The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established in 1956 as part of the Atomic Energy Council to oversee research and application of nuclear energy in Pakistan. The development of a nuclear power plant began in 1972, led by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, the quest for nuclear weaponry encompasses only a part of PAEC’s work. Since its beginning, the organization has been responsible for research in nuclear science for the development of education, energy, industry, agriculture, and medicine. The PAEC is supervised by Chairman Dr. Raja Ali Raza Anwar and a team of expert scientists who are overseen by the prime minister of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission was also responsible for testing nuclear weapons, such as choosing the location in Ras Koh mountains used to conduct the infamous nuclear tests in 1998. However, PAEC has focused on using nuclear technology for more peaceful operations since 2000. Instead, the responsibilities for the safe operation of nuclear power, radiation protection, and waste management are undertaken by the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority. This ordinance was established to create a division of power within the organization.
Although considerable work is undertaken by the PAEC for the safe and civil use of nuclear science, time and investment are still required to make a considerable difference. However, it has a complete and comprehensive plan to achieve its goals. Employees of the PAEC are provided for by the organization through their foundation, which includes housing, health, and education benefits for them and their families. Information regarding the organization is available on their user-friendly website with short explanations of their methods and research. The PAEC publishes its works in a magazine called “Pak Atom” yearly as well.
Nuclear Units in Pakistan
Nuclear energy is commonly known as the future of clean and renewable energy. It provides a sustainable solution to the energy crisis of the country. Additionally, it is a cleaner method of energy production which is also more consistent and reliable than other methods. Nuclear power plants require less space, infrastructure, and manpower to operate in contrast to hydroelectric infrastructure such as dams and barrages. However, there is still a great risk attached to their operation and more research is required to fully understand this source of energy. Thus, the PAEC has dedicated facilities for education and research as well.
Pakistan’s first nuclear power reactor is known as the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). It was established in 1971 in collaboration with the Canadian General Electric Company and decommissioned in 2021 after fifty years of successful operation. Decommissioning of any kind of energy plant is necessary after a certain amount of time because of obsolescence. Consequently, the infrastructure used for the power plant can be recycled, and the space can be utilized otherwise. Nuclear power plants usually have a lifespan of 40-60 years.
Following Pakistan’s abstinence from signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2000, there was a lack of organizations willing to collaborate on Pakistan’s nuclear projects. China has helped Pakistan with such projects since 1986. Consequently, in 1991, the second project undertaken by PAEC was started, known as the Chashma Nuclear Power Generating Station (CNPGS). A power plant named Chasma Nuclear Power Plant-1 (C1) was created, followed by C-2, C-3, and C-4. These machines operate using Chinese pressurized water reactor technology.
China’s support for Pakistan’s nuclear energy needs is of great significance, especially when Pakistan is competing with India in nuclear science development. The latest effort towards creating more nuclear power plants was through the K-2 and K-3 projects in 2021, which were also in collaboration with China. They used an elevated version of the pressurized water technology that allowed for better safeguarding methods. Safety systems in these plants are passive, thus minimizing risks for workers who have to turn them on or off in case of an emergency. K-3 began successful operation in 2022.
PAEC’s Industrial Initiatives
To achieve its goal of ensuring the civil use of nuclear technology, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission has dedicated industries to provide the country’s nuclear facilities with the required infrastructure. The Heavy Mechanical Complex creates components for nuclear plants as well as works commercially for companies. The Pakistan Welding Institute works in collaboration with the PAEC but also works as one of Pakistan’s best commercial factories. Lastly, the National Centre for Non-Destructive Testing is essential for safety testing and training of personnel according to international standards.
Research and Development
The Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH), the main institute of the PAEC for research and development, was the first organization developed for nuclear research in the country. The expert personnel in this institute are working on two research reactors that are used for observation and practice in nuclear engineering, renovation, analysis, and training. This increases the expertise of the personnel to use nuclear power safely and efficiently.
Agriculture and Biotechnology
As the demand for food and export crops increases in Pakistan, there is a need to make agriculture more efficient in the country. For instance, nuclear research has led to the development of 125 new varieties of crops that have been bred through mutation technology and efficient breeding methods to have greater quality, quantity, and tolerance to climate conditions. Water logging and salinity in fertile areas are two of the major reasons for the increasing dearth of crops that are needed to sustain Pakistan’s economy.
Methods developed by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission are focused on growing crops on affected land, improving irrigation methods, and minimizing water loss. Additionally, research is being conducted on creating fertilizer with cheaper and healthier ingredients. For further protection of harvests, PAEC research institutes introduced beneficial predatory insects to control the pests of various crops. Food irradiation, a method that uses radiation to kill harmful microorganisms in food, also provides a means to increase shelf life and minimize the wastage of crops.
PAEC works together with farmers by conducting “Farmer’s Days” by visiting fields and conducting awareness programs concerning their research into improved agricultural practices. Moreover, the organization actively dedicates a part of its time and staff to conducting workshops and training for personnel that include up to 40 agricultural courses. There are also internships available for those interested in agricultural sciences and biotechnology. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission helps increase agricultural exports, which hold about 70 percent of Pakistan’s total exports, through DNA-testing methods and irradiation to increase their shelf-life and reduce chemical residue.
In recent years, the PAEC has made significant achievements in medicine, particularly in the treatment of cancer. 19 cancer hospitals using atomic energy have been set up all over the country that operate according to international standards and cheaply or without cost. Part of the duties of the organization also include promoting cancer awareness and prevention on a national level. Diagnostic imaging technology helps view the inside of a patient’s body more easily and comprehensively. Diseases such as thyrotoxicosis, thyroid cancer, and palliation for bone pains can be treated through nuclear medicine.
The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) also supports other cancer hospitals in the country, specifically in conducting radiotherapy—a method for cancer treatment that uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. In addition to providing equipment and assistance, the PAEC offers services of education and training for doctors from all over the country.
International Atomic Energy Agency’s 67th Session
The International Atomic Energy Agency is an international corporation where representatives of member countries meet annually to discuss peaceful uses of nuclear science, nuclear energy regulation, and discuss budget allocations for future projects in chosen countries. Consequently, the IAEA collaborates with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission regularly to administer their workings and provide investment. Director General Rafael Mariano visited Pakistan earlier in February to observe the various facilities of nuclear agriculture and medicine. Naturally, PAEC’s chairman, Dr. Raja Ali Raza Anwar, represented his organization and the country in the 67th session of IAEA held in September in Austria.
Discussions at the conference were relegated to PAEC’s accomplishments in agriculture, energy, industry, and medicine. Pakistan was praised for its successful operation of 19 cancer hospitals all over the country. It was discussed that these hospitals could provide cancer treatment through the South Asian region with their efficient facilities. Pakistan is one of the countries that is at the most risk from climate change, so there were also discussions regarding more efforts to be put towards clean energy generation by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Furthermore, the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), which is one of the research institutes of the PAEC, was chosen as an IAEA collaborating center.
To conclude, it is important to note that information regarding Pakistan’s nuclear developments is not open to public speculation. There is little that is known about the operation and regulation of the facilities; thus, it is difficult to ascertain whether we are closer to utilizing this technology to the fullest extent. For example, there are still major concerns regarding the safety of power plants, particularly the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant. Despite assurances by the organization, the plant is built in a precarious position susceptible to earthquakes. On the other hand, it is also clear why the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and the government would keep the operation of the organization ambiguous and positive for the sake of national security.
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