By Mahvish Akhtar, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
On Monday, July 24th 2006, the US claimed that it knew Pakistan was building a powerful new nuclear reactor. The American government urged Pakistan not to use the facility for military purposes. White House spokesman Tony Snow said that, â€œWe have been aware of these plans and we discourage any use of that facility for military purposes such as weapons development.â€ He also added that, â€œPakistan of course is outside the non-proliferation treaty and, therefore, they do develop their capabilities independently.â€ The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security took some images of the Khushab Complex, which images allegedly suggest a larger plutonium production reactor inside. Washington is concerned because of the arms race in South Asia mainly between Pakistan and India. This reaction from the US government came at a time when the US is already in the middle of a deal which would give India greater access to American civilian nuclear technology.
The Washington report on this nuclear reactor states, the â€œunder-construction reactor is capable of operating in excess of 1,000 megawatts-thermal. Such a reactor could produce over 200 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium per year, assuming it operates at full power for a modest 220 days per year. At 4-5 kilograms of plutonium per weapon, this stock would allow the production of over 40-50 nuclear weapons a year. The reactor could also be used to produce substantial amounts of tritium for boosted-fission weapons.â€
Based on the apparent rate of construction, the reactor could be finished within a few years. However, nothing suggests that Pakistan is moving quickly to finish the reactor. The images indicate that by June of 2005 the reactor was in the works or nearly completed. It raises concerns in light of recent events. An image taken April 2006 shows the outer portion of the building has been covered with another roof. Also visible are pieces of arched metal rods. The speculation is that these pieces are being used for the outer parts of the reactor. The linear distance between the ends of the arched rods and the distance between the east and west walls of the inside structure are both approximately 105 feet.
Based on the size of the reactor it could be capable of operating in excess of 1,000 megawatts-thermal. According to the same report, Khoshab has a heavy water production plant which is capable of providing approximately 13 tons of heavy water per year. This is not heavy enough to supply the size of reactor that Pakistan is allegedly preparing. This could be one of the main reasons for the delay in the completion. The report also indicated that India is aware of this construction.
India reportedly has 69 Prithvi and Agni ballistic missiles, each with one warhead, plus many other bombs that can be dropped by bombers. In comparison, Pakistan allegedly has 165 missiles of different kinds. This includes the Hatf series of missiles which includes warheads. Pakistan also has bombs that can be dropped by air. The reports also say that Pakistan is eager to upgrade their weapons because India uses more sophisticated plutonium version weapons, and Pakistan wants to catch up.
On Monday the 24th of July, Pakistan neither confirmed nor denied the reports that a nuclear reactor was in the works. â€œPakistan is a nuclear weapons stateâ€, said the Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam. The Washington Post published the news about the nuclear reactor on Monday. Ms. Aslam also added, â€œthis ought to be no revelation to anyone because Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. It is a known fact. I think there should be no excitement about this.â€ She emphasized that she would not give any details about the nuclear expansion activities because Khushab is a nuclear site and Pakistan is a nuclear country.