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Development of the

Nuclear Power Industry in
Pakistan

Adeel Khan
HST 701
History of Science and Development
Ryerson University
June 7, 2001
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

Introduction

Since the first energy crisis hit the world in 1973, there has been a desperate

search for finding a solution to the problem. The developed countries have a better

infrastructure and a more stable economic environment for nuclear power

establishment then the developing nations. They are also mostly in a entangled in

political disorder, corruption, financial turmoil or simply, all of them.

The idea for the development of nuclear technology in Pakistan originated in

the 1950s, and to date has been able to develop two commercial nuclear power

plants along with several other nuclear-related sites. In this paper, all the details

regarding the development of the nuclear industry in Pakistan will be put forth.

The need for Nuclear Technology

After Pakistan lost East Pakistan (which is now Bangladesh) in a war in 1971,

it also lost the perceived right to be considered India’s equal from the military

viewpoint. The 1974 Indian nuclear tests further disturbed the equation. With two

bitter wars against India, a third one could not be ruled out. An acute shortage of

energy also compounded to the problem. Pakistan more frequently resorted to load

shedding (withholding electric power for specific periods of time). Simultaneously, its

major source of energy – the natural gas – was seriously depleted by excessive use,

while the rate of energy consumption increased by 15% per annum. Thus, they had

all the many reasons for the development of nuclear technology.1

1
Shahid Burki, Pakistan – Fifty Years of Nationhood (Colorado: Westview Press, 1999), p.207
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

1955 – 1965: The origins of Nuclear establishment

In 1955, a scientists committee was set up by the government to prepare a

comprehensive nuclear energy scheme followed by the formation of a high-powered

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) in 1956. It comprised of the following

members: Nazir Ahmed (Chairman), M. Raziuddin Siddiqui (Member in charge of

planning and research), Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, M.O. Ghani and M.H. Toosi.2 Nazir

Ahmed was an experimental physicist who worked at the Cavendish Laboratory

under Ernest Rutherford. M. Siddiqui is a mathematical physicist who had been

taught by the likes of some great scientists namely, Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac,

Werner Heisenberg, etc. So there were some intelligent minds to power the Pakistani

campaign for nuclear production.

In the first ten years of its inception, PAEC was devoted to the task of giving

individuals adequate training and expertise in the usage of sophisticated equipment.

Several hundred scientists and engineers were carefully selected and sent to

Harewell in the United Kingdom, and the Argonne, Oakridge, and Brookhaven fin the

United States, for training under the Atoms for Peace program and other such

bilateral arrangements.3

After five years, PAEC acquired a research reactor with a power of 5 MW and

it was installed in Islamabad.4 The Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and

Technology (PINSTECH) was built around the reactor. Since then, it has been used to

for the purpose of training, research, and radioisotope production since then. The

institute also set Radiation Centers in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore among others.

In 1961, Abdus Salam, a physicist and Nobel Laureate for his works in the

2
James Katz and Onkar Marwah, Nuclear Power in Developing Countries (Toronto and Lexington:
Lexington Press, 1982), p.263
3
Ibid., p.263
4
Daniel Poneman, Nuclear Power in the Developing World (London: George Allen and Unwin Publishers
Ltd., 1982), p.40
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

interactions in elementary particles, was appointed as an honorary scientific advisor

to the commission.

1965 – 1974: Initiation of the Nuclear Power Program

In 1965-1966, PAEC decided to acquire its first nuclear power reactor.

Westinghouse of Canada came to the fore, after some reasonable agreements

regarding credit facilities and a suitable reactor, and thus an atomic reactor of 137

MW generating capacity was set up.5 It is a heavy-water reactor and uses natural

uranium as fuel. The fuel (or most of it) was being supplied by Canada. The plant

also has the production facility for heavy water. It went critical in 1971 and one year

later started to provide electricity to Southern Pakistan.6

Since the time of the purchase of the reactor, arrangements were being made

with the manufacturers to train Pakistani personnel on the job. Thus, Pakistani

engineers and scientists gradually reached a point when they exercised complete

control of the facilities. During the same period a training school at the Karachi

Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) was also started for similar purposes. In 1971, newly

elected President Zulfiqar Bhutto made several changes in the atomic commission;

notable among them was the induction of I. H. Usmani, the then director of the

Reactor Section at the IAEA in Vienna. Having gained confidence by the performance

of the Karachi reactor PAEC forged ahead to expand its program.

5
James Katz and Onkar Marwah, Nuclear Power in Developing Countries, p.264
6
Ibid., p.264
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

1974 - 1984: Establishment of the Nuclear Industry

The period between 1974 and 1984 mostly saw Pakistan establish several

nuclear-related sites throughout the country. Even as the governments quickly

changed hands and the Pakistani rupee showed signs of weakness, development of

nuclear power was seldom affected. In 1974, India confirmed its nuclear prowess by

conducting a ‘peaceful’ underground nuclear test. Highly dependable multiple reports

from Pakistan suggested that the process of weaponizing its nuclear technology was

underway. This coupled with India’s tests were good enough reasons for the United

States to impose sanctions on the two countries. Keeping in mind that Canada can

anytime discontinue its nuclear-related supplies, PAEC decided to build a fuel

fabrication plant at Kundian. Construction of a uranium-enrichment plant also

commenced the same year.7

In 1975, PAEC decided to erect a second power plant. Construction went

underway the same year and the plant was expected to generate 400 to 600 MW.8

The plant was located in Chasma, central Punjab. The plan, however, failed to

materialize mainly due to inadequate funds and lack of expertise on the projects. The

venture at Chasma, however, was later undertaken by China. Another setback

occurred, in 1976, when Canada halted its supply of nuclear fuel for KANUPP.

Even after the social chaos and economic shakiness that followed the civil

war, PAEC was committed to move forward. Plans to augment nuclear fuel-

generation were not halted, though they were slowed due to renewed emphasis on

self-sufficiency. The result was a major win situation. On August 31, 1980, Pakistan

had joined a select list of twelve technologically advanced nations that are able to

manufacture nuclear fuel from uranium. The site of the fuel-fabrication plant was

Kundian. This reportedly saved the country around 2 billion rupees ($40 million)

7
Andrew Koch and Jennifer Topping, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program: A Status Report”, Monterey
Institute of International Studies (1999), p.3
8
Ernest Lefever, Nuclear Arms in the Third World (Washington: The Brookings Instituite, 1979), p.42
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

annually,9 apart from guaranteeing fuel supply and foreign dependence on costly

imported oil. The smooth fuel supply increased KANUPP’s generation from 35 MW to

90 MW.10

In 1984, the uranium-enrichment plant project was successfully completed in

Kahuta. Simultaneously, the resources of A. Qayyum Khan, a German trained

physicist, were rendered when Khan Research Laboratory (KRL) was installed in

Kahuta to overlook the plant. In addition to Kahuta, two other smaller centrifuge

facilities were ordered for construction in Golra and Silaha.11 It was planned that the

Golra facility may be used to test advanced centrifuge designs before they are

installed at Kahuta.

There are, nevertheless, some facilities that have not been made official. There

are others of whom only very limited information is available. Following is a list of

them:

• Unsafeguarded heavy water production facility in Multan with a capacity of

13 MT / year

• The unsafeguarded Khushab reactor is reportedly also the site of a tritium

production facility. The task was completed in 1987 with German assistance

• A plutonium reprocessing plant at Chasma. Construction was reportedly

completed in 1998

• A Uranium Hexaflouride Conversion plant in Dera Ghazi Khan

• Uranium mills in three possible locations: Lahore, Dera Ghazi Khan and Issa

Khel

• Two Uranium mines are also said to exist in Dera Ghazi Khan and Lakki

9
James Katz and Onkar Marwah, Nuclear Power in Developing Countries, p.268
10
Ibid. , p.268
11
Andrew Koch and Jennifer Topping, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program: A Status Report”, p.6
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

• The Pakistan Ordinance Factory at Wah is considered a major site for

weaponization. The factory possesses expertise in fusing, high explosives,

and heavy machining.12

1985 – 2000: Development of the Nuclear Industry

Since 1985, after most of the nuclear facilities were installed, concentration

shifted to the production side. But the onus was on weaponization rather then

electrification. In the early 1980’s, multiple reports were said that Pakistan was

about obtaining pre-tested bomb design from China along with bomb-grade

uranium.13 In 1986, Pakistan and China signed a pact for the exchange of nuclear

technology, including design, construction, and operation of reactors. This was a

major event in the history of Pakistan’s nuclear expansion as China was and still is

among the world leaders in this field.

By 1986, KANUPP, the only commercial reactor, was providing approximately

0.5% of Pakistan’s total electric supplies.14 Earlier estimates by the IAEA and PAEC,

that nuclear power would contribute to around 12% of the country’s energy needs,

failed miserably. Over enthusiasm, deviation of goals and political corruption played

huge roles in this failure. In 1987, the tritium plant project was completed. And in

the same year A.Q. Khan stated in a public interview that the state possessed a

bomb. In 1988, President Zia-ul-Haq confirmed to Khan’s testimony.

In 1989, Pakistan tested Hatf-2 missile. It is capable of nuclear payload.

Pakistan also reportedly configured the US-supplied F-16 aircrafts for nuclear

delivery purposes. The same year it also acquired a 27-kilowatt research reactor,

built with Chinese help. Close ties with China were an important reason why Pakistan

was bold enough to move ahead with its nuclear plans. The relationship bore fruit in

12
Ibid. , p.6
13
Ibid. , p.8
14
Shahid Burki, Pakistan – Fifty Years of Nationhood, p.209
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

1990. China finally agreed to take upon the project of designing Pakistan’s second

commercial reactor at Chasma. The same year Dr. A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan's

bomb, received the ‘Man of the Nation’ award.

The 1990’s, however, saw an enormous slowdown in the economic, industrial

and political development. This was as a result of poor governance, discrimination

against the less-advantaged factions of the society and corruption were major

reasons for the miserable situation the country was in. And it equally effected the

nuclear industry.

In 1991, the Nawaz Sharif government took a step forward towards peace

when it entered into agreement with India, prohibiting the two states from attacking

each other's nuclear installations. But a damning report published in 1993 by the

Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, saying about 14,000 uranium-

enrichment centrifuges were installed in Pakistan and German customs officials

seized about 1,000 gas centrifuges bound for Pakistan, did its credibility no good.15

By the mid-1990’s Pakistan's nuclear scientists reportedly had enriched

Uranium 235 to more than 90 per cent.16 In 1996, India and Pakistan exchange lists

of atomic installations which each side has pledged not to attack under an over

seven-year-old confidence-building agreement. Later that year, Khan Laboratory in

Kahuta, purchased 5,000 ring magnets from China.17 The ring magnets would allow

Pakistan to effectively double its capacity to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons

production.

Nevertheless, 28 May 1998 was an unfortunate day for the average Pakistani

when the state reacted to India’s nuclear testing. Pakistan detonated five nuclear

devices at Chagai Hills, which they claimed measured up to 5.0 on the Richter scale,

with a reported yield of up to 40 KT (equivalent TNT). On 30 May 1998 another

15
Andrew Koch and Jennifer Topping, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program: A Status Report”, p.8
16
Pakistan Defense, http://wahcantt.www8.50megs.com
17
Ibid
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

nuclear warhead was tested, with a yield of 12 kilotons. This horrendous event

caused the rupee to slide and dampened the economy even further.

It was only after yet another military coup, this one under General Perveiz

Musharraf, which brought some stability to the nation. On 23 March 2000 the second

commercial reactor that was being built by China was finally inaugurated. The plant

has a capacity of 325 MW and was erected by seven Chinese companies. Unlike

many other plants, the Chasma nuclear power plant, or CANUPP, successfully

generated electricity on June 13 and has been doing so ever since. After completing

full power operation, the station will be formally handed over to Pakistan. The

addition of the new power station has now increased the nuclear input for electricity

purposes to 1%. It might be a small step but it is finally placed in the right direction.

The government intends to develop the next commercial plant, without any foreign

support, within the next eight years.

Comparison of sources

Authors and contributors of various sources have contrasting views on some

matters. Also, conflicting information of certain projects are different in different

sources. This was expected because in Pakistan’s case, there is a lack of

transparency and a paucity of publicly available information about its nuclear

capabilities. Thus there has always been confusion regarding the existence of certain

nuclear sites and the level of equipment they possess.

While Nuclear Power in Developing Countries talks more about usage of

nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Nuclear Power in the Developing World has a

more realistic approach towards the Pakistani nuclear industry. Pakistan’s Nuclear

Weapon’s Program: A Status Report has been used for the purpose of updating, as it

was an updated and comprehensive source of information. The source books were
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

published in the 1970’s and 80’s. Surprisingly, there haven’t been many recent

articles that were comprehensive about this topic.

There have been conflicts regarding start and end dates, nuclear sites, and

purpose of certain operations. This goes to show how much limited confirmed

information is available. For instance, Nuclear Arms In The Third World insists that

expansion of the atomic sector is also a result of lack of skilled personnel while

Nuclear Power in Developing Countries maintains that training individuals in atomic

technology have always been a priority of the government and the various atomic

related agencies.

Conclusion

To say that nuclear technology has stalled the country’s economy is vastly

untrue. It is the way it has been utilized. Various sanctions and aid cut-offs resulted

from Pakistan’s policy to go on the offensive with nuclear means. Had Pakistan even

been a little more conservative in its approach, it would have brought great financial

and social gains to the nation as a whole.

Pakistan’s idea of spending a large share of its budget is understandable due

to tensions with neighbours India. But such astronomical sums, as it has spent in the

past, are unforgivable, looking at the fact that 34% of the population is poor.

Had Pakistan’s policy-makers been sincere in the usage of nuclear technology,

Pakistan might have been producing 25% electrical energy from it by now (as was

projected by IAEA). If human lives are given priority over personal gains there is no

doubt in my mind that nuclear technology, along with all other sectors of the

industry, will save Pakistan billions of rupees apart from creating many a jobs for

both the skilled and unskilled labor. Right now, all we can do is keep our fingers

crossed and hope for the best.
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

Bibliography

1- Shahid Burki, Pakistan – Fifty Years of Nationhood (Colorado: Westview Press,

1999)

2- Daniel Poneman, Nuclear Power in the Developing World (London: George

Allen and Unwin Publishers Ltd., 1982)

3- James Katz and Onkar Marwah, Nuclear Power in Developing Countries

(Toronto and Lexington: Lexington Press, 1982)

4- Ernest Lefever, Nuclear Arms in the Third World (Washington: The Brookings

Institute, 1979)

5- Andrew Koch and Jennifer Topping, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program: A

Status Report”, Monterey Institute of International Studies (1999)

6- Pakistan Defense, http://wahcantt.www8.50megs.com

Note: Bold font for footnotes is employed when the entire paragraph or list has been

taken, rather then just a sentence
Adeel Khan Ryerson University June 2001

Figure 1: Pakistan’s Nuclear-Related Facilities