N-emergency at Karachi reactor

Islamabad: A nuclear reactor in Pakistan`s port city of Karachi reported leakage in a heavy water pipe, triggering a nuclear emergency, a media report said today. The emergency was declared at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) at midnight on Tuesday after the leak in the primary heat transport system of the nuclear plant at Hawkesbay was detected. The emergency continued till 7 am on Wednesday, when the situation was brought under control.

"The News" daily quoted its sources as saying that staff at the plant were safe from the effects of radiation and it may take two to three weeks for the plant to begin functioning again. KANUPP spokesman Tariq Rasheed said the situation was now under control and there was no cause for concern. The plant was closed since October 5 for repairs.

The daily quoted its sources as saying that one of the channels for carrying heavy water for cooling had to be opened for a check up as the temperature had increased after the flow of water declined. The channel was restored to normal operations after repairs. However, when the pump was started again, heavy water leaked from the feeder pipe. The pipe was immediately closed down and the leakage decreased. Staff in protective gear isolated the damaged part by Wednesday morning. The effects of the leakage were "wiped off" and the state of emergency was withdrawn later the same morning.

A similar incident of leakage of heavy water had occurred at the plant about 20 years ago. At that time too, the staff remained safe from radiation.

The plant was built in 1971 with the cooperation of Canada and initially generated 137MW of electricity. The life of the plant was said to be 30 years but Pakistani engineers prolonged it. The plant currently supplies 80 MW to Karachi`s power utility but was closed down for repairs earlier this month.

KANUPP Director General Javed Iqbal declined to give any details but said the situation was reported to the head office in Islamabad. Deputy Plant Manager Azhar Zia said such minor leaks occurred in many nuclear plants around the world. Spokesman Tariq Rasheed said the plant was closed down on October 5 for routine maintenance and an emergency was declared on October 19 after the leakage of heavy water was reported.

The entire support staff was summoned, the leakage was controlled and the emergency withdrawn. "During this period no radioactivity was recorded, nor was any member affected," Rasheed said.