaucracies, shrouded in layer after layer of secrecy and relying on official secrecy acts, can continue to hide from the public gaze their appalling inefficiency and incompetence."4

Citizens raising questions about nuclear safety are frequently labeled agents of foreign powers. Individuals not belonging to the PAEC, or the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Agency, are forbidden from attempting to monitor radiation levels near any nuclear facility.5

Pirzada said the reactors would be built by the China National Nuclear Corporation on a design has not been operational even in China: "The ACP-1000 reactor so far exists only on paper and in computer programmes and any real life experience, tests and trials ... on the ACP-1000 design will be from operating the reactors in Karachi."6

Other issues raised by various parties include:

  • The lacked of infrastructure or preparation for a mass evacuation of inhabitants of Karachi in the event of a nuclear accident.7
  • Seismic risks have been underestimated.5
  • Well-armed religious terrorists, often with insider help, have successfully attacked even tightly guarded military institutions. If security forces cannot protect their own bases, it is hard to see how they could successfully defend a nuclear power plant.5

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November 2013 for the construction of two 1100 MW ACP1000 reactors, to be supplied by China National Nuclear Corporation on a turnkey basis. The two reactors, worth US$4.8 billion (€3.8b) each, are to be funded in part by a US$6.5 billion (€5.1b) loan from China.8,9

Pakistan operates three small power reactors with a total capacity of 725 MW. Two small reactors (total capacity 600 MW) are under construction. In addition, a military plutonium production reactor is under construction at Khusab.10

Government and nuclear officials have floated plans to build as many as 32 new power reactors.9 Perhaps the strategy is to dangle the prospect of a massive reactor building program in front of international vendors and to let vendor countries do the hard work of overturning international prohibitions against nuclear trade with Pakistan − just as they did with India.


1. World Nuclear News, 17 Oct 2014.