Jeffrey LewisPakistan Completing Reprocessing Facility

In January, David Albright and Paul Brannan released satellite images demonstrating that Pakistan had resumed construction at a facility near Pakistan’s Chasma reactor. The facility is basically a set of empty buildings, but the story is how they came to be empty: France canceled the proposed sale of a plutonium reprocessing facility to Pakistan, under US pressure in 1978.

The building has been empty ever since. After the US had discouraged China from picking up for France in 1997, one U.S. official told Mark Hibbs that Pakistan “may well have gotten some equipment” from foreign suppliers, but the reprocessing complex at Chasma “is an empty shell.”

Construction, of course, would suggest that Pakistan was moving to fill the shell with a large reprocessing facility—initial estimates were 100-200 kg of plutonium per year— as part of an effort to shift to plutonium-based nuclear devices.

And, indeed, anonymous “informed sources” are telling the Kyodo News (really?) that “The reprocessing plant is nearing completion.” According to the sources, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) developed the ability to manufacture some components domestically and outsourced the rest.

We don’t know what constitutes “informed” but, along with the past purpose of the facility, Pakistan’s repeated efforts to acquire reprocessing technology and the resumption of construction … well, that’s mighty suspicious.

***

The diplomacy to convince the French to cancel the project resulted in one of the funniest cables I have ever found.

Apparently INR, at the very last moment during the summer of 1978, concluded that France would not cease assistance after all. Arthur Hartman, then-US Ambassador to France, cabled back with a sarcastic note to the “DEPT. OF HIGHER INTELLIGENCE—PAKISTAN REPROCESSING DIVISION”:

OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH, I WOULD APPRECIATE SOME DAY (AT YOUR SUMMER LEISURE) AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT MYSTERIOUS SIGNS IN THE ENTRAILS LED YOU ALL TO CONCLUDE AT THE LAST MINUTE THAT THE FRENCH WOULD NOT DO IT. I REALIZE THAT A HIGH-MINDED FRENCHMAN WITH IDEALISTIC CONCERNS FOR HUMANITY IS NOT EVERYBODY’S IMAGE OF M. DUPONT. BUT IS OUR INTELLIGENCE BASED SOLELY ON IMAGES?
HARTMAN

Comments

  1. None (History)

    The candidates for who is chipping in are pretty obvious and short.

    1. DPRK. Kim needs the money and have some of the stuff. Certainly technical expertise. Is it a co-incidence that they are shutting a plant and might have surplus stuff to pawn off? A trade for Pakistan’s uranium technology for their plutonium technology? Or perhaps paid back in processed plutonium to add to their stockpile?

    2. China. While the Chinese government may have limited involvement, Pakistan have extensive access to Chinese expertise on a people-to-people basis. In the mean time, China do not have as tough a set of export controls as a developed country, making these ‘private sector’ deals hard to police.

    3. While there are very little evidence of direct links to Taipei, it is worth monitoring as there certainly are links between DPRK and Taipei. After all, Taipei has a motherlode of spent fuel that can be reprocessed.

  2. AK (History)

    Dont be so surprised that Kyodo is the source. Shahid ur Rehman Khan writes for them out of Islamabad. Say what you want about the guy (some say he was too close to AQ, although of no relation) but over the years Shahid has broken a huge amount of important stories about the PK nuclear establishment, often as a co-author with Mark HIbbs, but also in his excellent book that details the PK program from inception to bomb. My interpretation is that he is using the “informed sources” euphemism to protect his sources inside the government as Musharraf has really cracked down on the PK scientific and nuclear establishment speaking to the press (not like the 90s when Khan and Samar Mubarak used to duel in the press for attention). And this would certainly be an important development as many have been wondering how PK would handle reprocessing the larger amount of spent fuel once the new reactor next to Khushab is completed. This seems to be yet another in a series of steps by Islamabad to move its nuclear program toward one that will include plutonium-based weapons rather than an arsenal based only on HEU.

  3. hass (History)

    Someone’s lying again…

    Iran blocked UN inspectors on test visit to nuclear site Thu May 10, 3:25 PM ET

    VIENNA (AFP) – Iran blocked UN atomic experts on a first unannounced test inspection of an underground nuclear site where it enriches uranium, despite a pledge to allow such visits, diplomats told AFP Thursday.

    VERSUS

    IAEA denies Iran blocked nuclear site visitReuters 11 May 2007“There is no truth to media reports claiming that the IAEA was not able to get access to Natanz,” said International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire.“We have not been denied access at any time, including in the past few weeks. Normally we do not comment on such reports but this time we felt we had to clarify the matter,” he said.“If we had a problem like that we would have to report to the (35-nation IAEA governing) board … That has not happened because this alleged event did not take place.”

  4. Aamir Ali (History)

    Good for Pakistan. Its nuclear capability is crucial to deterrence and should be upgraded as much as possible.

  5. Andy (History)

    Perhaps someone could explain to me what Hass’ comment on IAEA access to Natanz has to do with a possible Pakistani reprocessing facility – perhaps he meant to comment on a different thread?

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