Pakistan has connected its new, largely Chinese-built nuclear reactor to the national grid as part of broader plans to overcome long-running crippling power shortages.
The facility is located at Chashma, a town in the central province of Punjab, where China has constructed two other nuclear reactors, known as Chashma-1 and Chashma-2. They went into operation in 2000 and 2011 respectively, supplying 600 megawatts of electricity to the grid.
The so-called Chashma-3 project, with an installed capacity of 340 megawatts, was inaugurated “on trial basis” this past Saturday, according to a spokesman for the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC).
“After performing various safety and functional tests, the plant will attain full power in first fortnight of December 2016,” Shahid Riaz, told VOA Monday.
Canada helped Pakistan build its first nuclear power plant 44 years ago in the southern port city of Karachi, which Riaz said is currently generating around 80 megawatts of electricity.
Pakistan is also constructing another two plants in Karachi with China’s help at a cost of around $10 billion scheduled to be completed by 2021, with a combined capacity of around 2,200 megawatts. Under the agreement, Beijing will also provide enriched uranium for fuel.
Islamabad’s so-called Energy Security Plan envisages a nuclear power production of around 8,800 megawatts by 2030 and 40,000 megawatts by the year 2050.
The deepening nuclear cooperation between the traditionally close allies comes amid reservations that Pakistan is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which binds member nations to ensure fissile materials are not used for making weapons.
Islamabad dismisses any such concerns.
Pakistan tested nuclear devices in 1998 in response to similar tests by arch-rival India. New Delhi also refuses to sign NPT.
Pakistani authorities maintain that all of their civilian nuclear facilities are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and the country “voluntarily” observes a moratorium on nuclear testing.
Analysts see growing nuclear cooperation between the two countries as a response to the 2005 commercial deal between the United States and India.
Islamabad has since been unhappy about what it and criticizes it as a discriminatory U.S. approach and has been seeking a similar deal with Washington. Beijing sees the growing U.S.-India nuclear axis as a geopolitical challenge.
Beijing is also investing billions of dollars to build an economic corridor to link Western China and Pakistan’s southern deep-water port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea. The $46 billion so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will see construction of road and rail networks as well as power projects producing thousands of megawatts of electricity to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis.