July 24, 2006

Pakistan in large-scale nuclear expansion

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan is building a reactor that
could produce enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons in
what would be a major expansion of its nuclear program and an
intensified arms race in South Asia, a report showed on Monday.

Satellite photos show what appears to be the construction
site for a larger nuclear reactor adjacent to Pakistan's only
plutonium production reactor, according to an analysis by
nuclear experts at the Washington-based Institute for Science
and International Security.

The assessment, initially reported by The Washington Post,
was posted on the institute's Web site.

The analysts concluded that the diameter of the structure's
metal shell suggests a very large reactor "operating in excess
of 1,000 megawatts thermal," according to the report.

"Such a reactor could produce over 200 kilograms of
weapons-grade plutonium per year, assuming it operates at full
power a modest 220 days per year," the technical assessment
said. "At 4 to 5 kilograms of plutonium per weapon, this stock
would allow the production of over 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a

Pakistan currently is capable of producing about 10
kilograms of plutonium a year, enough for about two warheads,
The Washington Post said.

Construction of the new reactor in Khushab apparently began
sometime after March 2000. But the report's authors said
Pakistan does not appear to be moving quickly to finish the
reactor, and cited possible shortages of necessary reactor
components or weapons production infrastructure.

"India is likely aware of this reactor construction in
Khushab," the institute's David Albright and Paul Brannan
wrote. "Has this influenced India to increase its own plutonium
production capacity for its nuclear weapons program?

"South Asia may be heading for a nuclear arms race that
could lead to arsenals growing into the hundreds of nuclear
weapons, or at minimum, vastly expanded stockpiles of military
fissile material."

Pakistani officials would neither confirm or deny the
report, but a senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition
of anonymity, acknowledged that a nuclear expansion was under
way, the Post reported.

The newspaper reported that a Europe-based diplomat and
nuclear expert and a U.S.-based expert who reviewed the
commercially available satellite images and supporting data
concurred fully with the institute's estimates.