Feb 21 - 27, 2011

Last month, Chairman Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Dr Ansar Parvez revealed the country's plan to set up ten nuclear power plants by the year 2030 in order to cope up with growing energy crisis.

Islamabad repeatedly sought nuclear reactors and the similar facilities from the US, which it has allowed to India. Some American experts have urged the Obama administration to offer Islamabad a civilian nuclear energy deal as part of efforts to win more Pakistani cooperation toward a successful outcome of the Afghan conflict. Washington however refused to offer such a deal to Islamabad because of the alleged involvement of the Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan (Pakistani nuclear scientist) network in nuclear proliferation.

"Two major incentives would have particular appeal to Pakistan. One is a civilian nuclear energy deal like that being provided to India, with full safeguards on associated reactors," APP reported Michael E. O'Hanlon, director of research for the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution as saying in a policy brief. "Pakistan's progress on export controls in the wake of the A.Q. Khan debacle has been good enough so far to allow a provisional approval of such a deal if other things fall into place as well, including Islamabad's compliance with any future fissile production cutoff treaty."

Ultimately, Pakistan turned to its closest ally China seeking civil nuclear cooperation. China has already helped the country build its main nuclear power facility at Chashma in Punjab province, where one reactor is running and another near finished.

Critics say that the US opened up a $150 billion market for its nuclear trade with India by seeking a waiver from Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), though India has also not joined Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) like Pakistan.

China's plan to export the giant nuclear plant†to Pakistan came as Beijing last year unveiled plans to invest nearly $120 billion to increase nuclear power generation to 70-80 gigawatts by 2020. Qiu Jiangang, vice president of China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) in September said his company was in talks to set up 1-gigawatt (GW) atomic power plant in the country. The state-run CNNC has already built two nuclear plants of 300 megawatts in Pakistan and signed agreements for two other smaller ones, and now plans to build the new 1- GW nuclear reactor, the country 's fifth.

Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is one of the most sensitive topics for the US as it tries to improve relations with its frontline ally in the campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Pakistan has reportedly doubled its nuclear weapons stockpile over the past several years since President Barrack Obama came to office. New American intelligence assessments have concluded that the country is building the capability to surge ahead in the production of nuclear weapons material, putting it on a path to overtake Britain, as the world's fifth largest nuclear weapons power. Pakistan has increased its nuclear arsenal to more than 100 deployed weapons, while India is estimated to have 60 to 100 weapons.

'Only four years ago, the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was estimated at 30 to 60 weapons,' according to a report recently published in The Washington Post. 'Based on recently accelerated production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, Islamabad may now have an arsenal of up to 110 weapons,' the report said, citing David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

"If not now, Pakistan will soon have the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world, surpassing the UK," New York Times quoted Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer as saying.

Last month, Pakistan in the opening session of the 2011 Conference on Disarmament, sharply criticized reported moves to bring India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and other bodies that allow trade in nuclear materials, including for weapons. The country declared that growing international support for India's nuclear programme would force Islamabad to bolster its deterrence and destabilize the region. China has so far been the only country extending nuclear cooperation to Islamabad.

"Apart from undermining the validity and sanctity of the international non-proliferation regime, these measures shall further destabilize security in South Asia," AFP reported Pakistan's ambassador Zamir Akram as saying. "As a consequence Pakistan will be forced to take measures to ensure the credibility of its deterrence. The cumulative impact would be to destabilize the security environment in South Asia and beyond."

The US on December 21 fined the Chinese subsidiary of a US firm nearly four million dollars for exporting coatings to a Pakistan nuclear site.

'PPG Paints Trading in Shanghai, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PPG Industries was accused of illegal export, re-export and/or transshipment of high-performance coatings from the United States to the Chashma-2 Nuclear Power Plant in Pakistan via a third-party distributor in China,' AFP reported, citing the US Justice Department. The transactions took place between June 2006 and March 2007 after PPG Paints Trading unsuccessfully sought an export license to ship the coatings to Chashma-2.

The US has led top-secret efforts for years to remove highly enriched uranium from Pakistan, worried it could be used to make an illicit nuclear device, according to leaked US cables released by Wikileaks. The effort however has so far proved unsuccessful.

'Pakistan appears to have stepped up construction of a new atomic reactor that could help the country produce easier-to-deliver nuclear weapons,' said a recent report of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). In a September satellite image of the Pakistan's tightly guarded Khushab site, which is key to plutonium production site, the ISIS report said it observed a completed row of mechanical draft cooling towers at a third reactor, where construction began in 2006.

China has been assisting Pakistan in developing facilities for nuclear power generation since1986 when the two countries had signed a comprehensive agreement for nuclear cooperation, which envisaged supply of power plants and cooperation in the research and development of commercial and research reactors.

Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 nuclear power plants under a deal signed between the two countries in June last year are being built in the country with the cooperation of China Zongyuan Engineering Corporation (CZEC), an economic entity, which is directly affiliated to CNNC. In April 2009, Pakistan signed a general engineering and design contract for Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 with Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute (SNERDI). The units will both have generation capacity of 340 megawatts and a design life of 40 years.