OT(Overseas Topic) India, Pakistan producing plutonium: Report

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India, Pakistan producing plutonium: Report

By Ramesh Chandran

The Times of India News Service


WASHINGTON: In the aftermath of the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, India is trying to increase the size of its stock of weapons grade plutonium and perhaps even highly enriched uranium (HEU) while Pakistan is engaged in full-scale production of HEU. This was suggested by a forthcoming report on the inventory of the two countries' fissile material and nuclear weapons.

The report says that while there has been some discussion of building a new plutonium production reactor, India may also be considering using its ``civil power reactors'' to increase its weapon-grade plutonium stock.

The report, entitled: ``Repairing the Regime: Preventing the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction'' edited by Joseph Cirincione admits that estimating the size of India and Pakistan's inventory of separated weapons grade plutonium and highly-enriched uranium has become more difficult following the nuclear tests in May 1998 since both countries treat the issue as ``highly classified'' and partly because such estimates provide a clear indication of the number of nuclear weapons they possess.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a non-profit private institution committed to informing the public about science and policy issues and headed by David Albright issued a part of the report which said a ``new analytical approach'' was used to estimate India's stock of weapons-grade plutonium and Pakistan's inventory of weapons grade uranium.

The new approach used to disseminate the ``solid and ambiguous information'' is specifically aimed at capturing conflicting information about key parameters affecting estimates of the size of the inventories. For instance: US officials have recommended that India's Cirus and Dhruva plutonium reactors have a lifetime capacity factor of about 40 percent. In contrast, Indian officials have stated that the average capacity factor is significantly greater, as much as 60 to 70 percent. In this estimate, the report says, the most likely choice is selected as 40 percent with values up to 60 or 70 percent having a ``diminished probability'' of occurring. On the other hand, a lifetime capacity factor less than 30 percent is viewed as highly unlikely.

The report claims that India's inventory of weapon-grade plutonium is derived by estimating total production in its reactors and by subtracting ``drawdowns'' from nuclear testing, processing losses and civil uses of the weapon-grade plutonium.

The medium value, which is the value midway between the smallest and largest, is about 290 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium at the end of 1998.

Pakistan's inventory of weapon-grade uranium, according to the report, was derived by estimating several factors including total enrichment capacity and the feedstock into the enrichment plant and by subtracting drawdowns. An important factor in this calculation is that in 1998, LEU (low enriched uranium) widely reported to have been produced during the HEU moratorium from 1991 to 1998 was ``up-graded'' in the enrichment plants to weapons-grade uranium. This significantly increased Pakistan's inventory of weapons-grade uranium--although this rate of growth could not have been sustained because Pakistan would have run out of LEU in 1999.

Both India and Pakistan have additional stocks of plutonium and HEU. Pakistan has started a reactor that can make weapon-grade plutonium though the amount that is separated may be `relatively small.' Similarly, India operates a ``small enrichment plant'' that can, in theory make HEU. However, the report suggests, the amount produced so far is ``relatively small''.

) Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 2000.

-- Possible Impact (posim@hotmail.com), March 07, 2000

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