External Work on Pakistan Plutonium Reactor Looks Nearly Done

A heavy-water reactor at Pakistan's Khushab nuclear complex in April 2008. Recent satellite images indicate the exterior of a fourth plutonium-production reactor at the site is almost finished.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Rachel Oswald
Dec. 22, 2013, 10:02 p.m.

The ex­ter­i­or of Pakistan’s new­est plutoni­um-pro­duc­tion re­act­or ap­pears al­most com­plete, though it is un­clear when the re­act­or will be up and run­ning.

Satel­lite pho­to­graphy cap­tured as re­cently as Nov. 1 “clearly shows that the ex­tern­al con­struc­tion of the fourth re­act­or build­ing [at the Khush­ab nuc­le­ar com­plex] ap­pears nearly com­plete,” Ser­ena Kelle­her-Ver­gantini and Robert Avagy­an find in an In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tion­al Se­cur­ity re­port pub­lished on Fri­day.

However, the im­agery also shows that a “con­sid­er­able amount of ad­di­tion­al con­struc­tion” re­mains un­der way at the re­act­or site, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Is­lamabad does not provide up­dates to the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity on the status of ef­forts to ex­pand its fis­sile-ma­ter­i­al pro­duc­tion cap­ab­il­it­ies. That leaves the pub­lic just a few sources of in­form­a­tion about the pro­gram, such as com­mer­cial-satel­lite im­ages.

“Giv­en that satel­lite im­agery provides lim­ited in­dic­a­tion of the re­act­or’s op­er­a­tion­al status, pre­dict­ing when the fourth re­act­or will be­come op­er­a­tion­al is dif­fi­cult,” write Kelle­her-Ver­gantini and Avagy­an.

The fourth re­act­or ap­pears to have a lay­out slightly dif­fer­ent from the two re­act­ors that im­me­di­ately pre­ceded it at Khush­ab. Con­struc­tion of the new heavy-wa­ter re­act­or has also moved at a more slug­gish pace than was earli­er pre­dicted. This could be the res­ult of work­ing out the kinks of a new re­act­or blue­print or for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent reas­on that can­not be de­tec­ted by satel­lite, ac­cord­ing to the IS­IS re­port.

The space-based sur­veil­lance did not turn up any signs that work had be­gun on a po­ten­tial fifth plutoni­um re­act­or at Khush­ab, the au­thors noted.

Pakistan is be­lieved to be grow­ing its plutoni­um-pro­duc­tion ca­pa­city in or­der to al­low it to ac­quire an ar­sen­al of plutoni­um-fueled war­heads. Its cur­rent nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al uses urani­um-based war­heads.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

What We're Following See More »
A CANDIDATE TO BE ‘PROUD’ OF
Chicago Tribune Endorses Gary Johnson
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."

FUNERAL FOR ISRAELI LEADER
Obama Compares Peres to ‘Giants of the 20th Century’
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Speaking at the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, President Obama "compared Peres to 'other giants of the 20th century' such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth who 'find no need to posture or traffic in what's popular in the moment.'" Among the 6,000 mourners at the service was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama called Abbas's presence a sign of the "unfinished business of peace" in the region.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many New Voters Does the Clinton Campaign Aim to Register?
2 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Three million—a number that lays "bare the significant gap between Donald Trump’s bare-bones operation and the field program that Clinton and her hundreds of aides have been building for some 17 months."

Source:
“STANDING FOR PRINCIPLES”
Chicago Tribune Endorses Johnson
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a somewhat shocking move, the Chicago Tribune has endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying a vote for him is one that voters "can be proud of." The editorial barely touches on Donald Trump, who the paper has time and again called "unfit to be president," before offering a variety of reasons for why it can't endorse Hillary Clinton. Johnson has been in the news this week for being unable to name a single world leader who he admires, after earlier this month being unable to identify "Aleppo," a major Syrian city in the middle of the country's ongoing war.

Source:
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
×