Pakistan’s excellence in the peaceful use of nuclear technology is recognized at the national and international levels, with its practices aligning with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Successes of peaceful nuclear application include those in agriculture, medicine and industry. The historic pursuit of civil nuclear energy under the Pakistan Atomic Energy Agency (PAEC) was first promoted with the establishment of a 12 member committee in 1955, and later expanded with more human resource.
In this regard, the term ‘peaceful’ does not merely mean generation of nuclear energy – its dynamics are much more innovative. For instance, the Pakistani delegation at 56th International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference 2018 reaffirmed that “Pakistan has realized the economic potential of nuclear technology in socio-economic development ever since it has joined the IAEA as one of the founding members. We have now numerous nuclear facilities developed with the help of IAEA for exploring the benefits of peaceful use of nuclear technology in the diverse areas of electricity generation, health, agriculture, hydrology, industry, environment and basic science.”
Socio-economic development is an inalienable right of every country and Pakistan should be no exception. Pakistan is an energy starved country and needs every volt of electricity from all sources of energy production, nuclear being one of them. The PAEC announced its Nuclear Energy Vision 2030 and 2050 to generate 8,800 MW and 40,000 MW of electricity, respectively, in the future. In order to fulfill this Nuclear Energy Vision, Pakistan has applied for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, highlighting its case as a non-Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) State and called for non-discriminatory and objective criteria. It has also mentioned its ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods & services, which include Part 1 & 2 of the NSG controlled list. Considering the rationale, Pakistan is determined to fulfill its energy needs through the nuclear sector due to its deficiency in fossil fuels. Also, its entry into this export cartel will allow the exchange of nuclear related technology and material for future power generation.
Pakistan’s application to NSG has significantly highlighted the need for strategic stability and level playing in the South Asian region. It has raised its concerns on political and strategic considerations made by Participating Governments (PGs) that will be detrimental for nuclear non-proliferation regimes’ credibility. This implies that preferential treatment by PGs’ on India’s NSG membership can block Pakistan’s future membership case, in the event that simultaneous entry for both Pakistan and India is denied by this Group.
Pakistan should therefore persistently work to gain political support from all PGs for its NSG membership and pursue all diplomatic efforts in this regard. As the NSG operates under the shadow of realpolitik, Pakistan’s access and outreach to the PGs will be crucial in determining the final outcome for India and Pakistan.
The PAEC is progressively working in pursuit of nuclear technology in civil sectors. It has a primary responsibility to provide all human and financial resources to excel in peaceful use of nuclear technology. For instance, the PAEC helps in boosting economy by selling different varieties of foods and vegetables to other states. The Commission undertakes the treatment of 70% cancer patients in its hospitals and offers ‘people welfare funds’ for the needy and deserving. Likewise, it arranges workshops and provides training facilities for cutting edge scientific knowledge at institutes like the National Institute of Laser and Optronics.
In the agricultural sector, four national institutions have made progressive contribution towards generating annual revenue in Pakistan’s economy. The Nuclear Institute for Agriculture (NIA) has introduced 27 crop varieties. The Nuclear Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is producing environment friendly food, with 12 popular crop varieties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) has a production capacity of 10,000 biopower; biopower is a biofertilizer that is used for improvement in crop yields. The Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) is famous for biosciences and is effectively working with 11 international institutes for better crop productivity rate; it also offers training courses for research and safety techniques in nuclear related technology in the agriculture sector.
Pakistan has also acquired expertise in isotope hydrology and neutron activation analysis to read the contamination and amount of radiation present in the environment. Neutron activation analysis measures the quantitative and qualitative ratio of radiations used in hospitals, agriculture and the open atmosphere. So, Pakistan is indigenously working and updating its technical means in collaboration with international workshops under IAEA auspices.
In the field of nuclear medicine, total 19 cancer hospitals are working all over the country. So far, more than 90,000 patients are being treated in these hospitals per year. Pakistan has also been included in the IAEA Program for Action in Cancer Therapy (PACT) to effectively counter the challenges posed by cancer and to strengthen the national cancer control programmes in collaboration with the IAEA.
Among national institutions, the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH) is a key R&D institute of PAEC that has offered training in redesigning, engineering and renovation techniques of research reactors. It also offers expertise in neutron activation analysis. In addition, other leading R&D institutes that impart education and training are the Pakistan Institute of Engineering & Applied Sciences (PIEAS), the Karachi Institute of Power Engineering (KINPOE) and the CHASNUPP Centre of Nuclear Training (CHASCENT).
Moreover, Pakistan is the first member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, among Asian countries. This kind of regular exchange will strengthen the long-term partnership between CERN and the Pakistani scientific community. At the regional level, Pakistan’s cooperation with the IAEA in peaceful uses of nuclear technology is very effective under the framework of a Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA). Pakistan joined the RCA in 1974; selective areas for cooperation include agriculture, the environment, industry, human health, isotope applications and water resources management.
Pakistan is an active member of the IAEA and its record of cooperation with this agency has received international recognition. Hence, if Pakistan is granted access to peaceful nuclear technology for power generation through NSG, it will be able to fulfill its socio-economic needs and will open up its nuclear energy market to all PGs of the NSG for nuclear energy trading internationally.
The author is a Visiting Research Fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) Islamabad.