In a development that may have direct ramifications over Indo-Pak relations, Western Defence experts have claimed that Pakistan could be building a new uranium enrichment complex. India and Pakistan have off late seen freeze in ties over unrest in Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. The developments, if found consistent with the findings of analysts, may draw rebuke from several squares.
According to the commercial satellite imagery analysed by Western defence experts, the construction of a new site, based in the town of Kahuta some thirty kilometres east of Islamabad, provides fresh evidence of how Pakistan, which is estimated to have the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile, is seeking to boost its atomic arsenal.
The analysis was conducted by IHS Jane’s Intelligence review using satellite images taken by Airbus Defence and Space on September 28, 2015 and then again on April 18, 2016.
“The area of interest is approximately 1.2 hectares and is located within the secure area of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), in the southwestern part of the complex,” said the statement.
“It is sited within an established centrifuge facility, has strong security and shows some of the structural features of a possible new uranium enrichment facility. This makes it a strong candidate for a new centrifuge facility,” Karl Dewey, a proliferation analyst at IHS Jane’s added.
The structure of the site also bears strong resemblance to facilities built by nuclear fuel company URENCO which also operates several nuclear plants in Europe, it said.
“This may be more than coincidence as AQ Khan, considered by many to be the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, worked at URENCO before stealing centrifuge designs and returning to Pakistan,” said Charlie Cartwright, an imagery analyst for IHS Jane’s.
Pakistan, which conducted its first nuclear tests in 1998 is believed to have around 120 nuclear weapons, more than India, Israel and North Korea.
A 2015 report written by scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center said Pakistan could increase its stockpile by 20 warheads a year and have the world’s third largest in a decade.
Pakistan is currently seeking to join the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that seeks to prevent nuclear proliferation by controlling the export of materials, equipment and technology that can be used to manufacture atomic weapons.
The construction of new nuclear site is therefore inconsistent with the stated position of the NSG.
(With inputs from the PTI)