M A I N   N E W S

New N-reactor to be used for military purposes,
says Pak envoy
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

A new Pakistani nuclear reactor is likely to be used for “military purposes,” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. said on Thursday.

In an interview with the Washington Times, Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani denied, however, that this would lead to a massive increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal. “The plutonium may certainly be used for military purposes, but it is simply not the case that it will increase our capability X-fold,” he said.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) reported last month that Pakistan is building a second heavy water production reactor inside the Khushab complex that could enable the production of up to 50 nuclear weapons a year.

The reactor “could produce over 200 kg of weapon-grade plutonium per year, assuming it operates at full power for a modest 220 days per year. At 4-5 kg 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,” authors David Albright and Paul Brannan wrote.

Mr Durrani, a former top defence adviser to the Pakistani president and chairman of the country's military industrial complex during the 1990s, dismissed the ISIS report as "grossly exaggerated." He denied the new Khushab plant could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium to boost the country's production from an estimated two bombs a year to as many as 50.

But the envoy’s comments were also the first official admission that the reactor could increase Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Following the publication of the ISIS report, the White House revealed it had long known about Pakistan’s plans to develop a large plutonium production reactor. Spokesman Tony Snow urged Pakistan not to expand its nuclear weapons programme.

Noting that neither Pakistan nor India is party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Mr. Snow said, “But on the other hand, we discourage military use of the facility” at the Khushab complex.

Mr. Durrani said the new plant would be far less powerful than the 1,000-megawatt estimate given last month by the ISIS. Pakistan's current reactor, located near the new one, is a 50-megawatt unit completed in 1998.

Pakistan has sought a civil nuclear deal similar to the one President George W. Bush signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005. Islamabad cites its dire need for energy. Washington, however, has rejected this plea while pointing to Pakistan’s poor nuclear proliferation record.

Mr. Durrani said he had conveyed Pakistan’s “deep concerns” about the India nuclear deal but conceded it was unlikely it could be derailed. “We know your administration is very keen for this deal, but we also don't want to see an imbalance with India that we would have to match,” he told the Times.

Mr Durrani acknowledged that the case of disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold sensitive nuclear technology to nations including Iran and North Korea before his nuclear blackmarket was disrupted in 2004, was “an absolute, total, unmitigated disaster for my country.”

“It pulled our image down very badly and it will take us time to get out of this mess,” he said.




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