Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pakistan expanding nuke sites

WASHINGTON - SATELLITE photos released on Tuesday show Pakistan has expanded two sites crucial to its nuclear program as part of an effort to bolster the destructive power of its atomic arsenal, a US arms control institute said.

The commercial images reveal a major expansion of a chemical plant complex near Dera Ghazi Kahn that produces uranium hexalfuoride and uranium metal, materials used to produce nuclear weapons, said analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security.

At a site near Rawalpindi, photos suggest the Pakistanis 'have added a second plutonium separation plant adjacent to the old one,' the ISIS report said.

Pakistan in recent years also has been building two new plutonium production reactors, it said.

'All together, these recent expansion activities indicate that Pakistan is indeed progressing in a strategic plan to improve the destructiveness and deliverability of its nuclear arsenal,' the report said.

The expansion would enable Pakistan to build smaller, lighter plutonium-fission weapons and thermonuclear weapons that employ 'plutonium as the nuclear trigger and enriched and natural enriched uranium in the secondary,' it said.

The commercial photos of the chemical plant in Dera Ghazi Kahn, taken on August 25 of last year, show new industrial buildings, new anti-aircraft installations and several new settling ponds as part of the expansion, ISIS said.

The satellite images follow confirmation from the top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Friday that Pakistan was expanding its nuclear arsenal.

Mr Mullen on Monday said US military assistance to Pakistan was not being used by Islamabad to bolster its nuclear weapons program.

Given turmoil in Pakistan with the army waging war against Taleban militants in the northwest, the ISIS said the 'security of its nuclear assets remains in question.' 'An expansion in nuclear weapons production capabilities needlessly complicates efforts to improve the security of Pakistan's nuclear assets,' it said. -- AFP

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