The News International
Thursday, August 30, 2012

Islamabad – Are bilateral relations between Pakistan and India at a stage where New Delhi would be open to cooperation with Islamabad in the field of civil nuclear programme?

 While there is little will to cooperate and understand even less sensitive issues, the Strategic Technology Resources (STR) has invited India for cooperation, especially after the release of the report on India’s nuclear regulatory body submitted to the Indian Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

 “We in Pakistan have been watching as India has failed to move ahead and form an autonomous nuclear regulatory authority for its fast paced civil nuclear programme. And reports have been coming of problems in terms of safety of India’s civil nuclear power plants also, which should be of concern to Pakistan as any untoward accident would impact the neighbourhood including Pakistan,” says CEO of STR, Dr Shireen Mazari.

 Dr Mazari pointed out that Pakistan also used to have the same regulatory structure as India some years ago when there was a regulatory board within the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) – similar to the prevailing Indian arrangement where the Atomic Energy Regulatory Body (AERB) and the Department of Atomic Energy are both under the Atomic Energy Commission of India. The AERB is supposed to supervise 22 Indian nuclear power plants but has no power to make rules, enforce compliance or impose a penalty in case of nuclear safety oversight. All it can do is to impose Rs500 maximum penalty as a deterrent in such cases.

 Dr Mazari says Pakistan altered its whole safety and regulatory structure in terms of its civilian nuclear power plants after it signed the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) in September 1994. Earlier Pakistan had signed the Convention on Early Notification of Nuclear Accidents (CENNA) in September 1989 followed by the signing of the Convention of Assistance in the Case of Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (CACNARE) in October 1989. In September 2000 Pakistan signed the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM).

So Pakistan has been active in pursuing a robust and updated safety and regulatory system. As part of this Pakistan abides by the IAEA Code of Conduct on Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and IAEA INFCIRC 225/Rev.4 on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Facilities. Pakistan is also a partner in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

It was with all these growing international commitments and their requirements domestically that Pakistan passed the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority Ordinance in 2001 to replace the regulatory board that existed within the IAEA. The PNRA is independent of the PAEC, deals directly with the IAEA along with the PAEC and is responsible for the safety and regulation of all the civilian nuclear reactors in Pakistan – which incidentally are also under IAEA safeguards unlike Indian civil reactors which only now are being put under special IAEA safeguards. Only a few years back the PNRA stopped the KANUPP reactor from working till it had fulfilled the safety standards demanded by the PNRA. The PAEC is now a licensee of the PNRA for civil reactors. In 2011 the PNRA marked a decade of successful functioning. The DG Safety at the IAEA attended a seminar held to mark this occasion.

Dr Mazari stated that the point of highlighting all this was to simply offer India assistance in civilian nuclear safety procedures since Pakistan has more experience in robust safety and is very active presently in the extraordinary meeting of the CNS being held presently at the IAEA. India only signed the CNS in 2005 and is still in the process of forming an independent regulatory body. As part of evolving a strategic CBM and moving to greater cooperation in the civil nuclear field, Pakistan, with its decade-long experience, can help India in the field of independent nuclear safety regulations. This could be a first step towards joint nuclear power generation.

Earlier this year, at an international seminar organised by STR, Mazari had reached out to India, suggesting that a centrepiece of the security route to cooperation, which would have tremendous economic benefits, would be joint nuclear power generation.

“After all, both Pakistan and India are conventional energy deficient states and both are overt nuclear powers so there is no reason not to cooperate in the field of civil nuclear energy with both countries sharing joint control of the relevant technology. All of Pakistan’s nuclear power plants are under IAEA safeguards, whereas Indian is slowly moving towards putting its reactors under safeguards, albeit very slowly. Both can decide to put their joint reactors under safeguards even though India’s civilian reactors will not be under safeguards totally till 2014 and beyond. But Pakistan’s civil reactors are already under IAEA safeguards and in principle India should also have no objections in putting the joint civil reactors under normal IAEA safeguards”, Mazari had advised.