Pakistan Allows China to Use Karachi as Lab Rats in Nuclear-Energy Experiment

Karachi. Wikimedia Commons

Karachi. Wikimedia Commons

As if Karachi didn’t have enough problems. Already, it’s “far and away the world’s most dangerous megacity,” writes Taimur Khan in Foreign Policy. Due, in large part to Sunni attacks on Shiites, its homicide rate is “25 percent higher than any other major city.” Now it’s broken ground on two new nuclear power plants. All together now: What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, even more than you think and for a reason outside the bounds of nuclear energy’s attendant risks.

On December 16, physicists A.H. Nayyar, Pervez Hoodbhoy, and Zia Mann sounded an alarm at Pakistan’s Dawn. It seems that the plants were purchased from and are being designed and built by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNCC). Considering how dysfunctional Pakistan is, shouldn’t we be happy it’s not developing them and hyper-efficient China is? Uh, not necessarily. The authors explain.

What people may not know is that the reactors will be based on a design … that is still under development by this Chinese nuclear power company. In effect, Pakistanis are buying reactors for the Karachi site that so far exist only on paper and in computer programmes — there is no operating reactor in China based on this design.

Nor is there really even a design. Nayyar, et al, again.

It was reported in April 2013 that the CNNC … had completed a “preliminary safety analysis report”, and was “working on construction design”. This means so far there is not even a complete design.

In other words

Since the new Karachi reactors will be the first of a kind, no one knows how safe they will be or how well they will work. … The 20 million people of Karachi are being used as subjects in a giant nuclear safety experiment.

And should that experiment fail?

A preliminary study by one of the authors found that the plume of radioactive material that could be released from a severe nuclear accident could be blown eastward by the wind over the city, engulfing the most populous areas of Karachi.

Besides that:

There is also no information on the terms for the supply of nuclear fuel, such as how long the very hot, intensely radioactive spent nuclear fuel will stay at the site and how will it be safely stored until it is returned to China, if it is returned at all.

The authors remind us that not only was spent fuel fundamental to the Fukushima disaster but that the cost of its “clean-up so far is estimated to be about $100 billion and could eventually be much higher.” Perhaps worst of all:

An analysis undertaken two years ago, in 2011, by the science magazine Nature and Columbia University in New York showed that the nuclear reactor site in Karachi has more people living within 30km than any other reactor site in the world. [But] there is no information on what emergency plans, including for possible evacuation, have been drawn up as part of preparing for these large new reactors [or] whether such plans even exist.

An especially insidious consequence of the lack of an evacuation plan:

One expects mass panic, with people deciding to save themselves and their families as best as they could, clogging the roads, and delaying the escape of others closer to the reactor.

In other words, without an evacuation plan in place, as in the United States, especially for reactors such as Indian Point, which is just outside New York’s metropolitan area (and 10 miles from where I live) those most in danger would be the last to evacuate, if, by that point, they’re able to at all.

It’s bad enough using Karachiites as lab rats or guinea pigs, but, should an emergency occur, it only adds insult to injury to leave them little choice but to scatter like cockroaches (no ethnic stereotyping intended!).