Twenty years on after Pakistan was compelled on 28 May 1998 to demonstrate its nuclear capability it continues to evoke a strong sense of nationalism and pride. This is natural since in 1971 the country was traumatised and divided through armed aggression. While a balance between development and security is always necessary, we know at first hand that without security there is no safe space for our territorial integrity and sovereignty let alone development. Nuclear technology carries with it certain responsibilities for safety and security, against diversion and misuse, and for utilising its peaceful uses. This responsibility grows exponentially when a country becomes a nuclear power as did Pakistan. This has been our overarching concern and objective as a responsible nuclear power.
A command and control system was developed second to none; and a legal framework, regulatory and institutional machinery, to ensure our national and international obligations are in place. Pakistan’s export control regime is consistent with the standards followed by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and Australia Group. A state of the art Centre of Excellence on Nuclear Security (PCENS) has been established, which has grown into a regional and international hub, with support of the IAEA. In March 2018 DG IAEA visited Pakistan’s nuclear facilities and appreciated the standards of safety and security being implemented by Pakistan.
We participated with the international community in the US led National Security Summit process, bilaterally with some countries, and through the IAEA to learn from best practices elsewhere. Last year the Foreign Office with the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs held a regional seminar on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540; a pivotal resolution against the proliferation of WMD, in the negotiation of which Pakistan had actively participated as a member of the Security Council. Just a few weeks ago our Strategic Exports Control Division held an International Seminar on developments and challenges in this field. I was happy to note that in the session I chaired five speakers were government officials from China, the USA, Russia, Japan and Germany, apart from our own DG SECDIV, from amongst the 36 foreign participants.
We tend however not to fully comprehend, credit, and project our wider achievements in the nuclear field. For any developing country, especially a new state, with limited resources and hardly any scientific or industrial base, acquiring theoretical and applied knowledge, through human resource development in all the manifold disciplines required to progress in the nuclear field, was an uphill task. It took political vision, focus, and economical use of limited resources; dedicated administrators, scientists, engineers, and skilled manpower. Mr. Bhutto first as Energy Minister then later as Prime Minister gave the impetus and foundation required, and to their credit all subsequent leaders of the country, whatever their affiliation, have maintained focus. The task was compounded when ironically, as a result of a nuclear explosion by a neighbour in 1974, we were subjected to the ensuing discriminatory constraints imposed on nuclear technology. It forced us to develop our indigenous scientific and material resources to keep our civil nuclear plant operational and indeed our entire programme going.
As a result of this challenge and response the PAEC’s peaceful uses programme for generating electricity, medical applications, and agriculture and biotech research, R&D, Human Resource Development, and Engineering have progressed. There are five operational nuclear power reactors and two under construction, all but the first Canadian reactor from our strategic partner China. The PAEC runs eighteen medical centres providing state of the art no cost or subsidised treatment to 800,000 cancer patients annually. The medical isotopes used in these facilities and Pakistani hospitals, which are in short supply globally, are produced by the PAEC in its research reactor a gift from America predating our power reactors. Four Nuclear Research Institutes specialise in productive agricultural research.
Three leading institutes: Pakistan Institute for Engineering & Applied Sciences (PIEAS), Karachi Institute of Power Engineering (KINPOE), and CHASNUP Centre of Nuclear Training (CHASCENT) provide training to technicians, engineers, and scientists all the way up to PhD level across the whole gamut of disciplines required.
Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA), the first independent nuclear regulatory authority in South Asia, is responsible for controlling, regulating, and supervising all matters related to nuclear safety and radiation protection in Pakistan. It’s National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) imparts training in the areas of nuclear safety, radiation safety, radiation protection, regulatory control, and nuclear security. PNRA is also developing a Centre of Excellence for providing services and training on nuclear security at national and international level for sharing knowledge and expertise.
Pakistan has a comprehensive programme to harness the full potential of nuclear energy for peaceful applications. This includes the technological skill and facilities across the nuclear infrastructure and fuel-cycle spectrum from mining uranium ore and fabricating fuel, to manufacturing nuclear equipment used in nuclear industry including significant parts of heavy and light water reactors, complete research reactors, and in many other essential and associated requirements.
While our nuclear deterrence capability has ensured strategic stability in our own region on which its peace and security rests, we have yet to project what we can do on the safeguarded civil nuclear side for our OIC and other friends in the region extending to Africa on one side and on the other to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and South East Asia with whom we are share ties of culture, history, trade, workflows, and common interests in assured energy and regional security.
Our assistance to date has been piecemeal and not coordinated enough to make an impact. The OIC wants cancer radiotherapy facilities for member States in Africa and has also tasked Pakistan to work with Turkey and Malaysia towards increasing medical isotope production – a humanitarian front to move forward on.
Most countries like Pakistan itself are energy deficient, and even those with hydrocarbon reserves are keen to hedge and develop civil nuclear power which is environmentally cleaner and has a low production cost. The UAE has just completed a Korean-built nuclear plant, Saudi Arabia wants to build sixteen, Turkey also started an ambitious programme. Suppliers tend to give black box solutions while recipients want the ability and expertise to make such programmes sustainable. At the other end uranium ore suppliers such as Niger and Uzbekistan would benefit from in-country processing to add value to the raw material they export.
Pakistan should partner with these states, throwing open its specialised education and training institutes, sharing its nuclear expertise in plant operations, safety, and security. Providing engineers and skilled technicians to countries building IAEA safeguarded nuclear power plants. Helping bring down the plant costs by supplying some of their heavy equipment under IAEA safeguards and our own NSG-standard export controls.
We have a stake in the energy security and nuclear safety of these countries in our region and those beyond for a safer, more prosperous, stable, and inclusive order. Such safeguarded outreach, as a nuclear supplier, would also have an impact on our candidature to join the NSG, in which the capability of many member states as nuclear technology suppliers is much less than ours.
The writer was Expert Member of the Oversight Board for Strategic Export Controls from its foundation in 2007 to 2014.