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Pakistan, India: New nuclear weapons race?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 1, 2000) Recently it became known that Pakistan has produced 720 kg of High-Enriched Uranium (HEU) and 10 kg of separated plutonium. Pakistan continues to operate an upgraded reprocessing plant for the production of plutonium for weapons. Now, nuclear scientists in Pakistan and its enemy India urge their governments to allow new nuclear tests, to make their nuclear deterrence more convincing.

(539.5225) WISE Amsterdam - India needs to have 150 nuclear weapons, said a convener of the National Security Council Advisory Board on Indian television. From all countries with a nuclear program, there are only three that did not ratify the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): Pakistan, India and Israel. This means that their nuclear bomb materials are not controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 1998 Pakistan and India openly tested several nuclear bombs. Both countries have decided to develop a minimal nuclear deterrence.

Pakistan decided to produce nuclear weapons back in the sixties. The program was speeded up after the Indian nuclear test in 1974. It chose to produce two sorts of nuclear weapon materials: High Enriched Uranium (HEU) and plutonium. Pakistan obtained uranium enrichment technology by espionage from the Urenco company in The Netherlands and imported the needed materials and facilities, mostly from Western countries, in order to construct its own uranium enrichment plants at Kahuta and Golra. Their first nuclear weapons, made of HEU produced in these plants, were tested in May 1998. It is said that Pakistan has produced 720 kg of HEU, enough for the production of about 30 nuclear weapons.

During the seventies Pakistan imported a pilot reprocessing plant, which is able to separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. This pilot reprocessing plant was built at Rawalpindi. It has presently a production capacity of 8-10 kg plutonium per year. In 1972 Pakistan's first nuclear power reactor went into commercial operation at Karachi, the Kanupp reactor with 137 MW. This reactor however was and is under safeguards inspections from the IAEA. Therefore it was not possible to extract plutonium from the spent fuel of Kanupp for military purposes and so the reprocessing plant was idle. In early 1998 the unsafeguarded plutonium reactor at Khushab, with about 50 MWth, came into operation, after eleven years of construction. This reactor is able to produce up to 15 kg of plutonium a year. Many reports state that China has supplied equipment or technical assistance for it.

Parallel to the opening of the Khushab reactor, the reprocessing plant was put into operation to reprocess the spent fuel. Most of the reprocessing plant was bought from Belgonucleaire, some technology from SGN in France. By now the reactor has produced enough plutonium for one plutonium fission core and the reprocessing plant has been operating at a rate to produce enough separated plutonium for an explosive device a year. Nuclear scientists and the military in Pakistan urge the government to allow them to do another nuclear test, with nuclear bombs made of plutonium.

The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has taken advanced steps to conduct a fresh nuclear test, in anticipation that India may carry out a second test of a thermonuclear bomb. India states that the threat from Pakistan nuclear weapons led them to conduct nuclear tests openly. Both countries justify their own nuclear weapons program by the threat from their neighbor's nuclear program.

The first Indian hydrogen bomb test in 1998, next to the fission tests, was a partial failure. India first claimed it was a success, but several countries, including the US, contested their claim and said it did not work well. After some discussion in India, nuclear weapon scientists now acknowledge the test was not a complete success. They too urge their government to allow them to carry out a second test of a thermonuclear weapon. Pakistan and India aim to have a "minimal nuclear deterrence", which means to be able to deliver nuclear bombs by airplanes, ships and missiles.

The US urges both Pakistan and India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the treaty which forbids nuclear testing. Russia also urged India to sign the CTBT. India might sign it soon after their second hydrogen bomb test.

This summer, a Chinese-built nuclear power reactor was completed in Pakistan, the 325 MW Chashma reactor. As a NPT member state, China is obliged to obey to the NPT rules, which forbid the export of nuclear equipment and reactors to countries not accepting full-scope safeguards. China exported it in spite of their obligation as NPT member to accept Full-Scope Safeguards (FSS) on all nuclear exports.

Full-scope safeguards (FSS) mean that all nuclear facilities in a non-nuclear weapon state are under IAEA safeguards. When the NPT was indefinitely extended in 1995, FSS was cited as a trade requirement by NPT's members, as the 12th of a list of Principles and Objectives, agreed to by consensus.

During the review of the NPT in May this year, the principle of Full-Scope Safeguards (FSS) regarding nuclear exports was again agreed on by consensus in the final conference document. China agreed not to block the FSS measure, after members of the Non-Aligned Movement strongly objected that China was the only NPT state not accepting FSS as a nuclear trade principle. China formally objected to the FSS, under pressure of the Chinese nuclear industry. It said it would continue exporting nuclear facilities and nuclear fuel to Pakistan and nuclear fuel to India. The Non-Aligned Movement countries agreed to the FSS to isolate Pakistan and India.

In Pakistan no FSS are applied, because Pakistan is neither one of the five official nuclear weapon states, nor a NPT member. The two "commercial" nuclear reactors in Pakistan are inspected by the IAEA under bilateral safeguards agreements. All other, military nuclear facilities in Pakistan, including uranium enrichment plants in Kahuta and Golra, the Khushab reactor, a heavy water production plant and the reprocessing plant, are not safeguarded by IAEA inspectors. But China, as an NPT member, is only allowed to export nuclear facilities to Pakistan if all their nuclear facilities are under IAEA safeguards.

In the meantime, Russia is planning to export two nuclear reactors to India. In the midst of the NPT review this spring, the Russian Minister of Atomic Energy, Adamov, re-stated these plans. The reactors are to be built at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu. But Russia is a member of the NPT and of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which since 1993 required that non-nuclear weapon states have FSS in place, as a condition of nuclear trade with NSG members.

Russia did not join China in formally objecting to FSS, so it would certainly violate the NPT by exporting reactors to India. Later on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was in "firm control" of Russian nuclear export policy and that it would overrule any efforts by Adamov and the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) to break the rules of the NPT and the NSG. Since late 1999, Minatom and the Indian Department of Atomic Energy intensively discussed further nuclear cooperation in the area of nuclear reactor construction, nuclear safety and fast breeder development, Indian sources said in August 2000.

The US and other NSG members first objected to the deal, but later allowed Russia to claim that the sales, although contracted after 1993, were part of an earlier nuclear cooperation agreement dating from the 1980s. An official of the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Minatom was motivated to push Putin to open nuclear exports to India "because it is desperate for money." Minatom even proposed to offer both India and Pakistan a legally ambiguous "quasi-nuclear-weapons-state status", outside the NPT, to legitimate intensified nuclear trade by Minatom with these states. But as long as the Foreign Ministry has the upper hand in setting the nuclear proliferation policy, it is stated, Minatom's efforts will have no success.


  • Nucleonics Week, 1 May, 29 May, 1 June, 8 June, 15 June, 19 October and 26 November 2000
  • NuclearFuel, 29 May, 12 June and 18 September 2000
  • The Hindu, 11 November 2000
  • Friday Times, 18 Nov. 2000

Contact: WISE Amsterdam