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International experts recorded that dissimilar methods are being taken globally with regard to the utilisation of nuclear energy for power generation. There are roughly three groups: While some are aiming to phase out nuclear power in the short or medium term, others are extending the lifetimes of nuclear power plants (NPPs), while others are planning new plants and, in some cases, are also extending their lifetimes.

According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance, the country has became a nuclear power producer in 1972 when KANUPP, a 137MW nuclear power plant in Karachi, began operations. In Pakistan, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), the only institution authorised to exploit the vast atomic energy generated through splitting nuclei, developed and ran it. KANUPP was shut down in August 2021 after 50 years, but its infrastructure and understanding assisted Pakistan to build a reliable nuclear power programme.

Now the nuclear fleet consisting of 6 NPPs is worth 3,530MW. A total of 4 units are presently operational in Chashma, Mianwali, while 2 plants (K-2 and K-3), in Karachi each with a capacity of 1,100MW are operational. In February 2023 the Prime Minister formally inaugurated K-3 in February 2023. While KANUPP was a Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) constructed with the assistance of Canada, the new generation of nuclear plants is all Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR), designed and constructed with the assistance of China. One more plant of 1,100MW capacity, destined to be installed at Chashma, is in its planning phase.

The nuclear power generation researchers investigated, is likely to break records in 2025 as more countries invest in reactors to fuel the shift to a low-carbon global economy, while renewable energy is probable to overtake coal as a power source early next year.

As per IEA, India, China, Korea and Europe are probable to have new reactors come on stream, while various in Japan are also forecast to return to generation, and French output should increase.

The Nuclear Power plants (NPPs) have the unique characteristic of operating for about 18 months with no additional fuel, according to the Government of Pakistan data. Moreover, fuel for another 18 months can be stored on the plant site without additional infrastructure costs. Therefore, it makes them invulnerable to short-term price fluctuations or supply chain disruption resulting in very high-capacity factors. The 6 NPPs supplied about 18,739 million units of electricity to the national grid from July-March FY2023. In December 2022, the uninterrupted electricity supply from NPPs was about 27 per cent of the total electricity supplied in the national grid.

Avoiding environmental damages in the shape of global warming caused through the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels is one of the incentives that nuclear power offers. From July-March FY2023, nuclear power generation avoided about 10 million tonnes of CO2 entering the environment, whereas the lifetime avoidance of CO2 emissions is estimated at around 85 million tonnes.

As per the present statistics submitted through the Central Power Purchasing Agency (CPPA) to NEPRA, nuclear-based power generation has seen a staggering rise in expenses by over 17 percent, while local coal costs have jumped by a third in one month.

As of January 2024, nuclear-based power generation held the top spot as the primary contributor to the national grid. However, the landscape swiftly shifted in February and March of the same year, as nuclear power slipped to second place. This shift coincided with a startling 17.22 per cent rise in operational expenses within a single month, signaling a notable financial strain on nuclear power producers.

Similarly, local coal generation costs witnessed a substantial spike, escalating by over one-third within just one month. Statistics also showed that CPPA on behalf of Ex-WAPDA Power Distribution companies (XWDISCOs) has asked permission to charge Rs2.94/unit additional from power consumers on account of Fuel Charges Adjustments for March 2024. This will have an impact of approximately Rs27 billion on consumers in their May 2024 bills. This multi-billion charge also includes a sales tax on power consumption.

Furthermore, CPPA recorded that the reference fuel charge for March reached Rs6.4417 per unit, while the cost of energy delivered to Discos amounted to Rs9.3819 per unit. Therefore, CPPA has requested a rise of Rs2.94 per unit over the reference charges for FCA in March.

The proposed raise also includes previous adjustments totaling Rs7.615 billion or Rs0.9492 per unit. If accepted in full through NEPRA, this petition would burden electricity consumers with over Rs27 billion, inclusive of FCA and GST. A breakdown of the statistics provided reveals varying costs across dissimilar generation sources. Nuclear power generation costs reached Rs1.5488 per unit, while electricity imported from Iran was the most expensive at Rs 30.3729 per unit.

A total of 8023 GWh as per the CPPA-G, was generated in March 2024, with a total energy cost of Rs66.68 billion or Rs8.3109 per unit. This generation marked an eight percent decline as against to March of the last year.

Moreover, electricity generation in March, from hydel sources constituted 27.63 per cent of total generation, with zero cost of power generation. However, local coal generation costs surged by 35.53 per cent to Rs16.7779 per unit, with a fall in generation by 13.28 per cent as against the previous month.

From February the Nuclear-based power generation grew by 24.70 per cent, but its per unit generation cost saw a significant rise of 17.22 per cent in March as against to the previous month.

Lastly, I would like to mention here that Pakistan approved the Framework Guidelines for Fast Track Solar Initiatives 2022 to promote and develop cost-effective local renewable energy sources. It is expected to reduce domestic price volatility because of less reliance on the global market and ease the foreign exchange requirements.