Ever since, Pakistan gained independence in 1947, it has suffered with a sense of insecurity as it is bordered on one side by its arch-enemy India, and this feeling of insecurity led the decision-makers to strive towards a balance of power with India. Many of the country’s brightest and sharpest minds had put years of tireless effort into this endeavour. The work led to first the establishment of the Pakistan council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) in 1951.
During that same time, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term “Atoms for Peace” in a speech he made in the UN General Assembly in 1953. This started off a campaign to provide research institutions and schools with information on nuclear research and also to provide scholarships to people from abroad who wanted to work in the field of nuclear research. Under the Atoms for Peace Program, Pakistani scientists got a chance to get experience and expertise in nuclear research which they used to advance nuclear research in the country and thus the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was formed. It was officially inaugurated by then Prime Minister Hussein Suhrawardy in March 1956. This marked the beginning of a new era of nuclear research in Pakistan.
The main purpose of PAEC, in its early stages, was to build a nuclear infrastructure in Pakistan and to use nuclear energy for the production of energy on large scale. For this purpose, many nuclear power plants had been set up all over Pakistan. The first of these nuclear power plants was built in Karachi. The research in the field of nuclear energy and its use for peaceful purposes continued until 1974.
In 1974, after India started the development of nuclear weapons, it became imperative that Pakistan should keep that balance of power intact and therefore Pakistan had to go into the development of nuclear weapons as well. After the first successful tests were carried out by Pakistan in 1998 in Chagai, the decision was made to go back to research of the uses of nuclear energy for safe and peaceful purposes.
Many people have shaped the institution and brought it to the high pinnacle of excellence that it is at today. Most notable among them would be Dr. Abdus Salam, Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed, Dr. Parvez Butt, Dr. N.M. Butt, Saleemuzzaman Siddiqui and many others who had done great service to the promotion of science in the country. It was because of the efforts of these people that Pakistan got recognition in the international scientific community which can be seen from the numerous collaborations between the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and ultimately led to Pakistan getting associate membership of CERN as the first Asian country and second Muslim country, after Turkey, to do so.
Today, PAEC is the largest scientific research association in Pakistan. It is working for the research on uses of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Also, PAEC is continuously in collaboration with CERN and is contributing to the Large Hadron Collider, Compact Muon Solenoid and many other research projects.
Also, PAEC is working to further the education of nuclear energy in the country by setting up institutions under its umbrella. Moreover, PAEC is planning to produce 8800 MW of electricity by 2030 using nuclear energy. This will be done by building two more nuclear power plants in Karachi. It is also looking at finding better and more innovative techiques for using nuclear energy in medicine, food, agriculture and many other fields.
In the end, it can be said that PAEC has not only stabilized Pakistan’s military defence by making nuclear weapons but also, used the nuclear energy research expertise it has gained over the years for the peaceful purposes as to benefit the society. This, PAEC is a very important part of the overall scientific development of the country and the development of society as a whole.
By Zarrar Salahuddin