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Pakistan Reportedly Working to Expand Nuclear Weapons Base By Benjamin Sand
Islamabad, 24 July 2006
Pakistan has refused to comment on news that it is building a powerful new plutonium nuclear reactor, which could signal a major overhaul of the country's nuclear weapons program. A Washington-based research group released this week what it says are satellite photographs of what appears to be a new reactor under construction at a Pakistan nuclear site.
The photographs, released on-line (on an Internet web site) Sunday evening, appear to show a large, partially completed nuclear reactor inside the Khushab complex in central Pakistan.
According to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), the heavy water reactor could potentially produce more than 200 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, enough for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Pakistan's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Tasneem Aslam, would neither confirm nor deny the institute's findings, but downplayed the report's significance.
"I will not comment on the specifics, but Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state, it's a known fact. It is also a known fact that Khushab is hosting nuclear facilities," she said.
The report says construction of the new reactor likely began in early 2000, and could be completed in a few years.
The institute's assessment also suggests construction has been delayed by possible shortages in key materials, and says Pakistan is apparently not rushing to finish the project.
The news has raised concern about Pakistan's nuclear program and the possibility a new reactor could trigger an arms race with regional rival, India. Both nations maintain limited nuclear arsenals, and neither has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam dismissed concerns of an arms race, however, stressing Islamabad's commitment to easing cross-border tensions.
"We have repeatedly said we do not want a nuclear or conventional arms race in the region and that remains our position: we do not want a nuclear arms race," added Aslam.
Aslam said the location of the Kushab nuclear site has already been given to India, under a long-standing agreement with New Delhi meant to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict.
The ISIS report also suggested India is likely aware of the new reactor's construction.
The U.S. Congress is about to debate a Bush administration proposal to share sensitive nuclear technology with India.
India has promised to use that technology only for peaceful purposes, and has agreed to strengthen internal safeguards on its civilian nuclear reactors.
Pakistan, which was not offered a similar deal by the Bush aministration, has sharply criticized the proposal, saying it could destabilize the region's delicate nuclear balance.
Pakistan's nuclear program has been mostly isolated internationally since 2004, when the country's top nuclear scientist admitted he illegally sold advanced weapons technology to a number of countries, including Iran and North Korea.
The News, July 24, 2006
US urges Pakistan not to use new reactor for weapons
WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday confirmed but played down news reports that Pakistan is building a powerful new nuclear reactor and urged Islamabad not to use the facility for military purposes.
"We have been aware of these plans and we discourage any use of that facility for military purposes such as weapons development," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.
The Washington Post, citing US-based nuclear experts reported that the reactor could produce enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan's current capabilities.
"Pakistan of course is outside the non proliferation treaty and therefore they do develop their capabilities independently," Snow said.
The move could signal a potential new escalation in the region's arms race between pits nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
The construction site is adjacent to Pakistan's only plutonium production reactor, a 50-megawatt unit that began operating in 1998, it said.
By contrast, the dimensions of the new reactor suggest a capacity of 1,000 megawatts or more, according to the analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, it said.
Another related story, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,,1827772,00.html?gusrc=rss