In Pakistan, contributing to nuclear energy potential for a carbon-free world

In Pakistan, contributing to nuclear energy potential for a carbon-free world

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The international community endeavors to ensure energy security and a carbon-free world. Since COP28, the consensus has emerged that increasing nuclear power production is the only way to slow global warming down. Remarkably, the Europeans, who planned to close nuclear power plants after the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in 2011 are instead planning to extend the operations of retiring nuclear reactors and construct new nuclear power plants. This shift in decision-making enshrines the significance of nuclear energy.

The international community is alarmed by the increasing repercussions of global warming. Therefore, policymakers have been revisiting their energy mix policies. They aim to slow global warming by decreasing the usage of fossil fuels. Consequently, the demand for nuclear energy has increased, and the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency has multiplied.

On March 21, the IAEA and Belgium organized the first-ever Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels, including 32 countries and many nuclear organizations. The Summit was a remarkable initiative for engaging world leaders in exploring cooperation in nuclear energy, reducing the use of fossil fuels, and boosting economic development. Indeed, convening a nuclear summit was a practical move to realize the commitment made by the 25 governments at COP28 to triple their nuclear energy capacity by 2050. 

Pakistan’s energy mix policy reveals that it will maximize the civilian use of nuclear energy.

- Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

The participating countries and experts at the Summit contemplated cooperation on nuclear energy, aiming to reduce carbon emissions and transitioning away from coal. They backed measures in financing, technological innovation, regulatory collaboration, and workforce training to expand their nuclear capacities to tackle climate change and boost energy security. These measures required generous financial assistance from international financial institutions. The IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Gross ensured participants that countries interested in increasing nuclear energy capacity would receive financial support.

Although nuclear energy is a vital source of energy for achieving a climate-neutral globe, many developing states cannot add nuclear energy to their energy mixes due to the discriminatory policies of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and financial constraints. The Chinese President’s Special Envoy, Vice Premier Zhong Guoqing, correctly underscored that it was crucial to double down on safety and security and “to oppose the politicization of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” Hence, to increase nuclear energy use, it is imperative to prevent nuclear energy from becoming a hostage of geopolitical hypocrisy and ideological debate.

The de-politicization of nuclear energy requires immediately refurbishing the NSG’s nuclear technology and material transfer policies. The group members need to swap state-specific policies with a criteria-based approach. Ironically, the first Nuclear Energy Summit declaration is silent over this significant hurdle that obstructs the dissemination of the civilian use of nuclear energy. 

The 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan downgraded atomic energy use, and nations’ investment in this sector slowed down. However, increasing global warming necessitated the lessening and phasing out of fossil fuels. Notably, even the Japanese are presently prepared to increase the contribution of nuclear energy to their energy mix. Masahiro Komura, the Japanese Parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, recommended at the Summit to devise strategies to get more investment to enhance the use of nuclear energy. Besides, Europeans have been struggling to decrease their dependence on Russian gas by increasing the atomic energy input in their energy mix.

Pakistan’s energy mix policy reveals that it will maximize the civilian use of nuclear energy. Its nuclear energy policy intended to generate up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity by the 1950’s. Recently, it constructed and operated two nuclear power plants— Karachi Nuclear Plant-I and II— with a capacity of 2,200 megawatts. It is exploring the options of small modular reactors, which enable it to produce nuclear energy in remote or hard-to-reach areas. 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to enhancing nuclear energy’s share of the energy mix at the First Nuclear Energy Summit. He emphasized that international financial institutions and banks should support nuclear energy projects in developing countries to enable them to meet their energy needs and achieve zero emission goals. He also reiterated Islamabad’s readiness to share its experience and expertise in civilian nuclear technology with other countries, particularly developing states.

Pakistan has matured scientific mastery in managing the entire fuel cycle. However, the NSG’s discriminatory policy immensely impedes its efforts to increase nuclear energy production. In 2016, Pakistan’s pursuit of the NSG’s full membership was turned down by American-led members of the group due to geopolitical hypocrisy. 

Countries worldwide need to cooperate and invest in building safe, secure, reliable nuclear power plants for clean energy. International financial institutions and technologically advanced nations must also contribute to the research and development of a new generation of sophisticated nuclear reactors. Finally, the NSG should adopt a universal approach rather than a specific selective discriminatory policy to unlock nuclear energy potential for a carbon-free world. 

- Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal

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