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Recently, Pakistan received a much-needed breath of fresh air amidst its ongoing energy crisis with the signing of a groundbreaking $4.8 billion nuclear power plant deal with China. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the China National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC) and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) on June 20, 2023 at central city of Chashma, also considered as the birthplace of Pakistan-China civil nuclear cooperation.

As per this agreement, CNNC will build one-million-kilowatt-class with HPR 1000 technology at Chashma Nuclear power plant which is already hosting four nuclear power plants of the same cadre. HPR1000 is a third generation nuclear technology exclusively innovated and developed by China comprising of cutting-edge safety standards practiced at international level. This development is significant in China-Pakistan relations as it reinforces the notion of “unparalleled friendship” between the both countries. While Pakistan is seeking ways to overcome its energy shortages amid growing economic crisis, Beijing is securing Pakistan as its strategic ally against India under its Balancing strategy in Asian region.

China-Pakistan cooperation on civilian use of nuclear energy dates back to late 1970s soon after the termination of Canadian assistance over civilian nuclear programme. This step by Canadian government was mainly due to new Delhi’s nuclear explosion of 1974 which violated the Full-Scale safeguards of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). India’s reluctance to follow these safeguards was immediately followed by Islamabad which compelled Canada to halt its civil nuclear cooperation with both the countries.

The first agreement on sharing of civil nuclear technology was signed by Pakistan and China in September, 1986. Under this agreement China was to share the power reactors alongside nuclear related goods and services as well as technical support for uranium enrichment. Soon after signing this agreement, China provided Pakistan with Qinshan-1 which was developed domestically by China to meet its energy and power needs during 1970s. The construction of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-1  (C-1) started during 1990s and became operational in 2001 with a yield of around 300MW.  The C-1 was enhanced to develop CHASNUPP-2 with an added yield of 5MW and it started functioning in 2011.

In the subsequent phase, development of C-3 and C-4 was announced in 2008 which faced a backlash from International community. C-1 and C-2 were signed between China and Pakistan before China became member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2004. The members of NSG objected China’s agreement with Pakistan on sharing nuclear technology to which China argued that the third and fourth unit of Chashma are grandfathered in the same way as its predecessors with no significant changes. C-3 and C-4 became effective in 2016 and 2017 respectively with a net capacity of 327MW each. The ongoing China and Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation demonstrates the commitment of both states in achieving mutual developmental goals while adhering to the IAEA safeguards. Additionally, this cooperation clearly depicts a change in the perspective of Pakistan regarding use of nuclear technology as paramount significance has been attached to the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes rather than engaging itself into a nuclear arms race in the south Asian region.

The agreement on the construction of Hualong one Reactor as Chashma Unit-5 was to be signed during 2017 between CNNC and PAEC but experienced some delays due to administrative as well as political issues. In June 2023, the agreement to develop a 1200MW nuclear power plant was signed with its expected completion around 2029. Project was inaugurated officially on 14th July,2023 in Mianwali located in Punjab, Pakistan. Chairman of China Nuclear Cooperation  Pang Chunxue remarked that civil nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan has become integral part of “all-weather” strategic partnership between both countries.

CNNC described this deal as “milestone” in bi-lateral relations and said that this project “will further enhance Pakistan’s energy security, promote economic development, and improve the well-being of the local people. It also has significant importance in building a closer China-Pakistan partnership with a shared future in the new era”. Pakistan has received a discount of $100 million on this project from Chinese side which reflected a  sense of sincerity between both partners. C-5 has become the third facility to feature HPR 1000 technology (or pressurized water reactor technology) in Pakistan and becoming 7th nuclear power plant exported from China to Pakistan.

Pakistan relies heavily on import of fuel to meet its energy needs to which nuclear energy is a viable alternative. It is also environment friendly with zero carbon emissions and “economically competitive”. Hualong one reactor has many advantages like enhanced safety measures with passive cooling mechanisms. The reactor comes with sophisticated control systems alongside upgraded containment structures. All these features increase the resilience of this reactor against any possible accidents. As per the statements disseminated by the officials, this reactor has been designed to integrate cutting-edge safety measures and a “foolproof security system”. These advanced features have been meticulously integrated to ensure the utmost safety and security, offering a high level of confidence in its operations.

This project has ensured the economic cooperation between both countries while focusing on cheap energy alternatives. Pakistan’s energy input is highly relying on the non-renewable energy resources like coal which are also inducing climate change. Shifting from fossil fuels towards nuclear technology is not only a clean alternative but will prove to be cost-effective on already crumbling economy. Nuclear Power Plants(NNPs) are saving billions of dollars required to produce energy through other sources. During fiscal year 2022 alone, Pakistan saved $3.035 billion with respect to oil, $2.207 billion on Regasified Liquefied Natural Gas (RLNG) and $1.586 billion with reference to coal. The shift from carbon based energy resources towards nuclear energy is a savior for already crumbling economy of Pakistan. By 2030, Pakistan aims to produce 8,800MWe through nuclear resources to meet its energy needs under government’s Energy Security Plan.  The agreement on C-5 has also opened gates for future cooperation between China and Pakistan while ensuring mutual benefits and win-win cooperation.

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Ayesha Sikandar

Research Assistant, SVI

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