Washington: Pakistan is half way through the construction of its fourth nuclear reactor at Khushab, which will give it capability to speed up plutonium manufacturing, latest US satellite imagery has revealed.
On completion, the reactor would enable Islamabad to build large number of smaller nuclear warheads, Washington-based eminent think-tank Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said.
Pakistan`s nuclear weapons programme is considered to be among the fastest growing in the world by Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute, with the estimates of Islamabad possessing 90-110 nuclear warheads.
Releasing the latest satellite imageries, ISIS said construction of the fourth Khushab reactor and supporting buildings is progressing with the reactor building about halfway to completion.
Based on the available imagery ISIS estimates that the construction of the fourth reactor is proceeding about 30 percent faster than construction on reactor three and that major external work could be complete within fifteen months.
The reactor, located 200 kilometres south of Islamabad, is the latest addition to the Khushab nuclear site and is dedicated to the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.
In addition to the fourth reactor, the Khushab site includes two reactors similar in shape to the fourth one, a heavy water production plant, and an original, nominal 50 megawatt-thermal heavy water reactor completed in 1998.
"This increase in plutonium production represents a growing nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan," it said, adding in order to avoid a dangerous escalation, the US and the world community should increase efforts to convince Pakistan to stop blocking negotiations of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament.
"India and Pakistan should be convinced to stop further production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and cap their stocks of these dangerous materials, thereby limiting the number of nuclear weapons each side can produce. To motivate Pakistan to accept a FMCT, the United States should consider incentives that could include China`s provision of additional civil nuclear power reactors," the ISIS said.
It said satellite imagery shows that security at all sites of the Khushab nuclear complex appears to have been increased. Wider security perimeters have been added around all four reactor facilities as well as the heavy water plant.
The added security features seem to be a measure against increasingly bold and targeted attacks by militant groups against Pakistani military facilities, most notably the May 2011 assault on a Pakistani naval air base, it said.
The latest imagery shows the fourth reactor building under construction with the inside of the reactor building still visible, it said, adding that the arched roof beams identical to those used for reactors 2 and 3 have been placed near the construction site in preparation for the covering of the reactor building.
"The construction of several nearby buildings and structures appears complete. The completion of the reactor stack is notable. There are now two clearly defined perimeters around the fourth reactor construction site with the outer perimeter resembling the adjoining complex containing reactors 2 and 3," it said.
Although the size of the reactor 4 complex is similar to the complex containing reactors 2 and 3, there are differences in the layout and types of buildings being constructed around the reactor itself, the ISIS said, adding that the reason for these differences in not known.
"It is also unknown whether Pakistan plans to build a fifth reactor next to the fourth reactor just as it did in the case of reactors 2 and 3," it said.