Monday, July 24, 2006

Asia nuke watch: Don't forget about Pakistan

Although Pakistan is ruled by friendly-to-the-US Pervez Musharraf, a coup led by Muslim extremists could put Pakistan's nuclear arsenal into the hands of al-Qaeda supporters.

After all, General Musharraf became President Muhsarraf in a coup, albeit a bloodless one. Coups are common in Pakistan.

Britain's Guardian paper has a story that may not get the attention it deserves.

Pakistan appears to have embarked on a dramatic expansion of its nuclear arsenal with the construction of a new heavy water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for up to 50 warheads a year, according to a report released yesterday by a US thinktank.

The report by the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis), is largely based on commercially available satellite images showing a large building site at a nuclear production complex at Khushab, in Pakistani Punjab. Isis, a non-governmental nuclear watchdog, estimates that the huge rectangular building under construction and the circular structure inside it almost certainly represent the early stages of a 1,000MW reactor capable of generating more than 200kg (440lbs) of weapons-grade plutonium per year. When completed it would be 20 times the size of the existing reactor at Khushab.

The Khushab complex uses deuterium oxide, known as heavy water because of its chemical similarity to water, to produce plutonium and tritium, which is used as a booster in nuclear fission weapons.

50 warheads a year. The war between Israel and Hezbollah has grabbed the headlines, but this is a story to keep an eye on.

Technorati tags:

No comments: