Lack of Awareness of Nuclear Program Leading to Nuclear Pessimism

As Youm-e-Takbeer approaches its 26th anniversary, the need to understand its importance becomes far more necessary. Pakistan, on this day in 1998 entered the nuclear club having felt compelled by the conduction of a second series of Indian nuclear tests back then. This increased the pressure on Pakistan on behalf of the international community asking for ‘reasons’ why Pakistan felt the need to have nuclear power in the first place. However, only Pakistan knew its position when it came to national survival and that there was an urgent requirement for a robust defense capability to be established.

Having a look at its historical context, Pakistan, as we all know came face to face with India directly one year after independence. This was the first war on the issue of Kashmir. 16 years later, Pakistan and India again shared a head-to-head in the 1965 war. Later, six years had not passed since the Bangladesh Liberation War occurred between the two countries. Back in those days, there were rumors of India going Nuclear in the air. When India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, Pakistan’s insecurity did increase. Because a long-time rival now seemed stronger in the region. This threat perception forced Pakistan to go nuclear and the need for it was now inevitable.

The above discussion concerns the defense part of the nuclear weapon program. However, when we look at its perception among the general public, there is a constant pessimism observed regarding the nuclear program and the need to invest in it. It is seen as a lavish form of investment and the budget spending on it each year is questioned by many. To clear that, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy should be highlighted and focused upon.

Peaceful uses of nuclear energy are as many as one can count. This includes the use of nuclear energy in electricity generation, agricultural and industrial contribution, health sector, countering food insecurity, and countering energy crisis.

Moving towards the first use that is, electricity generation, nuclear energy is significant in Pakistan’s electricity generation due to its dependable nature and consistently low energy costs. Pakistan is armed with six nuclear power reactors (NRPs) which have a capacity of 3,530 MW, these contribute about 27 percent of the total electricity generation in the national grid as of December 2022. All these power plants are pressurized water reactors (PWR). This technology is not only used in Pakistan but is used worldwide by developed nations. There is no doubt, that the capacity costs of nuclear plants may be higher than those of local coal and gas power plants, but they do have much lower energy costs and a longer operating life.

As far as its contribution to the agricultural sector is concerned, we are aware that Pakistan’s dependency on agriculture is under threat as the country has been identified as one of the most vulnerable to climate change. In that case, nuclear energy is playing a considerable role in countering this threat. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has established two agriculture research centers at Tandojam and Lyallpur​​​​, where radiation and radioisotope techniques are used to produce over 125 high-yielding varieties of crops that have better quality and have a high tolerance for environmental stress.

Nuclear energy and its contributions to the health sector are applaudable. In the health sector, nuclear energy provides radioactive-natured treatments for high-edge diseases and cures them in ways nothing else can. In this regard, the PAEC has established 19 Atomic Energy Cancer Hospitals (AECHs) all across Pakistan. PAEC Cancer Hospitals handle over 40,000 cancer cases with 1.0 million procedures per annum, taking ~80 % of the country’s cancer burden on their shoulders. These include high-quality diagnostic and treatment facilities either free of charge or at subsidized rates at these hospitals.

Consecutively, Pakistan being 5th most vulnerable country in terms of food insecurity in the world concerning climate change, is yet another issue. In this regard, PAEC in collaboration with IAEA has established four institutions—Nuclear Institute for Agriculture (NIA, 1962), Nuclear Institute for Agriculture & Biology (NIAB, 1972), National Institute of Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (NIBGE, 1994), and Nuclear Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA, 1982). These institutes work in areas such as crop improvement, and insect pest control, various kinds of wheat, cotton, rice, mung bean, chickpea, lentil, sugarcane, castor bean, kinnow, sesame, tomato, and brassica have been created as a result of their study. These types have more nutritional content, are heat tolerant, resistant to insects and diseases, and yield more.

Moreover, countries or organizations that contribute to nuclear energy power plants in Pakistan are dealt with in a way that does not bring debts to Pakistan’s economy. The deals in this respect are based on installments that are paid back to that specific country by the power plant itself. In short, nuclear energy brings socio-economic benefits to Pakistan and it is about time we avoid all kinds of pessimism and misperceptions concerning it while focusing on its benefits. First and foremost, its defensive importance is crucial for our national survival and security, secondly, its socio-economic benefits and importance are unavoidable as discussed in the above-made arguments.


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