Washington, May 18: Recent satellite images show an expanding nuclear facility at the Khushab facility about 100 miles south of of Islamabad. The pictures were taken on April 20 and indicate Pakistan is building a fourth nuclear reactor to produce plutonium, the Fox News reported on Wednesday.
Paul Brannon, a nuclear analyst with the Institute for Science and International Security, explains how U.S. officials and other nuclear experts have been able to document the alarming expansion of Pakistan's nuclear program in the past two years.
“They have a telltale sign,” Brannon said, looking at the images. “I mean you can see the square of the reactor building, you can see the inner square of the reactor hall where the actual reactor goes, and if you measure the dimensions of the building it matches up exactly to the second and the third reactors.”
In 2009 it was a barren site.
Pakistan first revealed the Khushab site and its plutonium production facility in 1998 after the country's first nuclear test. That is when Pakistan's official nuclear program turned from the highly enriched uranium model established by the father of that program, A.Q. Khan, to plutonium production. Plutonium weapons are lighter, more mobile and easier to deliver than those based on highly enriched uranium.
Pakistan already has 100 nuclear weapons. Experts, such as Brannon, say that the new reactors could give Pakistan enough fissile material to build somewhere between eight and 20 more nuclear weapons per year.
But it's the cost of the reactors and the speed at which they have been built in the last two years that is raising eyebrows. Just how high is the cost? “It would be in the billions,” Brannon said. “This is a military reactor. It's outside of the civilian program.”