Pakistan can’t handle Fukushima

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Express Tribune:

ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 23 13.41 Japan’s near tragedy has reminded the world that situating reactors close to a city can be exceedingly dangerous – even more than storing nuclear bombs within it. While a nuclear reactor cannot explode like a bomb, after one year of operation even a rather small 200MW reactor contains more radioactive cesium, strontium, and iodine than the amounts produced in all the nuclear weapons tests ever conducted.

These devastatingly deadly materials could be released if the containment vessel of a reactor is somehow breached.

As the Japanese continue their struggle to bring Fukushima’s reactors under control, they know they had falsely gambled that nuclear reactors could be safe against earthquakes. Still, there was some logic to this risk-taking: Japan’s energy hungry economy gets about 30per cent of its electricity from its 55 nuclear reactors.

Pakistan has much less reason to risk Karachi, its largest city. The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant, (KANUPP) located by the seashore, produces little electricity. This Canadian supplied reactor has been in operation since December 1972, but according to IAEA statistics, has been unavailable for power production 70.4 per cent of the time. Even if it had operated as per design (120MW of electrical power), it could supply only six-seven per cent of Karachi’s total electrical power needs – barely enough for Golimar and Lyari.

Nevertheless KANUPP puts the Karachi’s population at risk. Sabotage, terrorist attack, equipment failure, earthquake, or a tsunami could result in large scale radioactive release. As in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the instinctive reaction of the authorities would be to cover up the facts.

More here.