Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Reactor fears `exaggerated': Pakistan

AFP , WASHINGTON

A new Pakistani nuclear reactor could be used for "military purposes" as well as for civilian power needs but will not lead to a massive increase in the country's nuclear arsenal, according to Pakistan's new ambassador to Washington, the Washington Times reported yesterday.

Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani, in an interview on Thursday with the paper, dismissed a private Washington-based think tank's report on the reactor under construction at the Khushab nuclear complex as "grossly exaggerated."

He denied the report's estimate that the new plant could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium to boost Pakistan's production from an estimated two nuclear bombs a year to as many as 50.

But he gave the first official acknowledgment that the heavy-water reactor would bring at least some increase in Pakistan's military nuclear capability at a time of heightened fears of a South Asia arms race with rival India, the newspaper said in its online edition.

"The plutonium may certainly be used for military purposes, but it is simply not the case that it will increase our capability X-fold," Durrani was quoted as saying.

The ambassador, a former top defense adviser to the Pakistani president and chairman of the country's military industrial complex for much of the 1990s, declined to give production figures for the new plant, the newspaper said.

But he said it would be far less powerful than the 1,000-megawatt estimate given last month by the Institute for Science and International Security.

Pakistan's current reactor, located near the new one, is a 50-megawatt unit completed in 1998.

"I would love it to be 1,000 megawatts, because we certainly have the power needs," he was quoted as saying.

But the Khushab site has sparked international concerns as the US and India move to ratify a nuclear cooperation deal that critics warn could allow India to greatly accelerate its own military nuclear program, the Washington Times said.

Durrani, who presented his credentials to US President George W. Bush a month ago, said Pakistan had conveyed its "deep concerns" about the India accord to the Bush administration, while saying it was unlikely the deal could be derailed.

"We know your administration is very keen for this deal, but we also don't want to see an imbalance with India that we would have to match," Durrani said.

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