May 28 is the special day for Pakistan, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the public at large. On this day, the scientists, engineers and technicians of the country delivered what they promised in the form of a gift of five nuclear blasts at Chaghi in Balochistan making the nation’s defence unconquerable for good.
Besides some known names who contributed to this herculean task through unmatched contributions to the country’s security, numerous unsung heroes burnt the midnight oil and worked day and night towards achieving the task at hand.
PAEC is the torchbearer in ensuring sustainable development for the country in all spheres of life by using nuclear science and technology. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in line with its ‘Atoms for Peace and Development’ mandate, supports countries in their efforts to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Many countries use nuclear science and technology to contribute to and meet their development objectives in areas including energy, human health, food production, water management and environmental protection. Being a member of the Board of Governors of IAEA, Pakistan has been utilizing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes since the inception of PAEC, which has contributed immensely to achieving the SDGs.
PAEC has so far established 19 atomic energy cancer hospitals (AECHs) located in all provinces and major cities of the country while the 20th cancer hospital at Muzaffarabad, AJ&K is being constructed. These hospitals are helping the government in catering to the healthcare needs of cancer-affected patients in the country by providing diagnostic and therapeutic facilities. PAEC-managed-cancer hospitals provide diagnostic and therapeutic facilities to patients at subsidized rates by dint of support from the Patient Welfare Society (PWS) of the hospitals and Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal (PBM).
Nuclear Medicine, Oncology & Radiotherapy Institute (NORI) in Islamabad, KIRAN in Karachi and INMOL in Lahore are among the flagship cancer hospitals being run by the commission. The role of these hospitals in the health sector is commendable as over one million cancer patients get diagnostic and treatment facilities at these hospitals every year.
In the sphere of international cooperation and promotion of the culture of sharing and learning from fellow scientists’ research, PAEC started conducting an annual meeting of researchers and scientists in Pakistan. A brainchild of the Noble laureate of Pakistani origin Dr Abdul Salam was adopted by then-chairman Muneer Ahmed Khan and his successor Dr Ishfaq Ahmad and all successive chairmen of PAEC. ‘International Nathiagali Summer College (INSC) on Physics and Contemporary Needs’ has been organized every year since 1976, mostly at the scenic hill resort of Nathiagali and for the last few years at National Centre for Physics (NCP) Islamabad. So far, seven Nobel Laureates and 41,000 scientists, out of which 1000 were foreigners, from 72 countries have participated in the annual spring of scientists in Pakistan to exchange valuable knowledge with their local colleagues and science students.
Owing to the untiring efforts of PAEC scientists, engineers, technicians and researchers, Pakistan is now an associate member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and scientists from the country are actively participating in various research activities at CERN and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Pakistan became an associate member state on July 31, 2015, the only Asian country to attain this position at that time. Pakistan ratified the status agreement with CERN on August 26, 2015.
Pakistan is also among the highest recipients of IAEA’s technical support. Moreover, Pakistan is among the founding members of Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) in Jordan. Contributions of R&D institutes working under the aegis of PAEC i.e. PINSTECH, PIEAS, CHASCENT, KINPOE, NIBGE, and NIAB are also commendable.
In the use of nuclear energy for generating electricity, PAEC is currently operating six nuclear power plants (NPPs) — including Karachi Nuclear Power Plants Unit-2 & Unit-3 commonly known as K-2 and K-3 in Karachi; and C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4 NPPs in Chashma Mianwali. These plants are collectively producing over 3,500MW of electricity. K-2 was inaugurated last year on May 21 while K-3 is expected to be formally inaugurated soon.
As far as performance is concerned, Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-2 (C-2) made a new national record in Pakistan’s history by running for a year, becoming the second electricity generation plant in the country to achieve this milestone. Previously, Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Unit-4, held the record of running for continuous 365 days, on July 1, 2021. The record of efficient and safe operations of Chashma-2 along with the earlier record of Chashma-4 spoke of the acumen and hard work of PAEC’s teams of technicians, scientists and engineers. Currently, Chashma Power Plants (C-1 to C-4) are operating at above 95% of the capacity factor. Advantages of nuclear power generated electricity include the low per-unit cost of generation, all-year-round availability, and no emissions of greenhouse gases, besides being critically important from an energy-security point of view.
As a responsible nuclear state, founding member of the IAEA and an emerging player in the field of nuclear power generation, Pakistan takes pride in ensuring impeccable security arrangements at all of its nuclear power plants. Stringent entry protocols in the form of controlled access of personnel, retina identification and 24/7 CCTV monitoring at the power plants are some of the measures that help ensure authorized access only. As per international best practices in the field of nuclear power, Emergency Preparedness Measures are well in place for timely intervention at these power plants. Safety and security are the two highlights of nuclear power plants operating in the country.
PAEC has taken the lead in utilizing nuclear technology to improve the productivity of the agriculture sector through the introduction of new crop varieties, pest control technologies, plant nutrition, water management, animal health and productivity and food decontamination and preservation. Four PAEC agriculture research centres have been established in the three provinces of Pakistan having a major share of the cultivatable land in the country. Nuclear Institute of Agriculture (NIA) in Tando Jam, Sindh, (1962), was the first such institute. Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad, Punjab (1972), Nuclear Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Peshawar, KPK (1982) and National Institute for Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Faisalabad, Punjab (1994) were established in about 32 years.
PAEC made the nation proud by winning honours at the highest conceivable level in the international arena. Its meritorious contribution in the field of science and technology was given due recognition at the 65th general conference of the IAEA. PAEC managed to win three awards at this elite forum. The awards included the “Outstanding Achievement Award,” which was won by the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB) Faisalabad, a leading agriculture centre of PAEC; “Cotton Mutation Breeding Team Award” bagged by a team of scientists from Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission; and the “Young Scientist Award” which was decorated upon a brilliant budding scientist Dr Muhammad Kashif Riaz Khan from NIAB, PAEC. These awards were given by the IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi during a ceremony held in Vienna.
On this occasion, Grossi said, “What we like to honour is the elevation of the human mind and the spirit that puts science at the service of big problems. Which is what FAO does in Rome and we do here at the IAEA.” NIAB, working in close cooperation with the IAEA and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has a long track record in crop improvement, having released 52 crop varieties in the last decade.
So far, these PAEC-run agriculture centres have developed and evolved over 132 crop varieties for Pakistan. In the area of utilization of marginal lands, technology has been developed for the utilization of salt-affected lands and this technology is being provided not only to the local farmers but also at the international level.
These centres also have a fair share in human resource development through training courses, workshops and internships. On average, 40 different courses are arranged every year for hands-on training in the latest techniques and technologies in various fields of agriculture research. These courses equally benefit researchers, students and academia from various research organizations and universities. NIAB and NIBGE in Faisalabad are also affiliated with the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) for the award of MPhil and PhD degrees in biology and biotechnology.
On this special day, the nation owes gratitude to the diligent workforce of PAEC who have made the lives of the people of Pakistan safe from the fear of foreign invasion besides bringing about a revolution in multiple sectors of national importance through the peaceful use of nuclear technology