A.H. Nayyar | Zia Mian
The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has finally cleared construction in Karachi of two large Chinese-supplied nuclear reactors. Approval of the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR) submitted by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was the final step required for building the K-2 and K-3 reactors. But this safety report, which is supposed to critically assess the safety of the reactor site, the reactor design, the management of the nuclear fuel, and possible accidents due to technical failure and human error and their consequences, is flawed in important ways.
This is not the first flawed official report on the new Karachi reactors’ safety and risk aspects. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the reactors was approved by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency but was successfully challenged in the courts and had to be redone. Given the risks and possible catastrophic consequences, the PSAR should also be revised to address its flaws.
The first glaring error in the Karachi reactors safety report is its estimate of the number of people in Karachi, all of whom could be at risk in case of a severe nuclear accident. The city’s population is known to be in excess of 20 million already, yet the PSAR estimates Karachi will grow to only 14.5m people five years from now.
This is a serious mistake and one whose repercussions can get worse with time. The reactors are supposed to operate for 60 years and it is important to estimate accurately how many people will be at risk throughout these decades up to 2080. It is impossible to calculate accident consequences and make realistic plans for disaster management if you do not know how many people you have to deal with.
The report on nuclear reactors in Karachi ignores the risks posed by highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.