For the past few decades we have managed to deal with the short supply of electricity by rationing, in our country the electric companies have implemented rationing in the form of load shedding with the purpose of avoiding forced power outages, which can occur at peak demand hours and cause an irreparable amount of damage to our national economy.
The greatest demand for electrical power is in Karachi, our largest city and also the economic hub of our country. A heat wave this summer 1,300 Karachites lost their lives and this grave loss could have been avoided if they had access to uninterrupted and least expensive electricity.
In just a few decades more than fifty-percent of our population is expected to be living in or near urban areas, with the population growing at an alarming rate there is an increasing demand for energy, which in turn leads to more load shedding, causing further harm to businesses and people. The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to invest in energy projects.
The PML-N government is very determined to address the current energy shortfall. They have announced dozens of energy projects from hydropower projects to wind and solar farms, in an effort to fill the looming energy void, as well as reduce our carbon footprint, improving the environment.
Just a few months ago we celebrated the opening of the largest solar farm in the country, which is the first project to have been completed under the $46 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The solar farm, officially dubbed the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park (QASP), houses nearly 400,000 solar panels, generating 100MW of electricity, by 2017 the power park is expected to become the largest solar farm in the world with an expected 5.2 million photovoltaic cells (PV) producing nearly 1,000MW of electricity, which is enough energy to power 320,000 households.
The most important, and largest of all the projects announced by the government under the CPEC is the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant project, which is the construction of two reactors that will generate a total of 2,200MW of electricity. This is a critical project because of the dire need for energy in Karachi; this project singlehandedly will significantly improve our national economy as well as the lives of millions of people living in the city.
Now there are merits and demerits of all power projects. But unfortunately, there is a lobby in our country solely focusing on the demerits of nuclear power; threatening our energy secure future by making baseless accusations.
This lobby is not affected by the scarcity of electricity because they can afford private backup – ‘West’ manufactured, I suppose – power generators in their homes and offices. They have never lived through the misery of load shedding, which plagues our daily life. This fact allows them to continue with their crusade against nuclear power because they are not affected by the consequences of their lies.
This group of people will have you believe that wind, solar, and hydro can address all of our energy needs. They will also have you believe that nuclear energy is not environmentally safe, is expensive to produce, and a danger to the public at large. All of these statements are false.
The fact is that all though wind, solar, and hydro are great sources of power they are not sufficient, can be costly, and are not as environmentally friendly as the antinuclear lobby will have you believe. Still, our upcoming energy needs are such that even these sources of energy are welcome. The other issue with these power sources is that these cannot take the base-load and are not available 24/7.
Wind and solar farms require large areas of land to produce a minimal amount of energy as compared to nuclear power plants. They also need expensive maintenance, which can be reflected in your swelling electricity bill at the end of the month. For example, solar panels need to be cleaned to be effective, cleaning a single panel once can require up to one liter of water. Now if you do the math, to generate 1000MW of electricity, 5.2 million panels need to be installed, and they also need to be cleaned at least twice a month. That is an enormous amount of water, which will be needed to maintain the QASP.
Most of the country already faces drought-like conditions, and if we were to exclusively invest in solar energy to meet a fraction of the energy required now, we would most probably die of thirst.
Similarly, hydropower can be very expensive, and is not entirely environmentally friendly, it requires valleys to be flooded, forcing those living in nearby areas to leave their homes, and farms. Dams have also been linked to earthquakes, and altering the natural level of the water table. And God forbid that a dam breaches, it can result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
Considering the facts presented, all though nuclear power has a high setup cost, it is the most affordable in the long run and also the most environmentally friendly source of energy.
Currently there are over sixty nuclear reactors under construction in fifteen different countries, including the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. France for example runs entirely on nuclear energy. These countries see the benefits of nuclear energy, and its potential for their future generations.
The United States is building exactly the same kind of nuclear reactor as the one being constructed in Karachi—so to say that the reactors being installed are unsafe or untested is not true. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international nuclear watchdog organization, approved the safety design aspects of the reactor being built in Karachi.
Obviously, right now we need a mixture of energy sources to resolve this crisis. The fact is we cannot be picky about how we generate electricity, as long as we are doing it. But at the same time we need to continue to expand our civil nuclear projects, for the sake of our economy and in the long run, our wallets.
The writer is an assistant professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad.