The advent of fission in 1938 – a process in which an atom, bombarded with neutron is split into two or more parts with the release of a large amount of energy – gave the world the nuclear energy. This energy was initially used to build nuclear weapons, whose destructive power was practically observed when the US dropped these weapons on the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Subsequently, more states entered the nuclear club and the Nuclear arms race that ensued with the development of first nuclear weapon in 1945 and the fear of nuclear war has given nuclear technology a connotation of an enemy of the mankind. However, there is another side of the nuclear coin that remains overshadowed – the peaceful applications of nuclear power.
The nuclear technology is currently being used for peaceful purposes world over in different sectors, such as medicine, health, agriculture, industry, pollution control, water resources management and safe and sustainable electricity production. Radiation and radioisotopes are used in medicine for diagnosis and therapy of various medical conditions and to sterilize medical products. In the agriculture sector, radioisotopes and radiations are used to improve food production, sustainability, increase food shelf-life and insect control. In industries, radioactive materials are used as tracers to monitor fluid flow and filtration, detect leaks, corrosion of equipment and to inspect metal parts integrity. Nuclear techniques are also being used for detecting and analyzing pollutants in the atmosphere and for accurate tracing and measurement of underground water resources. Last but not the least nuclear energy is also being used to produce electricity. Currently, there are 440 Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) operating in 30 countries worldwide providing 10 per cent of the world electricity. About 50 more reactors are under construction, which will increase the share of nuclear energy in worldwide electricity production to 15 per cent.
Pakistan, a reluctant entrant into the nuclear weapons club has also been using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes even long before it conducted nuclear weapon tests on 28 May 1998. The nuclear energy sector in Pakistan spans over several areas, which include, power generation, minerals exploration, developing high-yield stress-tolerant crops, cancer treatment, design and fabrication of industrial plants and equipment and human resource development.
Pakistan established its first NPP in Karachi, known as Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) in 1972 with the total capacity of 137 MW of electricity. Currently, Pakistan is operating five NPPs, one in Karachi and four at Chashma with combine operating capacity of approximately 1472 MW of electricity, while two are under construction at Karachi that are likely to be completed in 2021, each having capacity of 1100 MW of electricity. Considering the increasing electricity demands in the country, Pakistan plans to generate 40,000 MW of electricity from nuclear energy by 2050.
Pakistan established its first nuclear medicine centre at Karachi in 1960 and now 46 hospitals in the country are using nuclear technology for diagnostic of diseases and treatment of cancer. Out of these 46 hospitals, 18 hospitals are being operated by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), which offer state-of-the-art diagnostic and cancer treatment to around 0.8 million patients annually, either free of charge or at subsidized rates. These hospitals cater for 80% of the total cancer patient of Pakistan. In the agriculture sector, Pakistan has established four agriculture centres that are using nuclear technology to improve agriculture sector productivity by introducing new crop varieties, pest control technologies, plant nutrition and water management, animal health and productivity and food decontamination and preservation. Using nuclear techniques, PAEC has contributed 111 high yielding, disease-resistant and stress-tolerant varieties of cultivation under various environmental conditions and water availability regimes.
Pakistan is also engaging with international organizations to propagate the peaceful uses of nuclear technology worldwide. It was the founding member on International Atomic Energy Agency, which assist it members states using nuclear science and technology for various peaceful purposes and is also an Associate Member of European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Pakistan has a remarkable experience in the safe and secure operation of nuclear power plants and invested extensively in developing indigenous capabilities and human resource. Therefore, Pakistan has the expertise and the ability to supply items, goods and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses. For this purpose, Pakistan wants to become a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – a group of 48 states that ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons but is facing opposition from some member states because of political purposes. Pakistan believes that its expertise in manufacturing nuclear and dual-use items, long history of supporting non-proliferation ideals, and other credentials makes it suitable to be a proactive member of the NSG and it will be a win-win situation for both sides.
As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan favours non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, which should be achieved in a universal, verifiable and nondiscriminatory manner but also believes in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Therefore, nuclear technology for peaceful purposes should be shared worldwide without any discrimination for the socio-economic development of the countries. This will also help in reducing the stigma associated with nuclear energy since 1945.