The government has gone ahead with the plan to construct two nuclear power stations at Paradise Point near Karachi despite serious civil society reservations. According to a press report, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) recently gave its approval to the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report paving the way for the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to commence construction of the power plants whilst public concerns remain unaddressed. There has been considerable unease over the choice of the venue. People rightly worry that the two plants will be located too close to the city, and that the evacuation plan is restricted to only 5 kilometers even though the entire city is at risk of exposure to nuclear radiation – all the more so considering that for most part of the year wind blows from the plants site direction towards the city.
These are very real worries and stem from the fact that nuclear plants are prone to accidents, causing radiation which kills people, some immediately and other after protracted illnesses. There have been more than 200 reported nuclear accidents in different countries, including the US. The number of small unreported cases may be much higher. The worst accident happened in April 1986 at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union’s republic of Ukraine. Aside from causing a number of casualties at the plant, the disaster made the city uninhabitable and the radiation spread over much of the Soviet Union and parts of Europe. More pertinent to the case in point seems to be the example of March 2011 catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, triggered by a tsunami and aggravated by a fault in the backup design system. The disaster not only forced evacuation of 300,000 people, it rendered vegetables and fruits grown in the area unfit for consumption while contaminated water from the plant spilled into the sea as well. More than four years on, the clean-up process remains to be completed. The point is that nuclear power plants are a serious matter. The present undertaking calls for extreme caution. It is important not to lose sight of the scientific community’s warning that a high magnitude earthquake in the Makran Trench – where the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet – can cause a devastating tsunami in Pakistan’s coastal areas. In its approval letter SEPA reminds the Atomic Energy Commission of the need to adhere to the replies/clarifications submitted in response to the concerns of various stakeholders, urging the commission to incorporate those in its Environmental Management Plan. The letter also mentions conditions relating to occupational safety, telling the commission to set up a complete code of health, safety and environment. That though is not enough. It is imperative that the replies and clarifications to the stakeholders concerns are made public so everyone is satisfied about the adoption of requisite safety measures. The commission’s report ought to be put on the website for all interested to see and evaluate for effectiveness. Complacency about any aspect of the project could lead to horrendous consequences.
The text appeared as Editorial of Business Recorder today.