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Worldcrunch

Local Fallout From Pakistan's Nuclear Energy Bet

Article illustrative image Partner logo Fishermen in Abdul Rehman goth near Karachi

ABDUL REHMAN GOTH — Ahmad Baloch couldn't remember life ever changing much in this centuries-old fishing village just outside Karachi. But when two nuclear power plants started being built nearby, coast guard and naval security personnel arrived. "They don't allow us free mobility in the waters,” he says of his fishing trade in Abdul Rehman Goth. “What are we going to do?”

Fears about a terrorist attack on the nuclear power plants have led to massive security around them, leaving the fishermen locked out. “There are not enough fish recently,” Baloch says. “We’re just worried for our next generation.” 

Families here use very little electricity, but elsewhere the country is starving for energy. Shortfalls in electricity mean there are blackouts for up to 10 hours in the major cities. Sometimes frustration about the situation spills into the streets.

Both the government and the project director of the K1 and K2 nuclear plants under construction, Azfar Minhaj, believe nuclear is the answer. “No other renewable energy source is proven to provide electricity with 100% efficiency throughout the year,” Minhaj says.

But many are worried about a nuclear disaster, given the security situation in Pakistan coupled with poor health and safety standards.  

At a gathering of activists in Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated nuclear scientists, Pervez Hoodboy, is the center of attention. He’s leading a campaign against nuclear power. 

“Developed countries like Germany and Switzerland have decided to get rid of the nuclear plants, but Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh want to develop more and more nuclear plants quickly,” Hoodboy says. “With nuclear plants, you can never ever be 100% sure that an accident is not going to happen. We have a very clear example with the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.”

Nuclear power operators are trying to downplay these concerns. And Minhaj says, with Chinese technical assistance, the plants are safe.

“We will never release the water that cools the nuclear reactors outside from the plant,” he says. “There are going to be so many barriers to ensure safety.”

But critics aren’t convinced. Environmentalist Ali Arsalan says the electricity that the country has at the moment is being poorly managed.

“We have an amazing situation now,” Arslalan says. “On the national grid, at least 30% of power is lost because it travels over a thousand kilometers. The distribution system is bad. Now imagine if you could harvest this 30%. You wouldn’t need to produce any more.”

For now, the fisherman aren’t thinking about a nuclear disaster and the impact such an event could have on their fish. Their major concern for the moment is that the security apparatus is not allowing them to go out to sea. 

 

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