China gifts Pak mega nuclear power plants (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 2nd Aug 2014
hina is about to operationalise a 1 GigaWatt (GW) nuclear power reactor at Karachi in Pakistan, highly-placed sources within the scientific community warn. Two more are in the pipeline in Karachi and three more in other parts of the country. This represents a quantum leap from the much smaller reactors hitherto supplied by Beijing to Islamabad, and is also the first time that such advanced technology has been demonstrated globally.
The scientists warn that the accounting process for nuclear waste materials is very lax on the Pakistan side, and hence there exists a significant risk that nuclear waste from the plant will not be wholly accounted for. A senior scientist pointed out that the protocols for determining nuclear waste in standard (and much smaller) reactors would not be applicable to the 1 GW reactor, and hence it would be easy for the Pakistan side to siphon off large quantities of nuclear waste for re-processing. "Each giant power reactor can generate enough waste for up to 40 bombs each year", a scientist warned, adding that the Karachi reactor soon to be commissioned was only the first of three such reactors planned there by the Chinese side. Together with three more mega reactors at Chashma, there would be enough spent fuel to load onto to 200 nuclear bombs.
Defence sources say that the Pakistan army has been working on a doctrine of massive first strike, that would incapacitate India before this country has a chance to strike back. Such a devastating first strike would degrade, if not destroy, Delhi's ability to launch a retaliatory second strike. The capacity for such retaliation is what is believed to be responsible for the very few occasions during which the Pakistan army has threatened the use of nuclear weapons against India.
"Should they develop the capacity to launch a devastating first strike, the fear of retaliation would diminish to a level that may encourage the use of nuclear weapons in combat", a senior official warned. He added that unlike the case in India, where nuclear weapons have been kept in civilian hands, "in the case of the Pakistan army, even Corps Commanders have (tactical) nuclear weapons at their disposal and the ability to use them without reference to any civilian authority". Although Beijing claims that the nuclear reactors and assistance supplied to Pakistan are fully safeguarded under IAEA guidelines, the reality is that there have been multiple occasions when that agency has discovered loopholes in the way in which nuclear materials are being handled in Pakistan. Thanks to the protection given by China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, inspectors have not been allowed into key Pakistan nuclear facilities, while inspections have been less than rigorous, in large part because the Pakistan side decides what facilities to show, and when.
Officials from multiple countries tracking such developments point out that China is in the process of supplying 1 GW mega nuclear power reactors to not just Pakistan but Bangladesh as well, which is negotiating for two, as is Myanmar. Even Sri Lanka is in the process of working out an agreement with Beijing for the supply of a mega nuclear power reactor. However, none of these countries carry the proliferation risk that Pakistan does, and Islamabad is to get more mega nuclear plants (with attendant nuclear waste capability for re-processing into weapons-grade material) than Dhaka, Colombo and Nyaypidaw put together.
Interestingly, the Karachi I reactor (to be followed by Karachi II and Karachi III) represents a significant upgrade of the existing capacity of the plant. "When combined with the rapid expansion of the Pakistan army's nuclear arsenal and the ongoing upgrade of their missile systems, the delivery of such advanced nuclear facilities to Pakistan presents a grave risk to India's security", a senior official warned. He added that thus far, "neither the IAEA nor countries such as Ireland, New Zealand and Australia that are always talking about the Indian nuclear deterrent have bothered about Pakistan except in a very diluted fashion". The 1 GW mega nuclear reactor is a light water reactor whose design has yet to be tested through operating the power plant. "Hopefully the reactor design will be safe, as otherwise a nuclear accident in such a large plant can be much more deadly than Chernobyl", a scientist warned, adding that "the radioactivity would spread to Iran, India and the GCC countries".
Although there have been suggestions in the past that re-processing of spent fuel be done outside Pakistan, this demand has always been rejected by Islamabad, with the consequence that "a huge capability that is in effect unsafeguarded has been built up in Pakistan to re-process nuclear materials", a senior official warned, adding that "evidence exists that North Korean designs and processes are still finding their way into Pakistan through a third country".
Oddly, despite the fact that proliferation of nuclear technology from Pakistan has been documented multiple times, China is intensifying its assistance to Islamabad under the excuse of carrying out existing contracts. "The supply of 1 GW reactors cannot in any way be called a continuation of existing agreements, as it represents a new technology", a senior official pointed out, adding that "despite open Chinese assistance to Pakistan as well as to other countries such as North Korea and Iran, both France and Russia collaborate with Beijing to improve existing technologies". Interestingly, both Rosatom (Moscow) and Areva (Paris) have huge partnership programmes in China, the effect of which has been to upgrade Chinese technology sharply. "Very soon the Chinese will be able to compete and win against the same French and Russian nuclear plant manufacturers who are helping them", an engineer pointed out.
An expert on nuclear reactor technology pointed out that "China has mastered the 1 GW reactor technology and therefore moved far ahead of India". At the same time, he warned, "they are working on 1.5 and 2 GW reactors and expect to make them operational in five years". Once, as expected, the reconditioned Karachi I mega nuclear plant comes on stream, experts warn that it will only be a matter of time before Pakistan develops not only an incapacitating first-strike capacity against India, but a possible second-strike option as well. "At that point in time, expect the level of adventurism across the border to be as high as it was in the late 1980s and the early 1990s (when the Punjab and Kashmir insurgencies were boiling over)", a security expert warned, adding that "expansion of India's own defence capacity is the only deterrence against this".
The supply of 1 GW reactors to Pakistan from China, followed by the delivery of similar systems to other neighbours of India, is changing the security dynamics in South Asia.