Pakistan Nuclear Update – 2001

Pakistan continues to develop and expand its nuclear weapon capability. Islamabad now possesses an arsenal of approximately 30-50 nuclear weapons. Pakistan claimed that its nuclear blasts in May 1998 had a total yield of 55-63 kilotons, with the largest weapon having a yield of 30-35 kilotons.

However, an independent seismological study suggested that the first test on May 28, possibly involving one or more bombs detonated simultaneously, yielded between 9 and 12 kilotons. The second round on May 30 yielded approximately 4-6 kilotons.

In June 2001, President General Pervez Musharraf vowed that Pakistan’s “mininum nuclear deterrence” would not “be compromised,” but stated that “Pakistan’s nuclear capability is entirely for self-defense.”

Pakistan’s main nuclear sites

Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) (Kahuta): Nuclear weapon research and development; uranium enrichment.

Atomic Energy Minerals Center (Lahore): Uranium and nuclear mineral resource development; runs ore pilot reprocessing plant; production of reactor fuel bundles.

Chagai Hills nuclear test site.

Chashma Nuclear Power Reactor (Chashma): 300-megawatt power reactor.

Dera Ghazi Khan: Uranium milling and conversion.

Karachi Nuclear Power Reactor (Kanupp) (Karachi): 125-megawatt power reactor.

Khushab research reactor and heavy water production plant (Khushab).

Multan heavy water production plant (Multan).

New Labs plutonium processing plant (Rawalpindi).

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) (Islamabad): Nuclear weapon research.

Pakistan Institute for Science and Technology (PINSTECH) (Islamabad): Research reactors used for tritium production research.

Sargodha airbase (Sargodha): Possible nuclear weapon storage site.

Sihala: Possible site of pilot-scale uranium enrichment centrifuge plant.

Tumman Leghani: Reported new uranium mine (southern Punjab).

Recent developments

Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) (Kahuta): Abdul Qadeer Khan, recognized as the “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” stepped down as chairman of KRL on March 30, 2001, and joined General Musharraf’s Cabinet as an adviser on science and technology. He was replaced by Dr. Javed Mirza, KRL’s deputy chairman.

Chashma Nuclear Power Reactor (Chashma): The Chinese-built 300-megawatt Chashma reactor (Chasnupp) went critical in May 2000 and was inaugurated in March 2001. A month later, Pervez Butt, chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) visited officials at the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to discuss the construction of Chasnupp II, a 600-megawatt nuclear power plant. In August, Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz visited China to ask for investment in a $3.9 billion project that would increase Pakistan’s nuclear power capacity by 2100 megawatts over the next 15 years. Aziz said his first proposal would be an expansion of Chasnupp that would raise its power generating capacity from 300 to 600 megawatts.

Karachi Nuclear Power Reactor (Kanupp): A site survey has reportedly been completed for the construction of a 300-megawatt Kanupp II nuclear power plant.

National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM): Formed in early 2001 with the merger of the Pakistan Missile Organization (PMO), the Air Weapons Complex (AWC), Pakistan Maritime Engineering and the National Development Complex (NDC), NESCOM is charged with producing sophisticated weapon systems for the Pakistani armed forces. In the summer of 2001, more than 950 senior scientists, engineers, technicians, and PAEC staff were transferred to NESCOM on a permanent basis.

New Labs plutonium reprocessing plant (Rawalpindi): The PAEC is operating this pilot reprocessing facility in Rawalpindi to separate plutonium from spent fuel discharged from the unsafeguarded 50-70 megawatt heavy water-moderated Khushab reactor. U.S. officials have been cited as saying that the Khushab reactor is generating 8-10 kilograms of plutonium per year, enough for at least one nuclear weapon.

It was reported in February 2001 that China’s Seventh Research and Design Institute, which is overseen by the CNNC, had supplied 50 ceramic capacitors to New Labs. The company was reportedly paid through a bank account maintained by an official at the Pakistani embassy in Beijing.

National Command Authority (NCA) and the safety of nuclear weapons
Pakistan established a National Command Authority (NCA) in February 2000. Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program is controlled by the military, and the weapons have reportedly been integrated into the country’s overall military strategy. Islamabad has reportedly developed an effective command and control system for its nuclear forces, and has placed all of its “strategic organizations” – including KRL, NDC and the PAEC – under control of the NCA.

After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, American military and intelligence officials traveled to Islamabad to discuss the security of the Pakistani nuclear weapon stockpile and its nuclear plants. Officials are fearful that a sustained Western attack on Afghanistan could adversely affect Pakistan, and that Afghan sympathizers in the Pakistani army might seize control of nuclear weapons. President Musharraf discounted this scenario, but one press report claimed that “extremely sensitive” material from sites such as KRL, the Khushab and Chasnupp reactors, and the Chagai Hills nuclear test site had been transported to “special sheds” set up at the Sargodha airbase.