Why does Pakistan have world's fastest-growing nuclear program?
Pakistan is stockpiling weapons-grade nuclear material, and accelerating construction of a nuclear plant that can produce plutonium. What's behind the nuclear surge?
By Andrew BastSkip to next paragraph
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Even in the best of times, Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program warrants alarm. But these are perilous days. At a moment of unprecedented misgiving between Washington and Islamabad, new evidence suggests that Pakistan’s nuclear program is barreling ahead at a furious clip.
According to new commercial-satellite imagery obtained exclusively by Newsweek, Pakistan is aggressively accelerating construction at the Khushab nuclear site, about 140 miles south of Islamabad. The images, analysts say, prove Pakistan will soon have a fourth operational reactor, greatly expanding plutonium production for its nuclear-weapons program.
“The buildup is remarkable,” says Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security. “And that nobody in the U.S. or in the Pakistani government says anything about this—especially in this day and age—is perplexing.”
Unlike Iran, which has yet to produce highly enriched uranium, or North Korea, which has produced plutonium but still lacks any real weapons capability, Pakistan is significantly ramping up its nuclear-weapons program. Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration, puts it bluntly: “You’re talking about Pakistan even potentially passing France at some point. That’s extraordinary.”
Pakistani officials say the buildup is a response to the threat from India, which is spending $50 billion over the next five years on its military. “But to say it’s just an issue between just India and Pakistan is divorced from reality,” says former senator Sam Nunn, who co-chairs the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “The U.S. and Soviet Union went through 40 years of the Cold War and came out every time from dangerous situations with lessons learned. Pakistan and India have gone through some dangerous times, and they have learned some lessons. But not all of them. Today, deterrence has fundamentally changed. The whole globe has a stake in this. It’s extremely dangerous.”
It’s dangerous because Pakistan is also stockpiling fissile material, or bomb fuel. Since Islamabad can mine uranium on its own territory and has decades of enrichment know-how—beginning with the work of nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan—the potential for production is significant.