Jun 25, 2007
Posted by Saim Baig
Pakistan is building a new Nuclear reactor
Satellite images show that Pakistan is building a nuclear reactor that could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, a US watchdog says.
It has warned that its construction could contribute to another nuclear arms race with neighbouring India.
The Institute of Science for International Security (Isis) says photos taken earlier this month show work is "rapidly progressing".
But Pakistani officials say there is nothing untoward about the work.
Isis says the reactor is being built at Khusab, 160km south-west of Islamabad.
It says that its construction and other nuclear-related activities "imply" that Pakistan has opted to "increase significantly its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons".
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The Washington-based group said that evidence from recent photos suggests that almost all the work at the site has taken place in the last 10 months.
The first reactor at Khusab started operations in 1998, the Isis report said, while construction on a second was underway in July 2006.
It says that work on a third reactor is several hundred metres away from the second and appears to be a "replica".
Isis reported earlier this year that Pakistan had also resumed construction of its second plutonium separation facility at Chashma, around 80km away from Khusab.
It said this was "likely related" to Khusab's expansion.
The report - co-authored by former UN arms inspector David Albright - said that neither the reactors nor the separation plant were monitored by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
It said that Pakistan may have decided to produce a "new generation of plutonium-based weapons" to make lighter warheads for cruise missiles, or to upgrade weapons aimed at Indian cities.
The report states that most Pakistani nuclear weapons use highly enriched uranium.
Mr Albright said that plutonium-based weapons carry more explosive power into smaller, lighter missiles than those made with uranium, which Pakistan has used for years.
"By going plutonium... we have to interpret that as an attempt to make smaller, more powerful weapons that are going to be more destructive in India," Mr Albright said in a interview with AP.
The Isis report also accused the US of not complaining about work on the reactor for fear of antagonising a key ally in its "war against terror".
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"The bottom line for us is that the US isn't doing enough to stop these countries from expanding their nuclear arsenals. They're turning a blind eye," said Mr Albright.
But Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said that it "shouldn't be a surprise" that Pakistan is working on its nuclear programme.
"We are a nuclear weapons state. We have facilities at Khushab, so this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," she said.
Ms Aslam denied suggestions the work could trigger a new arms race.
"We were not the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region or test them," she said.
"We have no intention of entering into a nuclear arms race with India whether nuclear or conventional."
Pakistan conducted its first and nuclear tests in May 1998 after Indian tests earlier that month. India detonated its first nuclear bomb in 1974.
The two countries came close to war in 2002, prompting fears of a full nuclear exchange.