Nuclear Energy for Climate Justice- A Climate-Resilient Energy Solution for Pakistan

by Qurat-ul-Ain and Hira Bashir
Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, speaking at a nuclear summit in Brussels, underscored the imperative of “aggressive financing” for nuclear energy projects, citing the vulnerability of developing nations to climate change as the driving force behind this initiative. During his meeting with Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dar urged international financial institutions and banks to extend support to nuclear energy ventures in developing countries. Pakistan, grappling with the aftermath of catastrophic floods in 2022 and confronted with a persistent energy crisis, stands as a prime example of a nation in dire need of both energy security and climate resilience.
The article advocates for Pakistan to pursue a dual strategy of meeting its energy needs while combating climate change. Despite its minimal contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan disproportionately suffers from climate-induced disasters. Hence, the call for climate justice is not only justified but imperative for global equity. By garnering international backing for its transition to clean energy, Pakistan can address its energy deficit while bolstering its resilience against climate adversities. Pakistan has set an ambitious target to generate 40,000 MW of electricity from nuclear power by the year 2048. To realize this vision, investing in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) emerges as a cost-effective and environmentally responsible solution. These innovative reactors offer scalability, enhanced safety features, and reduced construction costs compared to traditional nuclear plants. However, the implementation of SMRs requires substantial financial investment, and technological transfer. This assistance should be guided by a climate justice approach, recognizing Pakistan’s right to equitable access to technological transfer for sustainable development. By providing financial support for the construction of SMRs, the world community can not only helps Pakistan meet its energy demands but also contributes to global efforts to mitigate climate change. The global shift towards cleaner energy sources, prompted by the adverse impacts of fossil fuel combustion and the pursuit of net-zero emissions, positions nuclear energy as a viable alternative. Nuclear power offers stable electricity production without reliance on foreign fuel imports, thus enhancing energy security. Despite past concerns about safety and radioactive waste management, advancements in nuclear technology, particularly SMRs, have addressed these apprehensions, offering enhanced safety and operational efficiency. This is particularly appealing amidst global energy supply disruptions, such as those caused by conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine situation. Nuclear energy is cheaper, safe and more reliable than renewable energy hence the adoption of nuclear energy is an important step towards combating climate change while ensuring energy security and independence for nations worldwide. According to research, the fly ash released by coal-fired power plants, which is a by-product of burning coal for electricity, can carry significantly more radiation into the surrounding environment compared to a nuclear power plant generating the same amount of energy.
Traditional nuclear plants have faced significant disasters, raising concerns about safety and the management of radioactive waste. However, advancements in nuclear technology have led to the development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). These SMRs offer enhanced safety features, such as passive safety systems and simplified designs, making them less susceptible to hazards like earthquakes and meltdowns. They produce around one-third, or up to 300 MW, of the power generating capacity of traditional nuclear reactor. SMRs emit no greenhouse gases and require less frequent refueling, with some models operating for up to 30 years before needing refueling. Currently in the developmental phase, SMRs have garnered investment from countries like the US, UK, Canada, and China. China and Russia have successfully operationalized SMRs while United States expecting its first SMR, developed by NuScale Power, to be completed around 2030. The global market for SMRs is expected to be worth up to $300 billion by 2040. Making a case for building SMRs in Pakistan this would be like killing two birds with same fire i-e it would fulfill our energy requirements and also fostering clean energy transitions. SMRs an affordable solution to Pakistan’s energy crisis, making them a compelling option for adoption. China’s continued support for Pakistan in the nuclear domain, despite criticism from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, provides an opportunity for Pakistan to leverage cooperation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to access SMR technology. Due to its weapons program, Pakistan finds itself outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, facing significant restrictions on its ability to engage in trade involving nuclear plants or materials. Consequently, this limitation poses a hindrance to Pakistan’s pursuit of civil nuclear energy development, impacting its ability to address energy demands sustainably and contribute to climate justice efforts. Despite these challenges, China has expressed a willingness to cooperate with Pakistan in the nuclear sector, offering potential avenues for advancing clean energy initiatives. Moreover, in 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency initiated a program aimed at supporting the advancement of civil nuclear power, which provides additional opportunities for Pakistan to enhance its nuclear energy capabilities. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi during his visit last year in February highlighted a promising future for nuclear power in Pakistan, noting strong political support for new nuclear power plants and emphasizing Pakistan’s “world-class and impeccable” nuclear safety record. Grossi also recognized Pakistan’s technical and engineering capacity for new nuclear power plants, including Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), signaling potential progress toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing climate justice concerns. This acknowledgment from the IAEA chief underscores the importance of international collaboration in fostering sustainable energy solutions, ensuring equitable access to clean energy, and advancing climate justice goals, particularly in regions facing challenges like Pakistan. By Qurat-Ul-Ain Shabbir is a research officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) AJK. Currently, she is pursuing her Ph.D. degree in DSS from Quaid-i-Azam University. Her areas of interest include comprehensive security and conflict analysis.                  Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir