Pakistan, which is already suspected to be expanding its nuclear weapons stockpile faster than any other nation, may be rapidly constructing a reprocessing site for a new centrifuge within the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in Kahuta, according to commercial satellite imagery.
IHS Markit, an analyst of business-intelligence information, says the imagery, taken by Airbus Defence & Space on September 28, 2015, and then again on April 18, 2016 show the progress of the construction of a possible new uranium enrichment complex.
IHS Markit notes that the area is approximately 1.2 hectares in the southwestern part of the KRL complex.
“Roughly rectangular in shape and approximately 140 metres by 80 metres, it is surrounded by scrubland and trees that provide an additional measure of security on the ground,” the IHS Markit report observes.
The report of covert nuclear weapons development activity in Pakistan comes in the wake of a long series of such observations made in the recent years, mostly from commercial satellite photography.
Last year, a report from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think tank in the U.S., said that Pakistan may be accelerating the weaponisation of spent nuclear fuel through its plutonium reprocessing plant at Chashma in Punjab.
This week’s report says that in addition to being located within the KRL, a known centrifuge facility, the new building shares similarities with known centrifuge facility structures built by the URENCO enrichment consortium in Capenhurst (in the UK), Almelo (in the Netherlands) and Gronau (in Germany).
“This may be more than coincidence, as A.Q. Khan, considered by many to be the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, worked at URENCO before stealing centrifuge designs and returning to Pakistan to work on the country’s centrifuge programme,” said Charlie Cartwright, an imagery analyst for IHS Jane’s.
The group also notes that the September 28, 2015 satellite imagery shows that work on a large building structure had commenced, with a multi-bay steel frame structure visible in commercial imagery.
The construction work will continue for at least a further 12 months, while plumbing, electrical and ducting for air conditioning installations are undertaken. As such, it is likely that the site will not be ready for occupation until at least late 2017 or early 2018, says IHS Markit.