Pakistan’s Nuclear Program: Yesterday and TodayApril 5, 2010
Pirzada Hasaan Hashmi | Edited by PKKH editorial team
Pakistan’s civil nuclear program had started in 1956 when Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission was established. It was well before Pakistan jumped into the race to make Nuclear weapons.
It was Munir Ahmed Khan who told the Foreign Minister of Pakistan of that time, Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, during his visit to Vienna in 1965 about the emergence of Indian nuclear program.
After that Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto arranged a meeting of Munir Ahmed Khan with President Ayub Khan in which, Munir Ahmed Khan gave an estimate of the cost to launch such a program in Pakistan to be around 150 million. President Ayub Khan refused the whole idea! President Ayub’s decision put Pakistan almost 7 years behind the Indian nuclear program at that time.
If Pakistan’s nuclear program had started at that time, it would have given India a tough impression and they might not have dared to test their atomic capability in 1974, which started a race of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Indo-Pak region.
A right decision at the right time breathes new life into a Nation and take it to another levels altogether. Despite the fact that General Ayub did good for Pakistan, two of his decisions didn’t prove to be very much favorable for Pakistan. Both of these decisions could have made Pakistan a different country compared to what it is today. First one is, not starting Pakistan’s nuclear program at the right time and second one, not considering China advice to attack Kashmir when China was having Sino-Indian Border Conflict. Leaders’ decisions change the destiny of a country and thats what happened to Pakistan.
So once Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came into power he started this program in 1974 with the code name Project 706 under the supervision of Dr Munir Ahmed Khan.
It was in 1976 when Dr AQ Khan joined Project 706 and exercised his expertise to make Gas Centrifuges and after joining he was appointed as the Project Director and was given full control of Pakistan’s Kahuta facility.
So just after 9 years on 11 March 1983, Pakistan conducted its first successful cold test of nuclear capability. From 1983 to 1990 Pakistan carried out around 24 cold tests.
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program is based, primarily, on highly-enriched Uranium (HEU)) which is produced at the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta, a Zippe centrifuge-based Uranium-enrichment facility. The Kahuta facility has been in use since the early 1980s. By early 1990s, Kahuta had an estimated 3,000 centrifuges in operation, and since then Pakistan has continued its pursuit to expand its Uranium-enrichment capabilities.
It is estimated that there are approximately 10,000-20,000 centrifuges in Kahuta now.
Project 706 reached its Glory when Pakistan’s first nuclear explosion tests were conducted in May 1998, when six warheads were tested. It is reported that the yields from these tests were 12kt, 30 to 35kt and four low-yield (below 1 kt) tests. From these tests, it can be established that Pakistan had developed operational warheads of 20 to 25kt and 150kt in the shape of low weight compact designs and may also have 300–500kt large-size warheads.
Pakistani scientists are believed to be upgrading the Plutonium based nuclear weapons with Tritium. Only a few grams of Tritium can result in an increase of the explosive yield by 300% to 400%.
Now lets have a look at the current status of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program.
Pakistan’s main nuclear plant is in Khushab which is producing Plutonium and Tritium to be used in the production of compact warheads for tactical nuclear weapons. The Khushab facility is not being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The nuclear plant is located South of Khushab.
The construction of the first Plutonium producing reactor in Khushab was launched in the mid 1980s with Chinese assistance. It reached to a stage of high level of production by 1998. The whole compound of Khushab nuclear plant is a no fly zone and it is guarded by anti-aircraft weapons.
Khushab Nuclear plant is being expanded day by day and new satellite images of the facility show that the construction of a second reactor is likely finished and that the roof beams are being placed on top of the third Khushab reactor hall.
All of this development at the Khushab nuclear facility will expand Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and it is a limited estimate that Pakistan will have more than 250 nuclear weapons by the end of 2010.
Pakistan has established many secret sites to hide the nuclear weapons and Pakistan is very effectively guarding these sites. Some sources have reported that there are almost 6 sites which are holding our atomic bombs but there could be more since this report is unconfirmed.
Lastly some unconfirmed sources have also reported that Pakistan is about to have a new Ballistic missile factory which is under construction at the moment. So Pakistanis can hope to see some major break-through in Ballistic missile development as well.