Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Pakistan's Large and Growing Civil Nuclear Program

Pakistan's nuclear weapons program gets a lot of global attention. But the country also has a large and growing civil nuclear program which has added over 3,500 MW of low-carbon electricity to the national grid. It also supports a variety of agricultural, biological and medical applications. The program relies  particularly on the expertise and contributions of nuclear scientists trained at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) founded in 1965 by Dr. Ishrat Husain Usmani.  Dr. Usmani graduated from Aligarh Muslim University and later did his doctoral research at London's Imperial College under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr. The entire civilian nuclear program in Pakistan operates under the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards.

PINSTECH, Pakistan

Pakistan Nuclear Science and Technology History:  

Pakistan started its nuclear program in the 1950s under the United States’ “Atoms for Peace” program, which was designed to promote peaceful uses of nuclear technology. In 1956, the Pakistani government created the Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to lead the new program. The United States gave Pakistan its first reactor—the five megawatt Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1)—in 1962.

During this early period, PAEC chairman Dr. Ishrat Husain Usmani devoted government resources to train the next generation of Pakistani scientists. Usmani founded the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Technology (PINSTECH) in 1965 and sent hundreds of young Pakistani students to be trained abroad.

Nuclear Power Generation:

Pakistan has installed over 3,500 MW of low-carbon nuclear power generating capacity. Nuclear power plants in Pakistan generated 15,540 GWH of electricity in 2021, a jump of 66% over 2020. 

Overall, Pakistan's power plants produced 136,572 GWH of power, an increase of 10.6% over 2020, indicating robust economic recovery amid the COVID19 pandemic.  Nuclear offers the lowest cost of fuel for electricity (one rupee per KWH) while furnace oil is the most expensive (Rs. 22.2 per KWH). 

Construction of two 1,100 MW nuclear power reactor K2 and K3 units in Karachi was completed by China National Nuclear Corporation in 2022, according to media reports. Chinese Hualong One reactors installed in Pakistan are based on improved Westinghouse AP1000 design which is far safer than Chernobyl and Fukushima plants.  

Nuclear Medicine:

Currently, there are 51 nuclear medicine centers in Pakistan, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH). Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) is the largest single contributor with 18 centers spread across the length and breadth of the country, including some remote towns. In terms of radionuclide therapeutic radioiodine for outpatient treatment of hyperthyroidism is more widely available across Pakistan. Inpatient facilities for delivering high-dose are limited, but given the spread of centers across the country, a large extent of the country’s landscape is covered. 

Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital founded by former Prime Minister Imran Khan was the first PET-CT service in Pakistan introduced in the private sector in Lahore in 2009. At present 6 PET/CT centers are operational, 2 in Lahore , 4 in Karachi backed by 5 hospital-based cyclotrons (Lahore 2, Karachi 3). 

 A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator which repeatedly propels a beam of charged particles (protons) in a circular path. Medical radioisotopes are made from non-radioactive materials (stable isotopes) which are bombarded by these protons. In the next 2 to 6 months, first PET/CT with onsite cyclotron is expected to commission in Rawalpindi along with a scanner in Peshawar and Lahore taking the total tally to 9 scanners. A fourth cyclotron is expected to be operational in Karachi in the same period. All cyclotrons are used for F-18 labeled FDG as it remains the work horse of PET imaging. The optimal half-life, simple chemistry, and tons of experience and literature makes it ideal to make a successful enterprise. At present, there is no registry for the utilization of PET-CT across Pakistan; however, institutional clinical experience is increasingly shared at national and international conferences and published in literature, according to the NIH.  

Agriculture Applications:

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has established agriculture and biotechnology centers in the country: Nuclear Institute for Agriculture (NIA) at Tandojam, Sindh (1962), Nuclear Institute for Agriculture & Biology (NIAB) (1972), National Institute of Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) (1994) at Faisalabad, Punjab, and Nuclear Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA), in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (1982). These institutes focus on crop improvement, pest control, livestock health, food and environmental protection, and soil-water and plant nutrition management. 

The research by agriculture and biotech centers has produced several new varieties of wheat, cotton, rice, mung bean, chickpea, lentil, sugarcane, castor bean, kinnow, sesame, tomato, and brassica. These varieties are high-yielding, heat tolerant, insect and disease resistant, and have more nutritional value.

According to a report from the IAEA, mutant varieties of cotton in Pakistan have improved the quality traits of crops. The mutations in the crop varieties have led to “decrease[d] use of pesticides (due to increased disease resistance), a reduction in using fertilizers and consumption of water (due to the highly efficient nutrient intake and better tolerance to drought), superior quality, and higher crop yields,” the report states.

] The new varieties developed now account for 40% of all cotton produced in Pakistan, up from just 25% two years ago and from nonexistent yield in 2016, according to Nuclear NewsWire

International Atomic Energy Agency: 

Recently, the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited Pakistan to meet with Pakistani officials in charge of the civilian nuclear program. Here's a press release of the IAEA about the visit:

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the IAEA will increase collaboration in peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology, particularly in agriculture and medicine, to the benefit of the country and its neighbours. That was the outcome of Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi’s two-day trip to Pakistan this week, during which he met with the country’s leadership — including its Prime and Foreign Ministers — and visited numerous nuclear facilities across the country, some of which he inaugurated.

Mr Grossi began his visit by meeting with Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif. The two spoke about the worsening effects of climate change on Pakistan and how nuclear science and IAEA support is helping the country.

For decades Pakistan has been ranked as one of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change, and last summer, was inundated with climate-change linked flooding which caused mass displacement of people and economic damages to the tune of USD 40 billion. The IAEA and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in coordination and consultation with Pakistani authorities developed an emergency support package to assist the country in applying nuclear science to better understand the flood’s impact on soils, crops and the potential spread of animal and zoonotic diseases.

The Prime Minister expressed his desire to strengthen collaboration with the IAEA in agriculture and medicine and his support  to the Agency’s efforts to promote peace and development worldwide. The two also discussed nuclear safety and security Ukraine, where Mr Grossi is championing efforts to establish a protection zone around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, a facility beset with nuclear safety and security challenges caused by the war in the country.

In a meeting with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Mr Grossi said opportunities for the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology in Pakistan were plentiful, emphasizing how nuclear applications and IAEA initiatives are addressing climate change and issues of access to cancer care. Mr Bhutto Zardari said that Pakistan and the IAEA will further enhance cooperation and grow the role of nuclear applications in dealing with climate change, water, energy and food security.

In Islamabad, Mr Grossi met with the Minister of Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, to discuss the role of nuclear applications in addressing Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change. The Director General also met with Pakistani fellows of the IAEA Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme, an initiative seeking to help build gender-balanced capacities in the nuclear sector.

Nuclear for energy, food and health

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi inaugurates the new spent fuel dry storage facility at Chashma Nuclear Power Plant. (Photo: D. Candano/IAEA)

Pakistan currently operates six nuclear power reactors at two sites, that generate about 10 per cent of the country’s total and almost a quarter of its low-carbon electricity. During his trip, Mr Grossi visited one of those sites, Chashma Nuclear Power Plant, 250 kilometres south of Islamabad. Inaugurating the site’s new spent fuel dry storage facility, Mr Grossi highlighted the importance of managing spent fuel safely and securely.

Mr Grossi was welcomed at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH), an IAEA partner in work related to human health, nutrition and water analysis. At PINSTECH, Mr Grossi inaugurated a dosimetry laboratory. Mr Grossi also visited the Pakistan Centre of Excellence in Nuclear Security (PCENS), saying he was impressed by the high standard of the facility and that he looked forward to further collaboration.

At the Nuclear Medicine Oncology and Radiotherapy Institute in Islamabad, Mr Grossi inaugurated Cyberknife, a new cancer treatment facility that he described as a milestone for the country. He said Pakistan would be able to support its neighbours with regards to cancer treatment access by becoming a regional centre under Rays of Hope — an IAEA initiative seeking to increase cancer care access in low- and middle-income countries by helping to introduce and improve radiation medicine capacities and build the cancer care workforce.

In Faisalabad, Mr Grossi visited the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), designating it as an IAEA Collaborating Centre in agriculture and biotechnology. In a special ceremony, Mr Grossi planted a Sago Palm at the site and spoke about the IAEA’s collaboration with the facility in developing climate change resilient cotton varieties. NIAB is also a national laboratory under the IAEA’s ZODIAC initiative for combating zoonotic diseases and future pandemics.

Mr Grossi toured another IAEA Collaborating Centre, the National Institute of Safety and Security, when visiting the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority and meeting with its Chairman Faizan Mansoor. He was also honoured to inaugurate the National Radiation Emergency Coordination Centre (NRECC) in Islamabad.

Visiting the headquarters of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Mr Grossi had a meaningful exchange with the Commission on the comprehensive and cohesive nature of the country’s peaceful nuclear programme. Mr Grossi's visit to Pakistan was on the invitation of PAEC Chairman Raja Ali Raza Anwar, whom he thanked for Pakistan's hospitality during the two days. The Director General concluded his visit in Islamabad with a seminar on climate change mitigation, during which he highlighted the role of the IAEA in supporting climate-vulnerable countries in addressing the climate crisis with nuclear science and technology.

Related Links:

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

G20 Kashmir Meeting: Modi's PR Ploy Backfires!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign to show normalcy in the Indian occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir has backfired.  Three member countries of the G20 boycotted the tourism event in Srinagar. The rest of them sent local embassy staff to attend. The event also drew negative worldwide media coverage of the brutality of India's "settler colonialism" in the disputed territory. It elicited strong condemnation from the United Nations. Prior to the event, India’s tourism secretary, Arvind Singh had promised that the meeting will not only “showcase (Kashmir’s) potential for tourism” but also “signal globally the restoration of stability and normalcy in the region.” The Modi government failed to achieve both of these objectives.

G20 Meeting in Indian Military Occupied Kashmir 

Meeting Boycott:

China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey did not attend the G20 event in Srinagar. Rest of the G20 members sent diplomats posted in New Delhi to attend it.  It's not unusual for foreign diplomats to visit disputed territories such as Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, Donald Blome, US Ambassador to Pakistan, visited what he called "Azad Jammu and Kashmir".  The G20 Tourism Working Group meeting in Kashmir drew condemnation from China and the United Nations. 

“China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meetings on disputed territory. We will not attend such meetings,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson  Wang Wenbin at a press briefing on May 19 in Beijing.  

Fernand de Varennes, U.N. special rapporteur on minority issues, criticized the meeting, saying that by hosting the session in Kashmir, “India is seeking to normalize what some have described as a military occupation by instrumentalizing a G20 meeting and portray an international 'seal of approval’.” 

The UN representative warned the G20 of “unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy at a time when massive human rights violations, illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecutions, restrictions and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate.”

Heavy Indian Security Presence at Dal Lake For G20 in Kashmir. Source: Washington Post 

International Media Coverage:

The global media coverage of the G20 meeting in Kashmir has largely been negative. It has highlighted the brutal occupation of the region by the Indian military. 

A piece in The Conversation accused India of "using the G20 summit to further its settler-colonial ambitions in Kashmir".  It pointed out that the "route to Gulmarg (G20 event location)  is lined with barbed wire. Armed soldiers keep watch from fortified bunkers".   The Conversation piece offers the following advice to anyone visiting Indian Occupied Kashmir:

"Those visiting  (Indian Occupied) Kashmir must first learn about the decolonial history of the region, one that honors Kashmiri calls for self-determination and sovereignty. They must follow the principle of do no harm by not visiting tourist sites or using tour operators run by Indian authorities. They should support local Kashmiri-run businesses as much as possible. There is no simple resolution for tourism on occupied lands. Tourism amid settler-colonialism manifests in exploitation, dispossession, commodification and other injustices and inequities. The goal of ethical travel is not immediate perfection or self-exoneration. It is an invitation to think about our own actions and complicity". 

A story in "The Guardian" noted that the G20 Kashmir meeting "required a large show of security at Srinagar international airport". It added: "India’s presidency of the G20 group of leading nations has become mired in controversy after China and Saudi Arabia boycotted a meeting staged in Kashmir, the first such gathering since India unilaterally brought Kashmir under direct control in August 2019". 

Voice of America reported that the "security moved into the background to give a sense of normalcy amid reports of mass detentions" as the event drew closer. 

Modi's Blunders:

Prime Minister Modi's PR campaign has clearly backfired. His government's actions have failed to project any sense of normalcy in the disputed region. In fact, Mr. Modi's blunders have helped internationalize the issue of Kashmir on the world stage. They have drawn China further into the Kashmir dispute, particularly in the Ladakh region where the Chinese troops have taken large chunks of what India claims as its territory. 

In an Op Ed for the Deccan Herald, Indian Journalist Bharat Bhushan has accused Modi government of "overplaying its hand in organizing a G20 event in Srinagar". He has summed up the fallout from the G20 Kashmir Meeting failure as follows:

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming State visit to the United States makes this rebuff on J&K by the international community, especially significant. What might have been ignored by India and perhaps down-played, at least publicly by the US, in the build-up to the Modi-Biden summit, will now become an additional irritant in the bilateral relationship. Did the Modi government bait fate by overplaying its hand in organizing a G20 event in Srinagar?"

Here's India's JNU Professor speaking about illegal Indian occupation of Kashmir, Manipur and Nagaland:


Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan's Bilawal Bhutto Lashes Out at India's Jaishankar

India: A Paper Elephant?

India-Pakistan Nuclear Arms Race

Kashmir: 700,000 Indian Soldiers vs 7 Million Kashmiris

Israeli Settler Colonialism

India Promotes Half Truths About UNSC Kashmir Resolutions

Pakistan-China-Russia Vs India-Japan-US

Total, Extended Lockdown in Indian Occupied Kashmir

What is India Hiding From UN Human Rights Team?

Indian JNU Professor on Illegal Indian Occupation of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland

Riaz Haq Youtube Channel

VPOS Youtube Channel

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

India-Russia Trade: Is Indian Rupee Worthless For Cross-Border Transactions?

What good is a currency in global trade if it can not be used to buy products and services from other nations that a country needs?  The answer to this question came when Russia said it has accumulated billions of rupees in Indian banks which it can not use. “This is a problem”,  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in India’s Western state of Goa on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting.  “We need to use this money. But for this, these rupees must be transferred in another currency, and this is being discussed now”.  Russia has decided it won't take any more Indian rupees. Moscow has rejected New Delhi's proposal for the Kremlin to invest rupees from oil and military equipment payments back into Indian capital markets so the currency doesn't pile up.

Global Export Map 2023. Source: World Population Review

Only the currencies issued by the governments of the world's largest exporters are useful for buying products and services on the world markets. China, United States, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom are the world's top 5 exporting nations as of 2020. This makes Chinese Yuan, US Dollar, European Euro, Japanese Yen and British Pound the most important international trade currencies. Of these currencies, only the Chinese Yuan is not impacted by the western sanctions on trade with Russia. Russia wants India to convert Indian Rupees to Chinese Yuan to pay for energy and military equipment imports from Russia. 

Yuan vs Dollar in Chinese Cross-Border Trade. Source: Bloomberg 

The share of the Chinese Yuan in international trade has been increasing since the US imposed sanctions on the use of the US dollar in trade with Russia. Earlier this year, the Chinese Yuan eclipsed the US dollar as the most used currency for Chinese cross-border transactions, according to Market Insider. The Yuan's use in cross-border payments and receipts rose to 48.4% at the end of March while the dollar's share slid to 46.7%, according to a Reuters calculation of data from China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange. The yuan's use in global trade finance remains low, though it has shown steady increases. Data from SWIFT showed that the Chinese yuan's share of global currency transactions for trade finance rose to 4.5% in March, while the US dollar accounted for 83.71%, according to Reuters. 

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Impact of Russia Sanctions on US Dollar

India Biggest Winner of Russia Sanctions and US-China Tensions

Ukraine Resists Russia Alone: A Tale of West's Broken Promises

Ukraine's Lesson For Pakistan: Never Give Up Nuclear Weapons

Pakistani-American Heads SWIFT

Russia Sanction: India Profiting From Selling Russian Oil

Indian Diplomat on Pakistan's "Resilience", "Strategic CPEC"

Why Does India Lag So Far Behind China?

Friday, May 12, 2023

Pakistan Now: Darkest Before Dawn?

Pakistan is experiencing one of the darkest periods of its history. Political instability is eroding confidence in the nation's future. Declining economic growth and high inflation are hurting the people of all strata of society, particularly the poor whose numbers are rapidly rising. Is there any hope left for the country? Is it a case of the "darkest before dawn"? How do investors see it? 

Ex PM Imran Khan (R) with President Erdogan

Writing in the Time magazine immediately after the recent arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, American investor, author and commentator Zachary Karabell who has invested in Pakistani startups sees rare hope for Pakistan. He sees Pakistan where Turkey was back in 2001-2003, "when a series of elections brought Recep Erdogan to power even as he was repeatedly disqualified by a military that was determined to retain control". Here's an excerpt of his article titled "The Contrarian Case for Pakistan" published in the current issue of Time Magazine: 

"To some degree, this is an argument of “well, it’s not as bad as they say.” But it’s also a way of highlighting that Pakistan today may be a case of darkest before the dawn. With elections schedule for the fall, and with Imran Khan the most likely victor of said elections unless is his arrest leads to his disqualification as a candidate, Pakistan is in a very similar position to where Turkey was in 2001-2003, when a series of elections brought Recep Erdogan to power even as he was repeatedly disqualified by a military that was determined to retain control. Imran Khan has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of Erdogan, who after championing Turkish democracy and economic reform, then turned into the very type of corrupt autocrat that he had once fought against. But he nonetheless unleashed massive economic potential in Turkey and has left its 80 million people materially better off over the past 20 years, even as hyperinflation and Erdogan’s recent economic ineptitude is now eroding that. Should Imran Khan return to the head the government, he may well usher in a similar period in Pakistan, even as he has his own authoritarian and demagogic tendencies". 

Here are some of the key points Karabell makes in his opinion piece:

1. Pakistan has a real and dynamic private sphere that is not only seeing a start-up and new business ecosystem that has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the past few years but operates freely in a way that would be inconceivable in many other countries. Compare it to Egypt, for example, which receives far less negative attention and more foreign money yet is almost entirely dominated by a military dictatorship. Or Algeria. And then there are countries which barely function at all, dominating a whole swath of Sub-Saharan Africa but also dot central Asia (Tajikistan anyone?).

2. Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world with 230 million souls, a median age of barely 22 and two-thirds of the population under the age of 30. That means unlike most of the world, it has a favorable demographic future.

2. Unlike, say, Nigeria, where the ethnic divisions and decades of corruption mean that it well-nigh impossible to treat the country as one unified market for goods and services, Pakistan is one common market even with its various tribal divisions.

Pakistan Population Youngest Among Major Asian Nations. Source: Nikkei Asia

Karabell concludes with the following: 

Pakistan is on a cusp. We should honor the fact that whichever way the consensus believes it will go, the country is also poised to breakout on the upside. Which path will only be clear in retrospect, but we should pay more attention to the potential of things going right along with the legitimate focus on all that is going wrong.