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Chashma Power Plant: Chasnupp will continue to be accident prone

Paper no. 295          16. 08. 2001

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

In a recent paper ( we had referred to a possible nuclear accident in the Chinese supplied Chashma nuclear power station that was formally inaugurated in May 2001 after a trial run of over one year.  The station is said to have been closed down for a few days.    There has been no reference to the accident in the media except for strong denials from the authorities.

Going by the history of the Chashma power plant which was based on the design of the earlier Qinshan 1 plant of China in Zhejiang province, China, it was no surprise that the nuclear plant at Chashma would experience difficulties and safety hazards.

A Risk report while questioning the capability of China to build its own reactors said that China cannot build a nuclear power station without foreign help.  It further said that the first plant (Qinshan-1) built by China experienced a series of technical problems before it started producing electricity in 1993.  One US government expert who tracks China’s nuclear progress said that the statement of China that the reactor was made entirely in China was a "lie." The pressure vessel was made in Japan and the coolant pumps were imported from Germany.

Another Scientist who had visited the plant a few times told the writer that at the construction stage itself that there were many design and safety problems and outside experts had to visit Qinshan Plant fourteen times before the safety hazards could be set right. There were also reports that the plant was closed down for one year and that a US company, Westinghouse, was asked to identify and rectify the problem.   It is claimed by both the Chinese and Pakistan authorities that the Chashma plant though modelled on Chinese Qinshan, is an improvement and the technology is based on the "experience gained from their own plant". .. after protracted research and development programme.  But the basic design however is the same as the original one and will have the same flaws.

After Qinshan-1 Nuclear Power Plant, one would have expected the Chinese to build more power plants of the same type in their country with the experience gained.  Instead they approached other countries to build additional power reactors.  The second reactor at Qinshan was by Framatome of France and Westinghouse of USA.  A  third one was by French, Canadian and Japanese firms.  Canada was actively assisting in building CANDU type reactors.  These would indicate China’s open admission that it cannot build reactors on its own without foreign inputs and yet they chose to build the Chashma Plant based on their indigenous and not so successful Qinshan-1.

Chashma Power Plant: The Chashma power plant project was first initiated in the 1970s with French assistance.  France terminated its assistance in 1978.  Subsequently under American pressure even the reprocessing plant which had been agreed to with IAEA safeguards by France was also abandoned.

The project was subsequently taken by the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) as a cooperative project between Pakistan and China.  Work started in August 1993 .   The plant went "critical" on 3 May 2000 and connected to the grid of WAPDA on June 13, 2000.  The PAEC took over the plant on September 25, 2000.

The UNI report of January 17 from Islamabad said there was a fire in the Chashma plant the previous month and that the government ensured that it was not reported by the Press.  The report went on to say. " Independent nuclear experts in Pakistan have never been at ease about the design and the location of this plant.  This was brought out at a panel discussion on this plant at the sustainable policy development institute here last month."

Dr. A.H.Nayyar of the physics department of Quaid-e-Azam university made two important points on the plant. 1. The plant was located at a seismic fault and near the earthquake centre.  This was reported by a Columbian University team.  2. China supplied Pakistan a plant  with a faulty design of Qingshan -1 which they themselves could not work and there were many problems.  There was also a report of a major accident in Qinshan -1 in China.

The problem of Reactor Pressure vessel: Since China had no experience in building a Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) on its own, the RPV of the original Qinshan plant was built by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Japan.  For a pressure vessel at Chashma, China approached USA, Japan, France and Germany for the import of the pressure vessel but due to American pressure none obliged.  The Chinese even approached South Korea for the vessel.  South Korea also declined  at that point of time, as it was hoping to get into the "nuclear Suppliers Group".

In the first week of April 2001, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad, Chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and adviser designate to the  CEO (now President) ,  while speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the Power plant said that Pakistan has planned to establish another nuclear power plant with hundred percent indigenous expertise based on the experience of the Chashma plant.  It is hoped that he will review his plans and look for another model other than the original Qinshan 1.