How Pakistan and China Are Strengthening Nuclear Ties

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Wang Zhao / AFP / Getty Images

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, left, talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as they prepare to inspect Chinese honor guards during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 5, 2013

Pakistan held a ceremonial groundbreaking last week on a nuclear complex in Karachi that it intends to build with assistance from China. The government says the complex, which will contain two Chinese-built nuclear reactors, will cost $9.6 billion and will help assuage the power crisis that has crippled daily life and the national economy in recent years.

The reactors are expected to start supplying 2,200 megawatts to the grid by 2019. The complex is not the first energy investment or nuclear project in Pakistan that China has been involved with, but it will be by far the largest.

The nuclear power relationship between Pakistan and China is widely seen as a continuing effort to respond to the India-U.S. civilian nuclear deal, which, among other things, ended a decades-long moratorium on U.S. companies selling nuclear technology to India, despite India not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The move rankled Pakistan, which has also not signed the treaty and worries about a nuclear buildup by a country it considers its archenemy. China, too, criticized the deal for, it asserted, undermining nonproliferation. That the U.S. was building ties with India to counterbalance China’s growing power in Asia was probably not lost on Beijing either.

(MORE: What China’s Growing Nuclear Power Means for the World)

Regional rivalries aside, Pakistan does need the power. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who visited the site of the complex on Nov. 26, came to office in general elections in May in part on a campaign promise to fix Pakistan’s severe power shortages. Cuts of eight and nine hours are routine; in some parts of the country there are more hours in the day without electricity than with it. Power outages have sparked violent protests around the nation, and factories have had to shutter or drastically reduce production without a steady supply.

Sharif has said that Pakistan plans to build six more nuclear energy plants in coming decades, but it is unclear whether more will be built in partnership with China. It’s equally unclear how Pakistan plans to finance this new project or the future expansion. In September, the International Monetary Fund lent Pakistan $6.7 billion over a three-year period, based partly on a promise from Sharif that he would reform the struggling energy sector.

Islamabad’s turn toward more nuclear power also raises questions over the safety of the nation’s nuclear reactors. Some observers are uncomfortable with the increasing instability in Pakistan and say that civilian reactors and the material used to fuel them could become targets of terrorist groups operating in the country.

Not all the plant’s neighbors are thrilled with the idea, either. The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum was quick to raise concerns over the location of the plant, which is in a cyclone- and tsunami-prone area, as well as the impact of the plant’s wastewater on marine life in the area, according to the Express Tribune. The group says that the community around the site was not consulted about the construction of two reactors near their homes.

MORE: Sharif Calls on Obama as U.S. and Pakistan Try to Turn the Corner

7 comments
NacmaBeyg
NacmaBeyg

Power is the back bone of any economy, the long run power shortage has crippled the economy of Paksistan, more over my leaders are still giving so much vague statements, to keep people's heart "Sharif has said that Pakistan plans to build six more nuclear energy plants in coming decades"

AhsanAli
AhsanAli

Pakistan and China are both strategic partners which can benefit both countries as China is a major economic leader in the world trade and can provide reliable and affordable power solution to Pakistan. Nuclear technology even through recent environmental reports is safe and do not harm global warming comparative to other source of energy. Pakistan has been under stress of power shortage which can be achieved through planned nuclear power plants.

ItsMeYusra
ItsMeYusra

Pakistan has undergone with very severe energy crisis which put a very drastic change on the economy of country. Energy crisis is a big challenge confronted by the Pakistani government. Chinese comes forward and made a major contribution by building up of nuclear power plants. Energy is the back bone of a country and energy crisis really shatters the country statehood. This energy cooperation certainly boost up the country in the direction of prosperity and development.

YasirHussain
YasirHussain

The power shortages have sparked violent protests and crippled key industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in a country already beset by high unemployment and terrorism. But time tested friend China again assisting Pakistan to meet up increasing energy demands. Hence, Pakistan has initiated its largest nuclear power generation program with Chinese assistance. So  Nuclear power is the only solution to curb energy crisis in Pakistan.

Tooba1917
Tooba1917

Pakistan is currently passing through energy shortfall phase and is in dire need of energy generation. Because of lack of sources and econmic downturn, Pakistan is looking for other countries to cooperate with it and try to help it in coming out of this crisis. In this difficult time, China came out and shaken hand with pakistan to cooperate in the field of power generation. China has already built nuclear power plants in Pakistan and is further working on to buildin more power plants, Pak-China nuclear poer cooperation is purely for civilian purposes and to make Pakistan over come its energy shortfall.

AazarKund
AazarKund

Pakistan  is in dyer need of power assistance from any state not only china. Pakistan asked US to help but states refused similar request was extended to other states but reply was not according to the wishes of Pakistan. Only china which has been the real friend of Pakistan offered its assistance in civilian nuclear power generation. But irony lies here is that still other states points fingers on Pakistan even knowing the energy crisis. Their only desire is to see Pakistan under severe energy crisis. That's why Pakistan has made huge progress to curb energy crisis in the state and its prime right to  get nuclear assistance from any state for civilian purposes. 

HabibUrRahman
HabibUrRahman

Pakistan's building a civilian nuclear energy project is not a response to US-India collaboration in this field. Pakistan needs energy badly for economic survival. Similarly, China's decision to assist Pakistan in this field has nothing to do with US-India collaboration. China has a genuine interest in a stable and prosperous Pakistan. 

Just like China, the US also has an interest in a stable and prosperous Pakistan, but the interest is a bit slow in crystallizing into actual collaboration and assistance. The recent thaw between Iran and 5+1 suggests that finally US might be close to realising the futility of putting too much restriction on the use of civilian nuclear energy by the developing countries. If India deserves civilian nuclear energy, Pakistan deserves even more. Who knows some of the remaining 5 projects announced by Mr. Sharif shall be established with US assistance?