`Pak`s nuke prog expanding at rapid pace’

Pak is "aggressively accelerating construction" at the Khushab nuclear site, claim reports.

Last Updated: May 16, 2011, 13:44 PM IST

Islamabad: Pakistan`s nuclear weapons
programme is expanding at a rapid pace and the country is expected to soon have a fourth operational reactor to ramp up the production of plutonium, according to a media report.

According to new commercial satellite imagery obtained by a popular magazine, Pakistan is "aggressively accelerating construction" at the Khushab nuclear site, about
140 miles south of Islamabad.

The report said the fourth nuclear reactor at Khushab
could come online as early as 2013.

The images prove Pakistan will soon have a fourth
operational reactor, "greatly expanding plutonium production
for its nuclear weapons programme", analysts told the
magazine.

The development comes at a time of "unprecedented
misgiving between Washington and Islamabad" in the wake of the
US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The White House declined to comment but a senior US
congressional official working on nuclear issues told Newsweek
that intelligence estimates suggest Pakistan has already
developed enough fissile material to produce over 100 warheads
and manufacture between eight and 20 weapons a year.

"There`s no question it`s the fastest growing
programme in the world," the official said.

"The build-up is remarkable," said Paul Brannan of the
Institute for Science and International Security.

"And that nobody in the US or in the Pakistani
government says anything about this especially in this day and age is perplexing."
Unlike Iran, which has yet to produce highly enriched
uranium, or North Korea, which has produced plutonium but
lacks any real weapons capability, Pakistan is significantly
ramping up its nuclear weapons programme.

Eric Edelman, under-secretary of defence in the George
W Bush administration, said: "You`re talking about Pakistan
even potentially passing France at some point. That`s
extraordinary."

Pakistani officials were quoted as saying that the
build-up is a "response to the threat from India, which is
spending 50 billion dollars over the next five years on its
military".
"But to say it?s just an issue between just India and
Pakistan is divorced from reality," said former senator Sam
Nunn, who co-chairs the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

"The US and Soviet Union went through 40 years of the
Cold War and came out every time from dangerous situations
with lessons learned. Pakistan and India have gone through
some dangerous times, and they have learned some lessons. But
not all of them. Today, deterrence has fundamentally changed.

The whole globe has a stake in this. It`s extremely
dangerous."
Asked whether the US has a role to play in securing
the arsenal, Musharraf said, "A US role to play? A US role in
helping? Zero role. No, sir. It is our own production? We have
not and cannot now have any intrusion by any element in the
US."

To guard its strategic assets, Pakistan employs two
army divisions about 18,000 troops and, as Musharraf put
it, "If you want to get into a firefight with the forces
guarding our strategic assets, it will be a very sad day."

PTI