ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Satellite images show that Pakistan is building a nuclear reactor that can produce weapons-grade plutonium, an American watchdog group said yesterday, warning that it could contribute to an atomic arms race with archrival India.
A picture taken June 3 shows work progressing rapidly on the reactor at the Khushab nuclear site, 100 miles southwest of Islamabad, the Institute of Science for International Security said.
The development of the reactor and other nuclear-related activities imply that Pakistan has decided to "increase significantly its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons," the Washington-based institute said in a report analyzing the images.
A senior official at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Authority said the country was expanding its infrastructure for its national interests, but declined to address the details of the report.
"We are a declared nuclear state and we are pursuing our nuclear program for peaceful purposes," said the official, who asked that he not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Pakistan has stated repeatedly that it will develop its secretive nuclear program and maintain an atomic arsenal to deter India, its more powerful neighbor, despite past leaks of sensitive technology to countries, including Iran.
The report, co authored by former UN inspector David Albright, said Pakistan may have decided to produce more plutonium for lighter warheads for cruise missiles, or to upgrade weapons aimed at Indian cities.
Most Pakistani nuclear weapons use highly enriched uranium, the report noted.
Albright said the work on the reactor shows that the country is trying to improve its nuclear capabilities. Plutonium-based weapons pack more explosive power into smaller, lighter packages than those made with uranium, which Pakistan has been using for years, according to Albright.
"The work on these reactors reflects a Pakistani decision to create a new generation of nuclear weapons. . . . We have to interpret that as an attempt to make smaller, more powerful weapons that are going to be more destructive in India," Albright said in a telephone interview.
With India also trying to expand its ability to enrich uranium, Pakistan's activities "should be viewed as a sign of an accelerated nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan," according to the report.