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China-Pakistan Nuclear Cooperation: Unclear Facts

Dr. G. Balachandran was a Consulting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • April 18, 2013

    A recent story by a Washington-based reporter, Bill Gertz, in Free Beacon/Washington Times, that Pakistan and China have recently concluded a secret agreement for building a 1,000 MWe nuclear power plant—Chashma-3—has evoked many comments on websites and blogs by both Indians and non-Indians. While the former have focused on the alleged “illegality” of the contract— allegedly because no evidence is given on the legal basis for such a conclusion—the latter have been more concerned about laying the grounds for such an agreement on the doors of the Indo-US nuclear deal. In doing so, they conveniently forget that the China-Pakistan collusion on nuclear transfers, both civil and more importantly military nuclear matters, started long before there was any thought given to any possible India-US cooperation on civilian nuclear transfers. The only feature common to these comments is the absence of facts.

    Bill Gertz made two points in his story that requires investigation. The first relates to the Pakistan-China nuclear cooperation for a 1,000 MWe Chashma-3; and the second on the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, confirming this development during a press conference on March 25, when asked about the above mentioned news report, stating that “China has noted the relevant report…but denied the sale violates the voluntary NSG guidelines”. Gertz citing the press conference says, “The cooperation between China and Pakistan does not violate relevant principles of the Nuclear Suppliers Group…In recent years, China and Pakistan do indeed carry out some joint projects related to civilian use of nuclear energy. These projects are for peaceful purpose only, in compliance with the international obligations shared by both countries, and they are subject to guarantee and monitor by international atomic energy organization.”

    Finding it odd, the author of this work sent repeated emails to Gertz requesting clarification on two points: First, how could the secret agreement be in respect to Chashma-3 reactor when construction of the Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 nuclear power plants is already half way through to completion? Second, since the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website with the transcript does not contain any reference to any China-Pakistan nuclear story, would Gertz provide a suitable reference to the reported reply of Hong? There has not been any response so far.

    There have been some suggestions that the Chashma-3 reference is with respect to the already on-going Chashma-3 programme for a 300 MWe NPP, which will now be transformed into a 1,000 MWe project. Given that already more than half the estimated cost of the Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 projects—Rs 100 billion out of estimated Rs 189 billion —has been spent, it is not conceivable in engineering terms as to how a 300 MWe project can now be transformed into a 1,000 MWe project! Therefore, one can safely reject Gertz’s story about a 1,000 MWe Chashma-3 secret agreement between China and Pakistan.

    Does this mean that there cannot, or will not, be another China-Pakistan agreement for additional reactors to be supplied by China to Pakistan as a violation of China’s assurances to Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) members? Possibly, since so far no NSG member has confirmed in any open forum about any assurances given by China to the NSG members about its contractual obligations in respect of nuclear sales to Pakistan.

    It is interesting to note the following points that arise from a study of various official Pakistani sources (PAEC and others) about China-Pakistan civil nuclear cooperation:

    • In November 1991, soon after China's first indigenously designed 300 MWe Qinshan-l NPP came on-line, China agreed to supply a similar reactor to Pakistan. Considering the international political environment at the time, and based on the suitability of the Chashma site for NPPs, the contract for C-l project of 300 MWe was signed in December 1991, with provision for a second 300 MWe plant.
    • A contract worth $589 million was signed with CNNC for the supply of Chashma-2 in late 2003 or early 2004.
    • A Task Force had been set up in 2001 to prepare an energy security plan. This plan, which was unveiled in 2005, envisaged a nuclear generation capacity of 8,800 MWe by 2030, with the construction of two 600 MWe NPPs after Chashma-2, preferably at Karachi. At that time, it was also considered that if China was unable to provide a 600 MWe unit, it would be substituted by two 300 MWe units.
    • Much earlier, Pakistan had considered the construction of 600 MWe NPPs. In March 1975, a “Feasibility Study for 600 MWe Nuclear Power Plant CHASNUPP”, was completed by Lahmeyer International GmbH of Germany for the Chashma site in the northern electric grid of Pakistan. But this project could not be implemented at the time owing to financial constraints. Then again in June 1981, PAEC and M/S SENER of Spain carried out another feasibility study to update the Lahmeyer study for 600 MW and also to consider a 900 MWe unit.
    • In 2006, China indicated its inability to supply either 600 MWe or 1,000 MWe units to Pakistan, due to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) considerations. However, China indicated that construction of the first Chinese 1000 MWe unit (CNP1000 to be called K1000 in Pakistan) could be started in Pakistan in November 2011, and offered assistance to build additional units of 300 MWe size immediately.
    • In order to maintain continuity in the construction of NPPs to meet the energy security goals and to develop local capabilities, a project for installing two 300 MWe units was envisaged in consultation with the Chinese. This concept was approved by the Pakistan Government in March 2008.
    • At that time, the PAEC also felt that this project will help to unshackle the NSG’s embargos on Pakistan in a very short time frame, and prompt other NPP suppliers to follow suit.
    • Construction of C-3 and C-4 began in late 2008. The project was estimated to cost Rs 189.92 billion. The money spent till FY 2013 is estimated at Rs 100 Billion. The commercial operation of these units is expected to start in December 2016 and October 2017, respectively.
    • In FY 2007-08, the Pakistan Government sanctioned a project for the “Acquisition/Development of Land and Construction of Office Building and Accommodation of NP Supplier of KANUPP-2”. The estimated cost of the project was Rs 1.6 billion of which to date about Rs 1 billion has already been spent.

    It is, therefore, most likely that any future agreement between China and Pakistan for transfer of another NPP will be for a 1,000 MWe plant at Karachi, to be designated as K-2.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.