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Monday, July 24, 2006

Pakistan in large-scale nuclear expansion

WASHINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - Pakistan is building a reactor that could produce enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year in what would be a major expansion of its nuclear programme and an intensified arms race in South Asia, a report said 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 kg 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 kg of plutonium per weapon, this stock would allow the production of over 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year."

Pakistan currently is capable of producing about 10 kg 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."

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam declined to say whether a new reactor was being constructed, but she said the presence of a nuclear weapons program and facilities at Khushab were well known.

"Its coordinates are exchanged even with India under a 1988 agreement on nuclear facilities and installations. This list is exchanged every year on the 1st of January," Aslam told a weekly news conference.

The plant at Khushab is not covered by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, she said.
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