LoadShedding and Nuclear Safety; Is Nuclear Enegy a Safe Option?

KESC tweeted recently that it was facing a power shortage as KANUPP had shutdown due to technical reasons. Since there was no other alert in news media, the cause for the shutdown, or when it happened is still unknown. It was 1st of April, 2012, when KESC Official Account tweeted,

“KANNUP Shutdown Due to Technical Issues – 90MW of Power Supplied to KESC via KANNUP Disrupted. Load Shed Might Increase.”


KANUPP had had a leakage resulting in a seven hour emergency on 18th October 2011 (reported on 20th October in media and misquoted in some as having happened on 20th). Heavy water leaked from feeder pipes to the reactor while the reactor was already under maintenance. The area was isolated, leak identified, presumably sealed or otherwise stopped. No continuing contamination was reported.

This is not the first time this has happened and there is history of such incidents related to KANUPP

Dawn on 20th October 2011 reported,

“The leakage at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant, commonly known as KANUPP, started around midnight on Tuesday during a routine maintenance shut down, said Tariq Rashid, a plant spokesman.

The 137-megawatt power plant, which started commercial operations in 1972, is located about 24 km (15 miles) to the west of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial capital, on the Arabian Sea coast.

“The plant was already shut down since Oct. 5 and the leakage started during maintenance checks,” said Rashid.

The plant completed its 30-year design life in 2002 and underwent upgrades to extend operations.


 Bahzad Alam Khan & Mukhtar Alam on 19 september 2003 reported,

Kanupp is in the process of applying for renewal of licence to the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) for continued operation for 15 years beyond its nominal design life of 30 years. It has also carried out a site survey for the installation of another nuclear power plant.

The general manager of the Karachi Nuclear Power Complex, M. Qamarul Hoda, contended that the decision to operate Kanupp beyond 30 years was based on technical considerations after evaluating the major plant equipment and the safety systems and after ensuring that life extension did not add to the associated risk to the people living around it and in Karachi.

Kanupp has a pressurized heavy water reactor which was constructed on a turnkey basis with the assistance of Canada. After the nuclear explosion by India in 1974, western countries imposed embargoes on Pakistan in 1976. Canada stopped supplying fuel, heavy water, spare parts and all kinds of technical assistance for the plant. A self-reliance programme was initiated by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to ensure safe and continued operation of Kanupp. Starting with the development of indigenous fuel, a number of facilities for manpower development, spare parts fabrication, in-service inspection, computer control and instrumention support were set up around Kanupp.

Mr Hoda denied that taxpayers’ money was being spent to run Kanupp. He pointed out that Kanupp was a self-financing establishment of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. “Kanupp meets its expenses through the revenues generated by sale of electricity to the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation. The government does not provide any funds either for its operation and maintenance costs or renovation. Nevertheless, Kanupp has invested millions of dollars since 1990 in extensive inspections, overhaul and replacement of major equipment, retrofits and safety improvement through its own resources,” he explained.Well-known scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy, who works at the physics department of the Islamabad-based Quaid-i-Azam University, told Dawn that older plants were generally less safe than newer ones for two reasons. “Forty years ago, when Kanupp was designed by Canadian engineers, there was much less understanding of plant safety and issues related to terrorism, loss of coolant accidents, etc. A second reason is that plants emit neutrons which, over years of operation, weaken the metal and concrete in the surrounding structures. The IAEA may have given permission, but safety standards are different for developing and developed countries. A reactor like Kanupp would not be allowed a licence to operate in the US,” he said.





A report in The News  mentioned.

Chairman Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Dr Ansar Pervaiz has said that they are aware of the concerns about the risks to the growing population living around the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (Kanupp), but the plant could operate safely for at least another 10 years.The PAEC chief was explaining the incident of leakage of heavy water from one of the feeders of the nuclear power plant earlier this week, causing an in-house emergency situation for five hours. He said that 90 percent of the leaked heavy water was recollected and put back into the plant before it could cause any radiation risk. Dr Pervaiz said that shutting down the nuclear power plant was not an option. “Firstly, the plant is being operated in the safest possible environment by taking all internationally prescribed nuclear precautionary and safety measures. Secondly, plant operations have great utility for the electric supply system of the city.” He said they worked within the regulatory framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA). “So the Kanupp operations don’t pose any risk.” Dr Pervaiz said that the PAEC was aware of the demographic changes around Kanupp since 1972 when the plant was put into commercial use but all safety measures had been taken to secure the population. He said that the recent incident of heavy water leakage had in no way compromised the safety of Kanupp’s personnel or the people living around the installation. According to the PAEC chief, the nuclear power plant went through a major overhaul, giving it a new lease of life, during its two-year-long shutdown starting in December 2002. “Kanupp’s licence is renewed and reviewed after every two years by the PNRA and such frequent reviews of the licence of a nuclear power plant is not even carried out in the United States.” About the expansion plans of the plant at the Hawkesbay site, Dr Pervaiz said the PAEC had been mandated by the government to generate 80,800MW of electricity by 2030, adding that new projects of nuclear-sourced power could be planned in the vicinity of the Kannup site. “But so far the details of planning have been far from finalisation.”

The KANUPP has been designed with a capacity of  137MW but usually operates at lower power – reportedly 80MW, but KESC announced a loss of power from the shutdown of 90MW (which could be an excuse to magnify loss – assuming no one will check – possible – needs verification). Power plants are designed for a certian capacity, but in practice, run at lower than that due to scheduled or unscheduled outages (emergency/maintenance/etc) or at lower than designed capacity for technical reasons or lack of fuel or requirements.

According to IAEA PRIS (International Atomic Energy Agency – Power Reactor Information System), Pakistan has the greatest Unplanned Capability Loss – 21.4%  of all countries in the world as per 2010 statistics (before above mentioned leak). Followed by India at 13.8. Unplanned capability loss does not include planned shutdowns, maintenance, etc and is described by the IAEA as

The ratio of the unplanned energy losses during a given period of time, to the reference energy generation, expressed as a percentage.

Unplanned energy loss is energy that was not produced during the period because of unplanned shutdowns, outage extensions, or unplanned load reductions due to causes under plant management control. Energy loss is considered to be unplanned if it is not scheduled at least four weeks in advance.

Annual time online, which was 6063 in 2010, has dropped to 2768 in 2011. Load factor has dropped from 42.4 to 19.2. Enerfy availability has dropped from 43.4% to 23.3%. While the production for the reactor has remained erratic over its lifetime, in the wake of Fukushima and considering the age of the reactor (On June 30, 2009, a senior official of PAEC, has stated that the KANUPP will be decommissioned in 2012), it underscores the need for impeccable attention to safety.

That there is another unplanned shutdown is a matter of concern, as it points to problems with the plant, which we are unaware of. With the teeming Karachi (insert population 8.2mil?) around it, and a concerning trend for unpredictable operations, and in the wake of Fukushima, there needs to be transparency on the state of operations and the measures being taken to improve safety and reliability of the plant.

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