Do Pakistan Need Nuclear Energy?

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The drive for civil nuclear power has restarted around the globe, often under the banner of finding a clean energy alternative to meet growth objectives. Countries like India, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan, among others, have all proclaimed a desire for nuclear power generation. Proponents argue that nuclear energy promotes economic development and reduces reliance on foreign sources of energy in a manner that is climate-change friendly due to the lack of carbon emissions.

Similarly, Pakistan has pushed for nuclear power generation using many of the same arguments. Advocates for this push have now underscored the recent Congressional approval of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement which provides India with access to nuclear equipment and components from Western suppliers. As Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has stated: “Now Pakistan also has the right to demand a civilian nuclear agreement with America. We want there to be no discrimination. Pakistan will also strive for a nuclear deal, and we think they will have to accommodate us.”1 A critical question, however, is whether nuclear power is necessary and vital to economic development in a climate-change friendly manner.

This analysis looks at the economic and resource arguments for nuclear power through 2030, to evaluate whether nuclear power is necessary to meet the expectations laid out. First, the analysis will evaluate the assertion that nuclear energy is vital to meet economic development goals. Second, it will evaluate the likely impact on reducing carbon emissions in the global context to push for carbon reductions. Finally, it will evaluate whether development of nuclear energy would significantly reduce Pakistan’s reliance on foreign energy sources. The framework used to evaluate resource options for electricity development (see Figure 1) includes looking at the total potential capacity, the likely pace of development of different technologies, the relative costs of those options, and the environmental issues and trade-offs inherent with each option.

In summary, nuclear power does not meet the expectations laid out by advocates for its development in Pakistan through 2030. Even under Pakistan’s most ambitious growth plans, nuclear energy will continue to contribute a marginal amount of electricity to meet the country’s economic goals. Furthermore, with Pakistan’s considerable potential of untapped renewable resources, the country has numerous options aside from nuclear to meet its development needs. In terms of reductions of carbon emissions, it should be noted that Pakistan currently represents only about 0.4% of global emissions. Certainly, while all emissions reductions are necessary, such reductions need to be pursued within the context of other risks, whether from deferred economic development or proliferation of sensitive technologies. Finally, given the energy mix supplying Pakistan’s electricity generation, with a significant proportion based on natural gas, Pakistan could reduce its reliance on foreign sources of energy by developing nuclear. However, nuclear in the best case scenarios will provide a limited amount of electricity and the predominant foreign sources of energy still emit carbon. As such, the route to developing Pakistan’s considerable renewable resources can achieve the dual goals on carbon reduction and enhanced self-reliance.


Pakistan’s current electricity mix is dominated by natural gas, hydro, and oil/diesel generation (see Figure 2). The total generation capacity of Pakistan in 2005 was 19.5 GW and consisted of approximately 50% from natural gas, 30% from hydro power, and 16% from oil/diesel. Nuclear power’s current contribution to the mix of electricity generation is 3% while the contribution from coal is only 0.2%. Notably, renewable energy resources did not contribute to...
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