19 October 2014

Court Rules Against Construction of Karachi Reactors in Pakistan

Court Rules Against Construction of Karachi Reactors in Pakistan

19 October 2014

The Sindh High Court on 16 October 2014 barred Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) from continuing work on two new nuclear reactors being built near the city of Karachi, Pakistan, without adhering to environmental laws.

A temporary stay order was granted by the Court on a petition filed by a group of citizens. The petitioners cited the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the federal and the provincial environmental protection agencies as respondents for failing to obtain the necessary environmental clearances.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on 26 November 2013 for the construction of two ACP-1000 reactors, of 1100 MW each, to be supplied by China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) on a turnkey basis. The two reactors, worth $4.8 billion apiece, are to be funded in part by a $6.5 billion loan from China. The project has drawn unusually open and direct opposition from political leaders, local officials and independent scientists, in particular because of the untested nature of the technology.

Legal counsel for the petitioners stated that “the ACP-1000 reactor so far exists only on paper and in computer programs and any real life experience, tests and trials ... on the ACP-1000 design will be from operating the reactors in Karachi”.

The coastal site is seismically active and on the outskirts of one of the world’s most densely populated areas, with 20 million people living in Karachi city, that would make mass evacuation in case of a major accident virtually impossible. The site is next to the forty year-old Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP).

Under Section 12 of the 1997 Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, (PEPA) no proponent of a project is permitted to commence construction or operation unless an initial environmental examination with the provincial EPA has been filed or, where the project is likely to cause adverse environmental effects, an environmental impact assessment and has obtained approval from the EPA. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is mandatory prior to the construction of a nuclear power plant.

The petitioners claimed that the EIA filed by the Atomic Energy Commission with the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency and the then provincial environmental protection agency was in gross violation of Section 12(3) of the PEPA. It was also cited that the review of the EIA was carried out without inviting public participation and the relevant information was kept secret from the public.