September 09, 2009

‘Pak plans plutonium push’

Rashme Sehgal‘pak-plans-plutonium-push’.aspx

New Delhi

Sept. 7: Pakistan is poised to expand its nuclear bomb-making facilities by producing an additional 20 kg of plutonium each year from the two plutonium-producing reactors nearing completion at Khushab, situated on the border of Punjab and the North West Frontier Province.

In an article titled "Uranium Constraints on Pakistan’s Fissile Material Production", to be published in Routledge’s prestigious magazine Science & Global Security, a group of scientists monitoring Pakistan’s atomic weapons programme believe this will push Pakistan’s capacity to produce an additional four atomic weapons every year.
Dr Rajaraman, co-chair, International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), pointed our that as of 2007 Pakistan was likely to have accumulated a stock of over 1.4 tons of highly enriched uranium, which would enable them to make between 50 to 60 nuclear bombs. "This is based on the assumption that 25 kg of enriched uranium is used for every warhead," said Dr Rajaraman in the course of an exclusive interview. "This is in addition to it possessing 90 kg of weapon-grade plutonium from its existing Khushab reactor, which produces 10 kg per year, which means they are in a position to increase their stock (atomic bombs) by six weapons worth ever year," said Dr Rajaraman.

Commercial satellite photos published in Fissile Materials in South Asia, with inputs from leading scientists, including Dr Zia Mian working with the IPFM, Dr A.H. Nayyar who retired from Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, and Dr M.V. Ramana from Bengaluru’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, show images of the new Khushab reactors under construction and also stress that Pakistan is working on a new reprocessing plant at Chashma to reprocess spent fuel from these new reactors.
"The spent fuel from Pakistan’s Khushab reactor is believed to be reprocessed at the new labs facility near Islamabad, which has a capacity of 10-20 tons per year of heavy metal," the article states. "In comparison, India’s weapon-grade plutonium is coming from its Cirus and Dhruva reactors, which have produced a cumulative 234 kg and 414 kg of weapon-grade plutonium up to 2006 from the time they were commissioned," added Dr Rajaraman.
These scientists have calculated that some of this weapon-grade plutonium has already been consumed in India’s nuclear tests. "We estimate about six kg was used in India’s 1974 nuclear test and another 25 kg in the five more advanced tests in 1998. As for reactor fuel, 20 kg was used for the core of the Purnima-1 research reactor and 60 kg for the first Mark-1 core of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor, while 20 kg was lost in processing," the article states. "In all, 131 kg of weapon-grade plutonium has been consumed, leaving India with a current stockpile of 500 kg of weapon-grade plutonium, sufficient for around 100 nuclear bombs," the article adds.

These experts point out that the six nuclear tests Pakistan conducted in 1998 used around 120 kg of enriched uranium, leaving them with a stockpile of 1,300 kg, sufficient for 65 weapons.

They also believe that the enrichment capacity of the existing Kahuta reactor was increased and that it was able to produce a stockpile of 1,100 kg of highly enriched uranium by 2003. "This would have produced about 1,400 kg of weapon-grade uranium by 2006-end," Dr Rajaraman said.

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