Washington: Pakistan has started construction of its fourth nuclear reactor at Khushab in Punjab province, signalling its ambitious effort to modernise and expand the nuclear arsenal.
Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said that the latest satellite imageries obtained by it shows that the reactor building is relatively early in its construction, but the footprint is that it is nearly of the same size as that of the second and third Khushab reactors.
US and other reports had indicated that China and Pakistan had recently concluded an agreement under which Beijing would construct the fourth reactor at Khushab.
"A new construction staging and storage area can be seen south of the new construction. The new construction is located several hundred meters south of second and third Khushab reactor compound," said a report authored by David Albright and Paul Brannan.
The Washington Post said, "the new reactor, if verified, would signal yet another step forward in Pakistan`s ambitious effort to modernise and expand its nuclear arsenal."
Last month, the paper had reported that Pakistan`s stockpile was estimated to have grown more than 100 deployed weapons and to have surpassed that of India and even the UK.
Pakistan made its first nuclear reactor operational at the Khushab site in 1998 and began construction of a second reactor at the site after 2002.
In 2006, Pakistan began building a third reactor, adjacent to the second Khushab reactor.
"In first commercial satellite imagery from December 2009, vapour could be seen rising from some of the second reactor`s cooling tower fan blades, indicating that the second reactor was at least at some stage of initial operation. Vapour can again be seen rising from some of the second reactor`s
cooling towers in the January 15, 2011 imagery, though none can be seen yet over the third reactor`s cooling towers," ISIS said.
"Another reactor just hammers the point that Pakistan is determined to make a lot of plutonium for nuclear weapons, frankly far more than they need or is healthy for the region and the world," Albright was quoted as saying by The Post.