In April, the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) announced the export of two ACP-1000 reactors to Pakistan, plans subsequently confirmed by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in June. In addition to reaffirming China’s commitment to one of the most important aspects of its “all weather” strategic relationship with Pakistan, the move also heralded an expansion of Chinese nuclear exceptionalism, underpinned by China’s growing confidence in its domestic industrial and international financial strength.
While the deal is clearly in direct contravention of China’s commitments as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), it remains to be seen if other NSG members will censure Beijing for it, especially since most major NSG members remain heavily invested in bilateral civil nuclear relationships with China. The deal will also push the international community to more carefully weigh the costs and benefits of keeping Pakistan, a country with a growing fleet of item-specific safeguarded reactors, outside of global nuclear governance frameworks.
The two ACP-1000 reactors, rated at 1,110 megawatts each, are to be set up at the Karachi Coastal Nuclear Power Plant, which is currently the site of only a small Canadian-origin reactor. The considerable initial investment of $9.6 billion approved by Pakistan's top-level Executive Committee of the National Economic Council in July is indicative of Pakistan’s desire to move ahead with plans to install 8.8 gigawatts of domestic nuclear capacity by 2030, which would reduce the emissions intensity of Pakistan’s electricity sector while meeting baseload demand. And given that Pakistan plans to expand the overall power grid to 160 GW over the same timeframe, Pakistani planners have obviously decided to do this by adding a few large reactors rather than many small ones. The choice of the reactor site itself—coastal Karachi rather than inland Chashma—is clearly driven by land and water availability and corresponds well with that aim.