Possible New Centrifuge Plant at Kahuta and the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Public domain satellite imagery shows new construction activity at the Khan Research Laboratories, Kahuta Pakistan, consistent with development of a new uranium enrichment plant. The imagery was obtained on 28 September 2015 and 18 April 2016.

According to Jane’s Intelligence Review

In addition to being located near to the KRL, a known centrifuge facility, the new building shares similarities with known centrifuge facility structures built by the URENCO enrichment consortium at Capenhurst (in the UK), Almelo (in the Netherlands), and Gronau (in Germany).

This is of significance for a number of reasons, one of which is Pakistan’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group hot on the heels of India. At issue is whether Pakistan is still relying on covert procurement networks to augment its nuclear capablities, or whether this possible augmentation is wholly indigenous, and the similarities with known European centrifuge facilities is very much suggestive of the former.

According to the Jane’s report

A wider investigation by Project Alpha, a research group based at King’s College London, suggests that Pakistan remains reliant on obtaining dual-use goods through a global network of front companies and covert overseas agents for at least some dual-use items. The detailed report of that investigation is forthcoming.

That report shall make for interesting reading.

The new enrichment facility will mean that Pakistan can accelerate its nuclear programme, one must wonder whether India’s securing of a deal with the United States and Delhi’s entry into the NSG, makes Islamabad feel it needs to augment its fissile material production capacity. The concerning thing about growing Indian and Pakistani fissile material stockpiles is that it enables Delhi and Islamabad to follow in the footsteps of the US and the Soviet Union, that is producing all manner of nuclear weapons for all manner of purposes from strategic to tactical.

Observing South Asia from afar one can’t but be reminded of the 1950s; expanding industrial capabilities are coupled with the manufacture of a variety of nuclear warheads for all sorts of dainty missions, and all this under the backdrop of various strategic doctrines that legitimise the process. In South Asia that risks blurring the line between conventional and nuclear war, which can’t be a terribly healthy thing.