Pakistan expanding nuclear sites: Report

May 20th, 2009 - 9:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 20 (IANS) Pakistan has expanded two sites crucial to its nuclear programme in an effort to boost the destructiveness of its nuclear arsenal as feared by US officials, a US arms control institute said on the basis of satellite photos.

The commercial images reveal a major expansion of a chemical plant complex near Dera Ghazi Khan that produces uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal, materials used to produce nuclear weapons, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said Wednesday.

Photos also suggest the Pakistanis “have added a second plutonium separation plant adjacent to the old one” at a site near Rawalpindi, the ISIS report said.

Pakistan in recent years also has been building two new plutonium production reactors.

“All together, these recent expansion activities indicate that Pakistan is indeed progressing in a strategic plan to improve the destructiveness and deliverability of its nuclear arsenal,” the report said.

Pakistan has roughly 60 to 100 nuclear weapons that can be delivered by attack aircraft and ballistic missiles, the report added.

The expansion would enable Pakistan to build smaller, lighter plutonium-fission weapons and thermonuclear weapons that employ “plutonium as the nuclear trigger and enriched and natural enriched uranium in the secondary”, it said.

The commercial photos of the chemical plant in Dera Ghazi Khan, taken Aug 25 last year, show new industrial buildings, new anti-aircraft installations and several new settling ponds as part of the expansion, ISIS said.

The satellite images follow confirmation from Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, Friday that Pakistan was expanding its nuclear arsenal. Mullen Monday claimed US military assistance to Pakistan was not being used by Islamabad to bolster its nuclear weapons programme.

Given turmoil in Pakistan with the army waging war against Taliban militants in the northwest, ISIS said the security of the country’s “nuclear assets remains in question”.

“An expansion in nuclear weapons production capabilities needlessly complicates efforts to improve the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets,” it said.

The Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear site in the past several years has been the target of at least one attack by more than a dozen gunmen, the institute said, citing media reports. Nearby railway tracks have also been bombed.

The attacks have been blamed on separatists from the nearby Pakistani province of Balochistan and not the Taliban, the report said.

“The brazen ground assault and nearby bombings are nevertheless troubling considering the role that the Dera Ghazi Khan plant plays in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme,” it said.

The ISIS report urged the US government to persuade Pakistan to halt production of fissile material and join talks for a treaty that would ban the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

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