Pakistan Nuclear Update – 2000

Since conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, Pakistan has continued to develop its nuclear weapon program. Two new reactors and a plutonium processing facility have become operational, and Pakistan may now be able to produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb per year.

In August 1999, N. M. Butt of the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Technology (PINSTECH) was quoted as saying that Pakistan has the ability to build a nuclear weapon of any type or size, including a neutron bomb, and according to Ishfaq Ahmed, Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Pakistan is self-reliant in the production of heavy water, enriched uranium, zirconium, and spare parts for its nuclear industry.

Reactors and nuclear infrastructure

Chashma: The 300-megawatt Chashma reactor (Chasnupp) went critical in May 2000. The reactor, designed and built by Chinese companies under the auspices of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), is modeled on the Qinshan-1 power reactor.

Khushab: According to two nuclear trade publications, the heavy-water moderated Khushab plutonium production reactor began operating in early 1998. Press reports put the power of the reactor at 50-70 megawatts. A reactor operating at that power can generate enough plutonium for at least one atomic bomb per year. A U.S. official has been quoted as saying that Khushab is now “being operated as a dedicated weapons plutonium production reactor.”

Khushab heavy water plant: In March 2000, Nucleonics Week reported that Pakistan had successfully smuggled into the country components and equipment for a heavy water production plant which was then built at Khushab. The publication said construction was finished in time to generate enough heavy water to start up and operate the reactor in 1998. U.S. officials reportedly disagree as to whether China was the source of the heavy water plant.

In November 1999 it was reported that the PAEC was developing a new uranium field in Tumman Leghari, in the southern Punjab. Pakistan’s previous source of uranium, a mine at Baghalchar, which opened in 1974, was being closed. There was speculation that the site was closed due to foreign pressure, but the PAEC claimed that there were simply no more uranium sources left there.

According to an August 2000 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report, Chinese entities have provided extensive support in the past to Pakistan’s nuclear programs, and the CIA “cannot preclude ongoing contacts.”