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Pakistan?s big nuke leap or a big dupe?

india Updated: Jul 25, 2006 02:28 IST

A WASHINGTON think-tank has claimed in a report that Pakistan seems to be building a 1,000-MW reactor designed to increase its plutonium production twentyfold. The report, issued on Monday, warns that "South Asia may be heading for a nuclear arms race". But its real target may be a US Congress set for another vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal two days from now.

The report by the Institute for Science and International Security admits construction has been going on for the past six years and "that nothing suggests that Pakistan is moving quickly to finish this reactor".

The satellite images show "a round, metal structure inside a square building under construction that appears to be a reactor vessel" inside Pakistan's existing Khushab nuclear complex.

Washington-based analysts say the report does not seem to provide any new data or proof regarding Pakistan's nuclear programme. "Pakistan has been following a plutonium weapons programme for over a decade," said one. The report says Pakistan seems to be having problems completing the reactor including "a shortage of necessary reactor components" and critical substances like heavy water.

The real target of the report seems to be the Indo-US nuclear deal. One co-author of the report, David Albright, has been one of the most strident voices against the deal. His think-tank had earlier written a largely discredited report claiming India assisted proliferation and was a rogue nuclear power.

The new report concludes by hinting that India's decision to keep a large number of nuclear reactors outside of international safeguards may have been driven by the knowledge Pakistan was constructing this new reactor.

In an interview, Albright argued all this pointed to a need for the US to aggressively push for a fissile material cutoff treaty -- an agreement neither New Delhi nor Washington is enthusiastic about.

Trying to inject curbs on India's fissile material production into the Indo-US nuclear deal has been one of the key objectives of the nonproliferation lobby. "The report is trying to influence the US Congress, but the debate there is pretty much over. But the nonproliferation lobby will fight to the last minute," said an Indian official.

Unsurprisingly, in media reports Pakistani officials endorsed the report's broader claims their country is expanding its nuclear programme. However, they declined to verify that the images were of a reactor.