while manmohan 'nehruvian patron saint' singh is playing footsie with musharraf, the chinese are supplying pakistanis with far more nuclear material.
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The Sunday Pioneer / Front page lead story / January 21, 2007
Pak fuelling Nuclear arsenal – US sat images give game away
Kanchan Gupta / New Delhi
At a time when security experts are expressing serious concern that India, under the civilian nuclear deal with the US, is shutting down one of its two research reactors producing weapons-grade plutonium, Pakistan is reported to be in an advanced stage of building a second research reactor and a second reprocessing plant as part of its nuclear military programme.
Pakistan already has one reprocessing plant, New Labs facility at PINSTECH near Islamabad, to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The second plant is being built at the Chashma facility, according to satellite imagery analysed by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
An ISIS report, prepared by nuclear affairs specialists David Albright and Paul Brannan, says, "We believe that the most likely building to house the main reprocessing operations is a large, tall building with an adjacent stack. (See satellite image.) It is not yet clear whether this facility at Chashma is operational. However, the nature and rate of the construction suggests that the facility may soon start operations, if it has not done so already."
Although nothing specific can be said at this stage about the plutonium separation capacity of the new plant at Chashma, the report has indicated it could be "100 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel per year from its KANUPP reactor in Karachi".
France was supposed to help Pakistan build the Chashma facility, conceived in 1974. But the French suppliers of hardware and technology backed out after the US raised objections in 1979. "Since the cancellation of the Chashma reprocessing deal… Pakistan may have continued obtaining equipment for the plant – perhaps from China," the report says.
A couple of months ago, senior US Administration officials had acknowledged that Pakistan was seeking to complete a second but larger research reactor at Chashma to augment its nuclear military capability. Pakistan's first research reactor, also used for deriving weapons-useable plutonium from its spent fuel, is located at Khushab. With the new facilities, its capacity to produce weapons grade plutonium and its application is expected to increase by leaps and bounds.
"The imagery raises the question of whether Pakistan may intend on bringing into operation a new reprocessing facility – capable of separating weapons grade plutonium out of spent reactor fuel," the report says.
"The large size of the building, the resumption of construction activities, the presence of rail lines leading up to it, the adjacent tall stack, and the system of trenches among the buildings all constitute circumstantial evidence that the site is intended for reprocessing," the report adds.
What should alert policy-makers in New Delhi is the fact that "such a capability, combined with Pakistan's ability to make large quantities of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, would aid Pakistan in developing thermonuclear weapons as well as increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal".
At present spent fuel from the heavy-water research reactor at Khushab is reprocessed at New Labs. "Bringing into operation a reprocessing facility at Chashma would significantly increase Pakistan's plutonium separation capability," the report says. The authors of the study insist that this shall "account for what will soon be an expanded plutonium production capacity – as represented by the second heavy water reactor at Khushab".
Reacting to the ISIS report, security affairs analysts in New Delhi point out to the rapid role reversal between India and Pakistan and the irony of the situation. While there is every possibility of a marked decline in India's weapons-grade plutonium production capability that will directly impinge on its nuclear weapons programme, Pakistan is steadily adding to its weapons-grade plutonium production capacity.
Under the Separation Plan submitted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Parliament as part of the India-US civilian nuclear deal, India has pledged to shut down by 2010 its Cirus research reactor, located at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre near Mumbai. This decision was taken at the political level despite the fact that Cirus, operational since 1960, has been the most significant contributor to India's weapons-grade plutonium stockpile. After India commissioned the Dhruva research reactor in the late 1980s, Cirus has been contributing more than a third of India's total weapons-grade plutonium produced annually.
Although the Prime Minister had promised not to undertake actions "limiting or inhibiting our strategic nuclear-weapons programme," the decision to shut down Cirus has become a sore issue with nuclear scientists. Significantly, no replacement reactor has been ordered to date, although it will take at least four years to build one.