ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has inaugurated a nuclear power facility built with the assistance of China.
The plant at Chashma, in Pakistan's Punjab province, adds 340 megawatts to the national grid. Beijing has already constructed two other nuclear reactors, with a combined capacity of more than 600 megawatts.
The three power plants at Chashma are known as C-1, C-2 and C-3 respectively. They are are part of broader plans to overcome long-running crippling power shortages in Pakistan.
“The next (nuclear) power projectwith an installed capacity of 340 megawatts, C-4, is also being built here (in Chashma with Chinese assistance). God willing, it will be operational and connected to the national grid in April, 2017,” Sharif told Wednesday’s ceremony.
Pakistan’s current electricity output stands at around 16,000 megawatts, including nuclear power production.
The government plans to increase the power production by about 60 percent, mainly through Chinese-funded coal, gas and hydro-electricity projects under construction to try to boost Sharif’s re-election bid in next polls due in early 2018.
When Sharif took office in 2013Pakistanis were facingcompulsory power outages for up to 12 hours a day, crippling daily life and plunging businesses into darkness.
The prime minister in his speech Wednesday reiterated his election promise to resolve the crisis by the next elections.
Officials say that Chinese experts and engineers had been running the newly-built C-3 plant “on a trial basis” for three months until they formally handed over its control to their Pakistani counterparts Wednesday.
Beijing is also helping Islamabad construct two nuclear power plants in the southern port city of Karachi at a cost of around $10 billion. The projects, with a combined capacity of around 2,200 megawatts, are scheduled to be completed by 2021.
Under the agreement, China will also provide enriched uranium for fuel.
The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) envisages a nuclear power production of around 8,800 megawatts by 2030.
Pakistan built its first nuclear power plant of 137 megawatts at Karachi in 1972 and it is still in operation, though at a much reduced capacity.
China is the only country helping Pakistan build nuclear power plants because Western nations have put a moratorium on the supply of these facilities citing Islamabad’s nuclear weapons program.
Under a multi-billion dollar cooperation agreement, Beijing is also helping Pakistan construct a network of roads, rails, communication and power projects to boostties between the two traditionally close allies.
The bilateral cooperation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plans to link the northwestern Xinjiang region to Pakistani deep-water port of Gwadar Gwadar in the Arabian Sea, providing Beijing the shortest possible access for its imports and exports to international markets.