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China-Pakistan Nuclear Pact: Pakistan already has about 165 nuclear warheads

The China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation started in 1986 with the construction of nuclear power plants in Pakistan constructed with Chinese technology, material and money, which include four at Chashma (C-1 to C-4) and two at Karachi; all the former plants still standing operational. The first plant in Karachi (K-2) became operational in March 2021 and the second plant is expected to initiate fuel-loading in October this year, with a third one (K-3) proposed to come into commercial operation by April 2022 by M/s China Zhonguan Engineering Corporation (CZEC) and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as a unit of Karachi Nuclear Power Plant.

11.03.2022 20:00
Piše: Valerio Fabbri
Ključne besede:   Pakistan   China   nuclear power   nuclear warhead   India   Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission   China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation

 According to the latest Bulletin of Atomic Scientist estimates (Sept. 2021), Pakistan already has 165 nuclear warheads.

The framework Agreement on Building New Hualong One Nuclear Power Unit in Pakistan was signed in April 2015, followed by the C-5 commercial contract in November 2017. Since the Chinese-Pakistani nuclear cooperation is ongoing for the more than 30 years, its roots are understood to be deeper than they appear. There are indications of this arrangement including the areas of transportation and diversion of technology / material for producing nuclear warheads in the garb of peaceful use of the technology. Given Islamabad’s track record of nuclear proliferation, this ever-increasing cooperation cannot be ignored as merely power-sector cooperation.

 

A shipment containing radioactive substances seized at Mundra Port, Gujarat during Nov 2021 by the Indian authorities cannot be treated as a mere incident. The containers had Class7 classification for transportation of radioactive materials, although the cargo was listed as non-hazardous. 

 

This has not only exposed Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and put them in embarrassment, but they have to bear the risk of loss and damage caused to the empty containers until they are returned and inspected at a port in China. The unit cost of each fuel and freight containers, according to one estimate, was RMB 800,000 or cca 116 million Euros, and RMB 50,000, or 7.5 million euros, respectively.

 

Meanwhile, following the seizure of the empty freight and nuclear fuel containers, which were en route to Shanghai from Karachi, the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) was reportedly concerned that the incident may affect China’s inland nuclear fuel deliveries owing to inadequate availability of containers. Chinese authorities were keen that PAEC would resolve the matter with the shipping company and Indian authorities to ensure that all seized nuclear fuel containers were returned at Shanghai Port by December 2021 and that the Pakistani side should charter direct-route vessels, avoiding any ports of call, besides removing all hazardous cargo markings on them before transporting.

 

After the seizure of an "Autoclave" earlier at the Kandla Port in Gujarat in February 2020, which finds significant use in missile launch and in centrifuge cascades and seizure of "Cryogenic Storage Tanks" in Nhava Sheva, Mumbai on July 2021, the Pakistani authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to put convincing arguments in their defense. They were looking for alternate means besides avoiding Indian ports for strategic shipments to prevent such incidents in future. Separately M/s CNEIC had reportedly shipped (Nov 2021) Nuclear Fuel Assemblies of 20% enriched Uranium Radionuclide ostensibly to be used in Unit-3 of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant. A few related inputs indicate that a Chinese company in Karachi also imported USA-origin radioactive materials in Dec 2021 from its main branch in China by a Turkish Airlines flight. 

 

All these developments cannot be seen in isolation. A comprehensive view of the growing Sino-Pakistan cooperation points towards usage of these materials to produce weapons grade fissile material. According to the latest Bulletin of Atomic Scientist estimates (Sept. 2021), Pakistan already has 165 nuclear warheads. These may be the early signs of Pakistan acquiring the dangerous capability to destabilize the region. A country where nonstate actors are feared to have acquired a greater say than the state institutions would then become a ticking time bomb for the world.

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