By Haleema Saadia
It has been 15 years since Pakistan was forced to declare that it is a nuclear weapons power. However, Pakistan was a nuclear power since many years before. It is one of those few states which are harnessing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes since decades. These applications include electricity production, agriculture research, crop production and protection, nuclear medicine, industrial development and environment protection. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established in the backdrop of the US Atoms for Peace Program under which the US supplied nuclear technology and information to a number of states around the world.
Pakistan’s nuclear program has demonstrated that atoms are indeed for the peace and development. While Pakistan’s nuclear program has been in the limelight internationally for all the wrong reasons, it is high time that the contribution of Pakistan’s peaceful program for development and socio-economic uplift of Pakistan and its people is made known.
Pakistan has the most advanced peaceful nuclear program in the Muslim world. It operates three nuclear power plants at Karachi and Chashma while two more are under-construction at Chashma. All these nuclear power plants are under IAEA safeguards. These safeguards ensure that no diversion of nuclear materials and technology takes places from the peaceful program. Pakistan also has two research reactors which have been used for nuclear research and training. PAEC produces radioisotopes which are atoms that produce ionizing radiation. Medical radioisotopes produced by these research reactors are used in medical diagnosis and cancer treatment in Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan does not have to rely on foreign help in this regard.
Pakistan has established four agriculture and biotechnology institutes which have contributed to the country’s development and progress. Nuclear Institute for Agriculture (NIA) was established in Tandojam, Sindh in 1962. Nuclear Institute for Agriculture & Biology (NIAB) and National Institute of Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) began working in Faisalabad, Punjab in 1972 and 1994, respectively. The Nuclear Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA) is working in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 1982.
These institutes have produced several varieties of wheat, cotton, rice, mung bean, chickpea, lentil, sugarcane and brassica which are high yielding, disease resistant and have more nutrition values. Besides, these institutes use techniques for value addition of foods through irradiation. One variety of cotton NIAB-78 (developed by scientists at NIAB) produced an additional income of Rs. 90 billion and truly helped revolutionize cotton production in Pakistan. NIAB-78 resulted in an increase in production from 4.7 million bales to 12.7 million bales per year of cotton. Besides, these institutes have also done immense work in the areas of insect pest control, animal production and health, food and environmental protection and soil-water and plant nutrition management.
PAEC runs fifteen cancer hospitals in Pakistan which use nuclear medicine to treat the patients. Three more hospitals are nearing completion and would begin working in a year or so. PAEC has more cancer hospitals than other public and private sector cancer hospitals combined. These hospitals have played a very constructive and important role in treating cancer patients and increasing public awareness about cancer prevention. Approximately 80% of cancer patients in the country are being treated by PAEC cancer hospitals. The number of people treated at these hospitals surpassed 0.7million in 2012. What is especially heartening is that 80% of the patients are treated free of cost in these cancer hospitals.
Research institutes of PAEC extend their expertise to several industries in Pakistan. These endeavours are mutually beneficial for the industries, private companies and PAEC itself and aid in development of the country as well. From alternative energy generation options to production of industrial enzymes, PAEC has made its mark in the industrial development of Pakistan. PAEC provides high technology services to various industries in Pakistan which has resulted in improved quality and increased quantity of the industrial products. The role of Industrial Biotechnology Division of NIBGE cannot be ignored in this regard. It has worked various industries for determination of various parameters including heavy metals and antibacterial tests in garment, sludge and chemical samples.
The research institutes of PAEC have been involved in developing environment preservation techniques like wastewater management. Just in the year 2011, the Environmental Biotechnology Division of NIBGE analysed more than 250 samples of wastewater, drinking water, fabric and pesticides for different parameters like formaldehyde in fabric, acute toxicity in pesticides, microbial detection in water etc. In 2011, it generated an income of about Rs. 1.7 million by collaborating with other private companies which are also focusing on environment preservation.
Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) is the premier research and development institute of the PAEC. It has been playing a key role in capacity building in nuclear science and technology. There has been a great focus in all the R&D facilities of PAEC on human resource development. There is an emphasis on indigenization and building a pool of scientific knowledge in Pakistan with the objective of attaining self-reliance and continuing the path towards prosperity. NIBGE and NIAB conduct M.Phil and PhD programs in collaboration with Quaid-i-Azam University and Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS). Hundreds of scholars and scientists have been trained by these institutes. These institutes regularly organize workshops, training courses, seminars and conferences.
Pakistan’s nuclear program had humble beginnings but it has fulfilled its objectives and there is an important lesson in this saga of peaceful application of nuclear energy: there is no short-cut to technological development. The scientists and engineers of PAEC are silent heroes. They have been doing their part for national development quietly and consistently.
[Source: The Frontier Post]