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Compiled by: Ms. Sherbano

Summary:

Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) organized a talk on “Role of Nuclear Technology in National Security and Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan” in commemoration of Youm-i-Takbir on 24th May, 2023. The speakers included Dr. Naeem Salik (Executive Director, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad) and Dr. Ansar Parvez (Advisor Nuclear Power, NCA). The talk highlighted the instrumental role of Pakistan’s nuclear program in ensuring national security by providing a deterrent against threats from India. Speakers shed light on Pakistan’s responsible and restrained behavior as a nuclear weapon state. Furthermore, the talk showcased the various applications of nuclear technology beyond defense, such as in healthcare, agriculture, food preservation, water studies, industry, and security. By discussing these applications, the talk aims to demonstrate how nuclear technology has contributed to the socio-economic development of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s decision to pursue a nuclear weapon option was driven by the need to bridge the conventional capability gap and safeguard against potential nuclear blackmail by India. The muted response from the international community to India’s so-called PNE of 1974 further compelled Pakistan to pursue its own nuclear weapons program. However, for Pakistan, acquiring nuclear weapons was not a matter of prestige but of national security, as the tests conducted in May 1998 aimed to restore the strategic balance with India. Despite facing structural issues and having a limited economic and industrial base, Pakistan was able to acquire nuclear capability due to strong national resolve and consensus across all divide. Over the years, Pakistan has proven to be a responsible nuclear weapon state, prioritizing restraint and responsibility.

Nuclear technology is playing a huge role in the socio-economic development of Pakistan. Nuclear radiation finds applications in various fields, including health, agriculture, food preservation, underground water studies, industry, and security. PAEC has been collaborating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop facilities to increase the nutritional value of staple foods, which would contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in eliminating malnutrition and hunger. Furthermore, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has established 19 cancer diagnostic and treatment centers, providing free treatment to nearly 0.7 million cancer patients. Approximately 80% of cancer patients across the country receive free treatment. Pakistan became the 15th country in the world to develop a nuclear power plant, with six nuclear power plants currently operating in the country. These plants contribute approximately 10-12% of the installed power-generating capacity.

Role of Nuclear Technology in National Security and Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan

Dr. Naeem Salik deliberated upon the “Role of Nuclear Technology in Pakistan’s National Security Strategy.” He began by emphasizing that in the history of every nation, certain days become landmarks. One landmark that fills us with great pride and a sense of accomplishment is Youm-i-Takbir. On this day in 1998, Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons.

 Pakistan’s nuclear program, initiated in the 1950s, was primarily focused on peaceful purposes, with the peaceful aspects of the program far outweighing the nuclear weapons program that began in the 1970s.

Regarding nuclear weapon technology and Pakistan’s national security, it is important to recognize that Pakistan faced significant security challenges after gaining independence in 1947. Dr, Salik said Pakistan was confronted by a hostile neighboring country with much larger size, resources, and military capability. Despite these overwhelming odds, Pakistan persevered and managed to defend itself. However, 1971 was a traumatic experience for Pakistan when India took advantage of the internal political turmoil in the country’s eastern wing and intervened militarily, resulting in the separation of the eastern wing. This incident prompted Pakistani leadership to contemplate the country’s future security and survival seriously.

The leadership recognized that the gap in conventional military capabilities between India and Pakistan had widened, and Pakistan lacked the resources to bridge this gap and keep up with India’s growing conventional capability. Moreover, India had an active nuclear weapons program at that time. Given the well-established principle that nuclear weapons can only be deterred by nuclear weapons, Pakistan had no choice but to deny India the possibility of nuclear blackmail and, at the same time, address the conventional capability gap. Therefore, in early 1972, Pakistan decided during a conference convened by President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, which included scientists from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and various other institutions, to develop a nuclear weapons option.

Dr. Salik emphasized the need to distinguish between ‘nuclear weapons option’ and ‘nuclear weapons capability.’ The initial goal was to develop a nuclear weapons option by acquiring the necessary technological know-how, which could later be transformed into an actual weapons capability. However, during this time, India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 dubbed as Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE). The relatively muted response from the international community to the Indian nuclear test created a dilemma for Pakistan that was clearly expressed in the letter written by Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Indira Gandhi, where he argued that there was not much technological difference between peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) and weapon tests, as the same technology could be used for both purposes. Pakistan rejected India’s declaration and commitment that their tests were solely for peaceful purposes.

In response to India’s tests in 1974, Pakistan initially proposed a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in South Asia. This resolution was presented to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the end of 1974 and was approved by an overwhelming majority of member states. However, India refused to accept it. Pakistan continued to renew its demand for declaring South Asia a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone from 1974 until 1997. India, on the other hand, had different aspirations, believing that nuclear weapon capability would elevate its status on the world stage. This argument was advocated by Indian strategic thinkers like K. Subrahmanyam, who considered nuclear weapon capability as the currency of power in the world, asserting that India could not proclaim its position as a major global country without it.

However, for Pakistan, the pursuit of nuclear weapons was not a matter of prestige; rather, it was a matter of national survival, driven by security concerns arising from India’s nuclearization. Despite widespread skepticism and numerous obstacles, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability is its greatest achievement. In the face of a hostile environment and numerous challenges, Pakistan persisted in its efforts and successfully achieved its objective. Dr. Salik said that it is a source of immense pride that Pakistan, despite its structural issues and limited economic and industrial base, was able to acquire nuclear capability. This accomplishment was only made possible by the unwavering “national resolve” and a consensus that transcended all divisions. The collective efforts of dedicated scientists, engineers, technicians, and many unsung heroes who worked tirelessly day and night for years also played a pivotal role in successfully completing Pakistan’s nuclear program. This achievement serves as a crucial lesson that when a nations exhibit determination and unify its effort towards a specific goal, no objective is unattainable.

Over the years, Pakistan has demonstrated itself to be a responsible nuclear weapon state, with “restraint” and “responsibility” as cornerstones of its nuclear policy. India openly declared itself a Nuclear Weapon State in 1998 leaving Pakistan with no choice but to demonstrate its nuclear capability. Another significant aspect is the economic dividend acquired from nuclear capability. Dr. Salik said that if we examine the annual economic surveys from the late ’90s till now, it is evident that defense expenditure, which stood at around 6% of the GDP in the late 1990s, has now reduced to approximately 3.6%. These estimates depict that nuclear capability reduced defence expenditure without undermining the defense and security of Pakistan.

In his concluding remarks ED, SVI stated that as we celebrate the silver jubilee of our status as a nuclear weapon state, it is essential that we demonstrate maturity in our behavior and conduct ourselves as a self-confident and self-assured nation. Furthermore, it is crucial to focus on areas where nuclear technology can play a vital role, particularly in peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

Dr. Salik invited Dr. Ansar Parvez to deliberate on the “Role of Nuclear Technology in Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan.” Dr. Parvez began by introducing nuclear technology and its components, including nuclear radiation, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion. He said that nuclear radiations were described as emissions of particles or electromagnetic waves from an atom’s nucleus. The three main types of nuclear radiation were identified as alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays, which are released during radioactive decay or nuclear reactions. Each type possesses distinct properties and levels of penetration. Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons, beta particles are high-energy electrons or positrons, and gamma rays are electromagnetic waves with high energy and penetration capability.

The speaker said that the next two important components in nuclear technology are nuclear fission and nuclear fusion processes. The process of nuclear fission is wherein the nucleus of an atom is split into two or more smaller nuclei. This process releases significant energy and is typically initiated by bombarding the nucleus with a neutron. When heavy nuclei like uranium-235 or plutonium-239 undergo fission, they break apart into lighter nuclei, producing additional neutrons and a substantial release of energy. This energy is harnessed in nuclear power plants to generate electricity. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, involves the combination of two light atomic nuclei to form a heavier nucleus, releasing a tremendous amount of energy. Fusion reactions commonly utilize hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium, producing helium and a substantial energy release. Fusion reactions require extremely high temperatures and pressures to overcome the electrostatic repulsion between positively charged nuclei. While both nuclear fission and fusion involve the conversion of mass into energy, they differ in scale and conditions. Nuclear fission is currently employed in nuclear power plants to generate electricity. In contrast, nuclear fusion is still being researched as a potential future energy source due to its promise of abundant fuel, reduced waste, and absence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, Dr. Ansar Parvez elaborated on the use of the fission reaction to create a nuclear device. To initiate a nuclear explosion, a critical mass of fissile material, such as U-235 or Pu-239, must be assembled. The critical mass represents the minimum amount of fissile material required to sustain a self-sustaining chain reaction. The chain reaction is initiated by introducing a neutron source or using conventional explosives to achieve a supercritical state. Once the chain reaction begins, each fission event releases a large amount of energy and additional neutrons, leading to an exponential increase in energy release. The explosive yield of a nuclear device depends on various factors, such as the amount and purity of the fissile material and the design and efficiency of the fission process.

Pakistan has been utilizing nuclear technology for energy generation to meet its growing electricity demands. Nuclear power plants in Pakistan play a significant role in the country’s energy mix. By harnessing nuclear fission, these plants generate electricity by splitting the nucleus of a heavy atom, such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239, thereby releasing a substantial amount of energy. Pakistan was the 15th country in the world to develop a nuclear power plant, and currently, six nuclear power plants are operational in the country, with a combined nuclear power generation capacity of 10-12% of the total installed power generating capacity. Four of these plants are located at the Chashma site (C-1, C-2, C-3, and C-4), and two are situated at the Karachi site (K-2 and K-3).

Apart from energy generation, nuclear technology finds application in various domains, including food and agriculture. In agriculture, nuclear technology is utilized for radiation breeding and isotopic techniques to develop new crop varieties, increase crop productivity, and improve food quality. It also aids in pest control, soil and water management, and optimizing fertilizer use. These advancements contribute significantly to enhancing agricultural productivity, ensuring food security, and improving the livelihoods of farmers.

Moreover, nuclear technology plays a vital role in healthcare. It is employed for diagnostic, treatment, and research purposes. Nuclear medicine techniques like radiography, radiotherapy, and radioisotope imaging assist in diagnosing and treating various diseases, including cancer. Radioisotopes are also used for sterilizing medical equipment and producing radiopharmaceuticals. In Pakistan, there are 19 cancer diagnostic and treatment centers established by PAEC, where nearly 0.7 million cancer patients have received treatment to date, with 80% of them receiving free treatment.

Furthermore, nuclear technology is instrumental in studying and managing underground water resources. Isotope hydrology techniques enable the assessment of water quality, monitoring of water availability, and understanding of water movement patterns. This knowledge supports effective water resource management, ensuring sustainable access to clean water for agriculture, industry, and human consumption. Nuclear technology also plays a crucial role in material science and industry. It is utilized for material characterization, quality control, and non-destructive testing of materials. Techniques such as radiography and gamma irradiation are employed in industrial processes such as weld inspection, flaw detection, and food preservation and other products.

Pakistan is actively engaged in implementing strategies and policies aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across various sectors. The government, civil society organizations, and international partners collaborate to monitor progress, identify challenges, and accelerate efforts to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Nuclear technology significantly supports Pakistan’s endeavors to accomplish the SDGs in several key areas:

  1. Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7): Nuclear power, a major component of Pakistan’s energy mix, provides a reliable and clean source of electricity. Nuclear power plants, including the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) and Chashma Nuclear Power Plants (C-1, C-2, C-3, and C-4), contribute significantly to the national grid. By utilizing nuclear technology for power generation, Pakistan reduces its reliance on fossil fuels, decreases greenhouse gas emissions, and promotes sustainable energy production.
  2. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure (SDG 9): Nuclear technology supports infrastructure development and innovation across various sectors. It is employed in construction projects to assess structure integrity, conduct non-destructive testing, and ensure the safety of critical infrastructure. Nuclear techniques like neutron activation analysis and isotope tracing are applied in agriculture, health, and material sciences to enhance productivity, improve product quality, and foster innovation.
  3. Quality Education (SDG 4): Nuclear technology contributes to improving the quality of education in Pakistan. It is utilized for research and training purposes in universities and educational institutions. Nuclear research facilities provide opportunities for students and researchers to gain practical knowledge in nuclear physics, nuclear engineering, and radiation sciences. These educational initiatives contribute to building a skilled workforce and promoting scientific advancements in the country.
  4. Health and Well-being (SDG 3): Nuclear technology plays an extensive role in the healthcare sector for disease diagnosis and treatment. Nuclear medicine techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET) and gamma imaging, enable accurate diagnosis and staging of various medical conditions. Additionally, nuclear techniques are employed for radiation therapy in cancer treatment. The availability of nuclear technology in healthcare supports improving healthcare services, enhances patient care, and contributes to achieving better health outcomes.

In his concluding remarks, he stated that by utilizing nuclear technology in these areas, Pakistan can enhance its efforts to achieve the SDGs, promote sustainable development, and improve the well-being of its population. It is essential to ensure the safe and responsible use of nuclear technology while adhering to international standards and guidelines to maximize its benefits for sustainable development.

Discussion:

During Q & A session, Mr. Imran Safdar inquired about the limited utilization of nuclear technology in Pakistan, apart from its prominent use in the medical field. He questioned whether this was due to financial constraints or inadequate expertise. In response, Dr. Naeem Salik clarified that the use of nuclear technology in Pakistan is not limited to medical, as there are currently four operational power plants at Chashma, generating nearly 1400 megawatts of electricity, with a fifth one currently under construction. Additionally, two nuclear power plants in Karachi are producing over 2000 megawatts of electricity, which is a substantial amount. Once the fifth plant is operational, contributing 1100 megawatts, it will significantly boost the overall production of nuclear energy. Typically, nuclear energy constitutes approximately 10% of Pakistan’s energy mix. However, this percentage fluctuates due to the decreased power generation capacity of hydroelectric dams during the winter months when water levels are low. As a result, nuclear energy’s contribution increases since it maintains a consistent output.

Furthermore, future plans for nuclear power plant development will further enhance the role of nuclear energy. Another crucial aspect is the high capacity factor of nuclear power plants, surpassing 80%. In contrast, thermal plants fueled by coal and oil, which are often inefficient in Pakistan, operate at around 30 to 40% capacity. Thus, nuclear power plants offer significantly superior output compared to thermal power plants. Therefore, nuclear energy not only plays a vital role in medical applications but also holds great importance in power production. Lastly, nuclear technology finds applications in the agricultural sector as well.

Ms. Haleema Sadia highlighted the significance of nuclear technology in the field of agriculture. She said that Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) had established four institutes that have successfully developed over a hundred different crop varieties. These varieties have played a crucial role in contributing to an impressive six billion dollars in revenue over the past few years. Notably, one of these crop varieties, NIAB 78, is a cotton variety that was introduced in 1983. From that time until the early 2000s, cotton exports contributed approximately 90 billion rupees to Pakistan’s economy. This cotton variety brought about a revolution in cotton production in Pakistan. Ms. Sadia emphasized that over 80% of the individuals visiting the medical centers established by the PAEC receive free treatment, highlighting the welfare program implemented by the atomic energy commission for the people of Pakistan. The contribution of nuclear technology to Pakistan’s economy is immense, and there is still much work to be done.

 Another pertinent point discussed was why Pakistan imports cotton to sustain its textile industry despite having developed high-yielding and pest-resistant cotton varieties. Dr. Salik answered this question and explained that the reason behind this is not the quality of the crop varieties produced but rather the reduction in the area of land dedicated to cotton cultivation. Instead, sugarcane cultivation has expanded, leading to the establishment of sugar mills and a consequent reduction in the area previously allocated for cotton. Therefore, administrative policies play a significant role in the decline of cotton output.

Mr. Faraz Haider raised a question concerning the safety of nuclear reactors near the sea coast, particularly regarding the impact of sea level intrusion and extensive flooding. In response, Dr. Salik explained that light water nuclear reactors require fresh water for cooling purposes, and therefore, they are ideally situated in proximity to rivers or the sea. The Chashma complex is situated on the bank of the Indus River, while the Karachi nuclear power plant complex is close to the sea. Dr. Salik said that the concern regarding the proximity of nuclear reactors and sea may arise from the Fukushima incident. He said the flaw in Fukushima’s case was the absence of an independent regulatory authority, which led to oversight of numerous safety and security issues. Concerns had been raised about the low elevation of the plant site and the historical occurrence of tsunami waves in the area. However, the Japanese authorities believed the site was adequately elevated. Unfortunately, when the tsunami struck, triggered by a powerful earthquake, the normal power supply was disrupted, resulting in the shutdown of the cooling system. Emergency generators kicked in, maintaining some functionality, but they too, were eventually submerged by the exceptionally high tsunami waves. With no available system to power the water pumps that keep the plant cool, the temperature continued to rise, ultimately leading to a meltdown. Dr. Salik noted that despite nuclear energy’s perception as dangerous, its track record has been generally positive. Even in the Fukushima incident, no casualties were reported. Therefore, Dr. Salik emphasized that nuclear technology can be safely managed with appropriate measures, effective regulatory oversight, and adherence to safety standards.

In the end, Dr. Naeem Salik (Executive Director, SVI) thanked the panelists for making distinguished contributions.

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