Possible nuclear power generation for Pakistan

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THE ENERGY crisis is wavering human development and is indeed a matter of life and death. Due to electricity short fall the daily life has come to a standstill. Even more worryingly the shortage is endangering the future economic and social prospects of the country, putting its very fabric under strain.


Pakistans Energy Scenario


Pakistans energy requirements are potentially high. The trends translate into rapidly escalating energy demand primary energy supply in Pakistan has been increasing at 5.4% per annum over the last five to six years for energy supply and use statistics. Over the same period, electricity consumption in the country has risen at an average annual rate of 6.8%, natural gas by 10.4%, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) by 17.6%, and coal by 22.8%.


International Energy Agency has forecasted that total electricity demand of the country will be 49,078 MW in 2025. Pakistan has an installed electricity generation capacity of 22,797MW. The average demand is 17,000MW and the shortfall is between 4,000 and 5,000MW. Oil 35.2%, hydel 29.9%, gas 29% and nuclear and imported 5.8% are the principal sources.


Pakistans Nuclear Energy Sources


Presently, in Pakistan three nuclear plants are operational. In Pakistan, the overall power generation from nuclear power plants is 792 MW.


The Energy Security Plan includes a target of 8,800 MW by the end of 2030. At 85 per cent capacity factor, the demand for natural uranium will be 1,600 tonnes per year in 2030. Exploration and mining of uranium in Pakistan will be intensified to meet projected requirements as far as possible. A matter of concern is that the current known international resources of uranium are believed to be sufficient to fuel the worldwide nuclear capacity requirements only up to 2050. However, the life of uranium resources can be extended through reprocessing of spent fuel which may happen by 2030, in the form of fourth generation fast breeder reactors. Pakistan has built up a critical base of manpower, technology and expertise in this sector over the last thirty years, with ability to design and build small reactors. It will be necessary to expand upon this by initiating research in fast breeder reactors.


Nuclear power plants are attractive in the context of the future world energy scenario. The new designs are safer, but worries about waste management or proliferation still persist. Pakistan has proposed a new regime whereby such plants are treated as any other power plant being set up by the private sector, which can build, operate and own these plants under full IAEA safeguards, while selling the electricity generated at mutually negotiated tariffs. The supplier would be fully responsible for fuel and waste management.


Alternative Energy Options


For several years, climate change has been attributed to human activity and the resulting emission of greenhouse gases. Consequently, there has been growing focus on alternative forms of energy. The contribution of alternative energy in the overall energy mix in Pakistan is negligible at presently, the first wind farm with the capacity of 50MW is operational. These projects will be eligible for carbon credits to reduce the tariff. The Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) has been established to facilitate development of renewable energy projects. At least 5 per cent of the total electricity generating capacity of the country (i.e. 9,700 MW) is targeted to be based on these sources by the year 2030. AEDB would also develop and implement off-grid electrification programs for rural areas. In addition, under the remote village electrification programs, the first 400 villages (54,000 homes) will be electrified through wind and solar sources by 2017.


Worlds nuclear energy development and global warming concerns


The need for electricity has constantly risen worldwide over the last few years. This is not only true for the so called developing countries but also particular for all developed countries. In order to fulfill the energy demand, obviously additional power plants have to be built. The major issue is the global warming or climate changes are more fundamental problem of unsustainable development. It concludes that human livelihoods, from small communities to major urban complexes to regional economies, are fundamentally impacted by climate change and a cycle of unsustainable development. It went on to conclude that the impacts of climate change are initially being felt among the poor in both developed and developing nations, in many cases already with significant negative impacts. Over 80% of primary energy comes from fossil fuels, which produce the heat trapping GHGs carbon dioxide as the products of combustion and methane as an inadvertent product of drilling, mining and transporting those fuels. When measured by their comparative global warming potentials, these gases account for the majority of global warming since the start of the industrial revolution. Now the question arise that which technology is best for generating electricity? This question certainly has to be answered on a case to case basis. But it is very concerning that nuclear power plants more and more seem to be chosen as “the” technology of the future.


After the reactor accident in Chernobyl 1986 and Fukushimas in 2011, almost nobody could imagine agreeing to build further nuclear power plants, because the risks involved definitely seemed to be too high. On one hand that accident is years ago and most peoples memory is quite bad and on the other hand the global warming problem mainly due to the excessive emission of CO2, has revived nuclear energy. All the sudden the former risky nuclear power seems to be the best answer to solve the CO2 emission problem.


Nuclear power generation is increasing by 2% which leads to a doubling of the energy consumption after every 35 years. This means the worldwide energy consumption is predicted to be twice as high in the year 2040 compared to 2012. According to the American Energy Information Administration (EIA) and to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the worldwide energy consumption will continue to increase by 2% per year. By far the highest increase in worldwide energy consumption is predicted to be from all three fossil fuels oil, coal and natural gas. The renewable energies are predicted to grow as well, but much less than fossil energy. Nuclear energy is predicted to grow relatively with moderate pace. According to recent survey carried by IEA, there are currently 435 nuclear power plants in operation and 28 under construction.


Sustainable and secure energy


Economic and development goals may be pursued in conjunction with climate protection goals and related targets for GHG emission reductions, particularly by means of investment in low carbon energy related infrastructures. It is also obvious that no combination of alternative technologies can replace the current usage of fossil fuels. There is simply not enough non-fossil fuel available for this. In order to mitigate global warming, we have to use the available energy much more efficiently. But this wont be enough either. We will have to change our behavior to reduce our personal energy consumption. We must change our current live style and seriously strive for a sustainable living.


Nuclear energy doctrine


Nuclear Energy cannot be created nor be destroyed but it can be converted from one form to another. Nearly all the mass of the atom is concentrated in a tiny nucleus in the center. The nucleus is composed principally of two sorts of particles, the proton which carries the positive charge and the neutron which is electrically neutral and has a mass slightly bigger than that of proton. Nuclear energy is the energy released from the nucleus of an atom. When nuclear reaction occurs weather fission or fusion, it produces large amount of energy. When the heaviest element, uranium was bombarded with neutrons, it revealed that instead of inducing radioactivity as did other elements, something different happened. This process was named fission. When fission occurred, not only were two lighter elements and a lot of radiation produced, but also more neutrons. It was clear that these neutrons could in turn also cause fission, producing more neutrons and developing a chain reaction which might spread throughout all the uranium present.


In the fission of uranium 235 nucleus, the amount of energy released is about 60,000,000 times as much as when a carbon atom burns. Most of the energy from fission appears as kinetic energy as the fission products shoot apart and quickly share their energy with their surroundings, thus producing heat. The first reactors to produce a usable amount of power were built at Calder hall in England. With pure fissionable material, atomic bombs can also be made. Of the two bombs dropped on Japan to end the World War 2, one contained plutonium and the other very highly enriched uranium 235.


Nuclear energy merits


1.Powerful and Efficient:


The advantage of using nuclear energy is that, it is very powerful and efficient than other alternative energy sources. Advancement in technologies has made it more viable option than others. This is one the reason that many countries are putting huge investments in nuclear power. At present, a small portion of worlds electricity comes through it.


2.Reliable:


Unlike traditional sources of energy like solar and wind which require sun or wind to produce electricity, nuclear energy can be produced from nuclear power plants even in the cases of rough weather conditions. They can produce power 24/7 and need to be shut down for maintenance purposes only.


3.Cheap Electricity:


The cost of uranium which is used as a fuel to generate electricity is relatively low. Also, set up costs of nuclear power plants is relatively high while running cost is low. The average life of nuclear reactor is more than 60 years depending upon its usage. This factor when combined together then cost of production is very low. Even if the cost of uranium rises, the increase in cost of electricity will be much lower.


4.Low Fuel Cost:


The main reason behind the low fuel cost is that it requires little amount of uranium to produce energy. When nuclear reaction occurs, it releases million times more energy as compared to traditional sources of energy.


5.Supply:


There are certain economic advantages in setting up nuclear power plants and using nuclear energy in place of conventional energy. The best part is the energy has a continuous supply. It is widely available, has huge reserves and expected to last for another 100 years while coal, oil and natural gas are limited and are expected to vanish soon.


6.Easy Transportation:


Production of nuclear energy needs very less amount of raw material. This means that only about 28 gram of uranium releases as much energy as produced from 100 metric tons of coal. Since its required in small quantities, transportation of fuel is much easier than fossil fuels. Optimal utilization of natural resources in production of energy is a very thoughtful approach for any nation. It not only enhances the socio-economic condition but also sets example for the other countries. No doubt, nuclear energy has made its way towards the future but like other sources of energy, it also suffers from some serious drawbacks.


Nuclear Energy Vs Alternative Energies


The renewable energy is one of the most contested areas of public policy debate. Billions of dollars are nurture the infant solar and wind power industries with the hope that they will one day reduce fossil fuels usage and drastically trim down the amount of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere. The idea seems to be working. Photovoltaic panels have halved in price since 2008 and the capital cost of a solar power plant, which panels account for slightly under half cut down by 22% in 2011-13. The cost of a solar panel can easily be calculated but very difficult to assess the cost of electricity. To take account of all this, economists use “levelized costs” the net present value of all costs (capital and operating) of a generating unit over its life cycle, divided by the number of megawatt-hours of electricity it is expected to supply.


A Levelized Playing Field- Case Study


The costs analysis comprises of building and running power plants and those associated with particular technologies, such as balancing the electricity system when wind or solar plants go offline or disposing of spent nuclear fuel rods. The benefits of renewable energy include the value of the fuel that would have been used if coal or gas fired plants had produced the same amount of electricity and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that they avoid. It makes wind and solar power look far more expensive than they appear on the basis of levelized costs. MIT Think tank analysiss took four sorts of zero-carbon energy i.e solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear plus a low-carbon sort an especially efficient type of gas-burning plant and compared them with various sorts of conventional power. Obviously, low and no carbon power plants do not avoid emissions when they are not working, though they do incur some costs. So nuclear power plants, which run at about 90% of capacity, avoid almost four times as much CO2 per unit of capacity as do wind turbines, which run at about 25%; they avoid six times as much as solar arrays do. If assume, carbon price of $50 a tonne way over most actual prices nuclear energy avoids over $400,000 of worth of carbon emissions per megawatt (MW) of capacity, compared with only $69,500 for solar and $107,000 for wind. To determine the overall cost or benefit, though, the cost of the fossil-fuel plants that have to be kept hanging around for the times when solar and wind plants stand idle must also be factored in, these are termed as “avoided capacity costs”. Thus a 1MW wind farm running at about 25% of capacity can replace only about 0.23MW of a coal plant running at 90% of capacity. Solar farms run at only about 15% of capacity, so they can replace even less. Seven solar plants or four wind farms would thus be needed to produce the same amount of electricity over time as a similar sized coal fired plant. And all that extra solar and wind capacity is expensive.


The author is Project Coordinator at Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). He can be reached at am21692@gmail.com


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