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NUCLEAR ACCIDENT IN PAKISTAN?

Paper No. 290                  07.08.2001

by B. Raman

It is learnt that the Chinese-supplied Chashma nuclear power station in Pakistan, which was formally commissioned in May,2001,coinciding with the observance of the 50th anniversary of the Sino-Pak diplomatic relations after a trial run of nearly a year, has been closed down for the last few days.

This has given rise to rumours in Islamabad and Punjab that there has been an accident in the powser station resulting in radioactive leakage.  However, these rumours have been strongly refuted by the Pakistani authorities, according to whom, it was a planned temporary shut-down for periodic maintenance.

"The Frontier Post" of Peshawar has reported as follows: " Atomic Energy Commission has refuted claims that the Chashma Power Plant has been closed down in view of performing further nuclear tests or due to steam leakage and said it has been closed down only for necessary repairs. According to the Chashma Power Plant spokesman, all such claims are baseless and unfounded.  The plant has been closed down temporarily for necessary maintenance and would be reopened shortly after the overhauling of the plant is complete after which it would then be linked with the National grid."

No independent evidence has been forthcoming so far.  In this connection, attention is invited to the following extracts from our paper titled "Sino-Pak Nuclear Co-operation" of June 8,2000, which is available at www.saag.org/notes2/note101.html .

 "When China's negotiations with Pakistan started in 1989, there were no restrictions on the sale of nuclear equipment for peaceful purposes to the latter, but after the coming into force of the Pressler Amendment in October, 1990, Washington unsuccessfully pressured Beijing not to go ahead with the project.  The latter contended that since the plant would be under the IAEA safeguards, there was no bar on its selling it to the PAEC.

"However, under US pressure, Japan, Germany, France and other Western countries refused to sell any component to China for use in the plant to be supplied to Pakistan. Hence, the entire plant, except some minor components made in Pakistan, were manufactured in China-- some of them like the computerised control system for the first time-- and assembled in Chashma.

"Since last year, questions have been raised by some analysts in Pakistan about the safety of this plant, which is the first attempt by China to manufacture and assemble an entire nuclear power station without any inputs from Japan and the West in the form of components and expertise.

The critics have alleged that the site chosen by the Chinese would be prone to seismic disturbances and that, despite Japanese and Western inputs, the Qinshan plant already had one accident, which damaged some of the radioactive fuel in the reactor, letting it mix with water.

"These allegations have been strongly refuted by the PAEC, which has contended that CHASNUPP would be absolutely safe and efficient.  However, a PAEC official announced on January 21 that the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Board had authorised the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to operate the plant from criticality till its satisfactory production at full capacity, after which the responsibility for its operation would be taken over by the PAEC." 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail : corde@vsnl.com )

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