Pakistan sparks U.S. anger after secretly accelerating nuclear programme

  • Cooling towers at Khushab-III reactor have been finished
  • Plant could begin nuclear weapons operation within months
  • One kg of plutonium equal to 20,000 tons of normal explosives
The U.S. has been left fuming by revelations that Pakistan, an ally in the Afghanistan war, has been secretly accelerating the speed of its nuclear weapons programme, after satellite images of a row of completed cooling towers came to light.
America has been attempting to cap worldwide stocks of potential material for nuclear weapons - only last year president Barack Obama called for 'a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials'.
It marks further deterioration in relations between the two countries, following U.S. drone and helicopter attacks on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border which led, last week, to over 100 Nato tankers being destroyed when the Torkham crossing, the main route between the two countries, was shut.
Nuclear power: The Washington-based nuclear watchdog have obtained satellite images of the completed cooling towers at Pakistan's secret Khushab-III reactor
Nuclear power: The Washington-based nuclear watchdog have obtained satellite images of the completed cooling towers at Pakistan's secret Khushab-III reactor
Tensions have been bubbling recently after the drone attacks on insurgents and the helicopter fire which killed two Pakistani soldiers.
As a result the Torkham crossing was closed by Pakistan after the attack, which left hundreds of supply trucks stranded alongside highways and bottle-necked traffic heading towards the Chaman crossing in the southwest of the country.
At least six drivers were killed in the attacks and although the crossing is now open again, tensions are still simmering.
trucks waiting at closed border point
Trucks await the re-opening of the Torkham border crossing in Pakistan. Despite profuse U.S. apologies for the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border helicopter strike last month, Islamabad has refused to name a date to reopen the route
fuel trucks set on fire in Pakistan
One of the fuel trucks still burns after the pre-dawn raid on a village 120 miles from Quetta

Truck driver sits next to his fuel tanker meant for NATO troops, which was set on fire by gunmen,
A truck driver sits next to his torched tanker. The attackers used guns and fired a rocket to set fire to them
Meanwhile a joint investigation revealed that the Pakistani soldiers began firing at the two U.S. helicopters prior to the attack, a move the investigation team said was likely meant to notify the aircraft of their presence.
Now a Washington-based nuclear watchdog, the Institute for Science and International Security, has unearthed satellite images showing that the cooling towers at Pakistan's secret Khushab-III reactor have been finished.
The intelligence hints that the plant could begin operation within months, allowing Pakistan, which is deepening its nuclear ties to China, to increase substantially its stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium.
Pre-empting an attack: American forces have intensified missile strikes against militants in Pakistan from unmanned drones
Pre-empting an attack: American forces have intensified missile strikes against militants in Pakistan from unmanned drones
The Obama administration is also disturbed by Chinese plans to build two new nuclear reactors in Pakistan - a move that would bypass Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) rules that bar sales of nuclear equipment to states that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
China contest that it does not need NSG permission to sell reactors to Pakistan, arguing it had committed to the deal before it joined the NSG in 2004 – a claim the United States disputes.
The U.S. are now worried that tensions are so strained that more sniping attacks are expected. 'There is really mounting concern that we are extremely vulnerable to an attack from a group in Pakistan that could occur,' a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
'[An attack] will change the nature of the relationship, not because necessarily it makes sense to, but because the congressional outcry and the public outcry will be such that you will have to dramatically do things quite differently.'
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week: 'We have a very difficult and complicated situation in Pakistan. We have worked hard on this relationship. We understand it's important to our security.'
Meanwhile Rose Gottmeiler, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, has warned that her country's 'patience is running out'.
'Pakistan thinks its going to be forced to cap its fissile material stocks and wants to make sure it has as much as it can get before then,' said Asheley Tellis, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The U.S. were at the forefront of the Conference on Disarmament, a 64-nation coalition that negotiated the 1992 Chemical Weapons convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which agreed to negotiate a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty.
This was intended to cap production of weapons-grade enriched uranium and most forms of plutonium.
But Pakistan has stopped the Conference on Disarmament from beginning talks, contesting that a cut-off would harm its national security interests.
Khushab-III, the latest in a series of reactors built to fuel Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, is located next to Khushab-II which became operational in February.
Small but lethal weapons can be produced using the plutonium at the plants - just one kilogram can cause an explosion equal to 20,000 tons of conventional explosives.
Production at Khushad III has been going ahead despite Pakistan struggling with the fallout from the recent floods, which inflicted damage estimated at £27 billion.
Pakistan argues that the nuclear weapons programme is necessary in order to counter the superior conventional forces of India, its local enemy.
Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists estimated recently that Pakistan had assembled 70-90 nuclear warheads to India's 60-80, and had produced enough fissile material to manufacture another 90 more.
 
 
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