Pakistani Nuclear Program 2-5
“PAKISTAN’S NUCLEAR HISTORY:
SEPARATING MYTH FROM REALITY”
extensive research on our nuclear initiative and puts the record straight.
URANIUM ENRICHMENT - BUILDING KRL
The first step initiated by Munir Ahmad Khan after the 1972 Multan Conference towards the enrichment of uranium was to expand further exploration of uranium deposits and to refine the uranium that had been already discovered in the 1960s. The discovery of uranium and its refinement was a massive, manpower-intensive job. Thousands of tons of uranium ore had to be recovered and dug up from the ground to produce enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. On 27 December 1973 PAEC announced that large uranium deposits had been discovered in southern Punjab province.
A uranium refinement plant was established by PAEC in a series of smaller plants and the Chemical Plant Complex (CPC) was established in Dera Ghazi Khan. From the CPC, two products are obtained:
1. One is uranium dioxide, which is a metallic powder and which is the input for the Karachi KANUPP reactor. So from the CPC near DG Khan came uranium dioxide to make fuel for the Karachi reactor, which was the peaceful use of uranium and a part of the nuclear fuel cycle.
2. PAEC, from mid 1970s onwards started working for the establishment of a plant for making uranium hexafluoride or UF6 from the same chemical facility, which is the crucial input material for the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta. UF6 or uranium hexaflouride is also known as the 'Feed' for the Kahuta Enrichment Plant.[xiv] It is this crucial raw marterial which is enriched for use as fuel for nuclear power plants or as fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
In 1974, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission had inquired from the French Atomic Energy Commission whether they would train some of the PAEC scientists in enrichment know-how, including the new laser and ultracentrifuge technoligies.. This was the same time that the PAEC was concluding final negotiations with the French firm Saint-Gobain Techniques Nouvelles (SGN) for the Chashma reprocessing plant. [xv] The French however refused. But the PAEC was not dissuaded and continued its quest for acquiring centrifuge technology.
In developing the Enriched Uranium route to the bomb, the PAEC decided to initiate the Kahuta Enrichment Project, known as “Project-706”, under a nuclear engineer, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmud, as Project Director in 1974, the year that Indian exploded its first nuclear device in Pokhran. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmud was only one among dozens of scientists and engineers (besides) A.Q. Khan who were working in Europe, Canada and the US in late sixties and early seventies in companies and organizations that later became “Consortium Companies” to supply enriched uranium to European nuclear power plants. PAEC brought back dozens of scientists from the US and other European countries to start this programme under Bashiruddin before A.Q. Khan came on board. These scientists were all working on different enrichment techniques and were familiar with the latest enrichment technologies of the time.[xvi]Moreover, the PAEC was already considering the centrifuge problem before A.Q.Khan came to Pakistan, and there was one experiment in Lahore in the early 1970s involving centrifuges, conducted by Dr. Samar Mubarakmand.[xvii]As a matter of fact, the enrichment programme of PAEC started in November 1974 when Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood was recalled to Islamabad from Karachi by Munir Ahmad Khan and asked to prepare a feasibility report.Bashiruddin till then had been working in the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) where he developed a technique to detect leaks in steam pipes and set up a laboratory to manufacture spare parts for the plant. He had read scientific reports of the Manhattan Project during his training at Birmingham University, where he also had an opportunity to discuss enrichment technology with scientists from South Africa, who were then exploring the jet nozzle process of enrichment. After examining gaseous diffusion, gas centrifuge, jet nozzle and laser enrichment processes, Bashiruddin advocated the centrifuge route. He then prepared a report for the development of a centrifuge enrichment plant that envisaged its completion by 1975. Within days a feasibility report was prepared and a project approval proforma called PC-1 finalised. The project was to begin production in 1979. To maintain secrecy both the feasibility and the PC-1 were handwritten documents. The project proposal was personally hand carried by the PAEC chairman, Munir Ahmad Khan direct to the Prime Minister's hometown of Larkana for his approval. No intermediate offices were involved. Munir Ahmad Khan was driven to the Chaklala Airbase by the project director-designate, Bashiruddin Mahmood, where a special military aircraft was waiting to take him to Larkana. The same evening he returned to Islamabad with the approval of the Prime Minister. Again Munir Ahmad Khan was received at the airport by Bashiruddin Mahmood.[xviii]
Moreover, Munir Ahmed Khan, the PAEC Chairman had a meeting with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on February 15, 1975. At this meeting, Munir Khan sought the formal approval from the government for a $450 million nuclear weapons programme that involved (a) the building of a centrifuge plant for the enrichment of uranium, (b) the development of a uranium mine at Baghalchor in Dera Ghazi Khan (BC-1), and (c) the inception of a nuclear weapons design programme led by Dr. Riazuddin of the PAEC. He obtained the government’s approval and the uranium enrichment programme was formally launched under the name ‘Directorate of Industrial Liaison’ in the barracks of Chaklala airport under the leadership of the nuclear engineer Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood who, under the direct supervision of Munir Ahmad Khan formed the team that started R & D on uranium enrichment and centrifuge development.[xix]
Munir Ahmad Khan had selected the site for Kahuta Enrichment Plant in January 1975, completed procurement of vital equipment, construction of its civil works, and recruitment of staff by 1976. The PAEC had been searching for suitable sites which conformed to the parameters set out in the PC-1 of the Enrichment Project. On January 12th, 1975, Bashiruddin Mahmood came across the site where KRL is situated today. The site conformed with the parameters set out in the PC-1, especially in terms of defence against air attack as the military geography of the site was most suitable. The same evening, Bashiruddin reported to Munir Ahmad Khan and the next morning he himself drove Munir Khan to the site whereafter the PAEC chairman gave his immediate concurrence to the site identified . The next morning, Lt. Gen. Fazle Muqeem, the Secretary General, Ministry of Defence, Munir Ahmad Khan and Bashiruddin Mahmood flew to the site and Gen. Fazle Muqeem also agreed to the defence suitability of the area. Brigadier Zahid Ali Akbar was tasked by Gen. Fazle Muqeem to acquire the land for the site and within a record period of two weeks from the initial identification of the site, the land was acquired and payments made. A Special Works Organization (SWO) of the Pakistan Army was constituted for the construction of the site.
The story told by A.Q. Khan and his followers that he initiated the Kahuta Uranium Enrichment Programme and chose the Kahuta site and that he was the first to bring centrifuge technology to Pakistan which was assumed to be beyond PAEC's reach, is all patently false.
The first centrifuge test bed was successfully "pilot-run" by Bashiruddin's team at the pilot centrifuge plant of about 50 machines in April 1976 in the barracks of Chaklala airport. These centrifuges were based on the Research and Development of the PAEC's prestigious Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH) in Rawalpindi that had carried out an exploratory centrifuge investigation, and had set up between 10 and 20 centrifuges in a laboratory. PINSTECH's centrifuge effort was based on centrifuge and cascade design information obtained from Italy—not from the Urenco programme.[xx].
A renowned US magazine related to nuclear industry, "Nucleonics Week" quoting declassified Dutch government dossiers related to its investigation of the theft of Urenco centrifuge design information by A.Q. Khan, while confirming the presence of Italian centrifuge cascade designs in Pakistan in 1975-76 recently said that it would have been possible for Pakistan to have obtained a centrifuge design know-how from a pilot centrifuge development programme in Italy at that time, which was centered on work carried out by Italian industry and government-sponsored laboratories.
Western officials said that Italy began centrifuge research and development in 1969 and by 1973 had done some separation work using a relatively simple, so-called Zippe-type centrifuge. This type was pioneered after World War II by the German engineer Gernot Zippe and provided the engineering and physics bases for both Italian and Urenco machines.[xxi]
By carrying out R & D on, and pilot testing the Italian centrifuge designs at the pilot-scale plants at Sihala and Chaklala, the PAEC scientists and engineers gained extensive understanding and experience regarding the difficult aspects of "process engineering" of centrifuges and all future centrifuge development undertaken by Pakistan was essentially built and improved on the early experiences of these pilot centrifuge test beds established under the PAEC Project-706 in 1975-76. It was this valuable experience of building centrifuges on a pilot and test scale that future production scale centrifuges were indigenously developed at Kahuta.
This also explains why the PAEC was also focusing on the development of a uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) production plant near D.G. Khan in the 1970s, to provide the "Feed" in sufficient quantities of UF6 to the gas-centrifuges in Kahuta. This plant was to have a yearly productin capacity of 200 MT of UF6. Another of PAEC's nuclear fuel cycle facilities consists of the Uranium milling site, which can produce up to 30 MT per year of U3O8 (yellowcake), located in Dera Ghazi Khan.[xxii]
Meanwhile, A.Q. Khan had written a letter to chairman of the PAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan in late 1974, and offered his services. Bashiruddin Mahmood, the project incharge of the PAEC's "Project -706", was sent by Munir Ahmad Khan to interview A.Q. Khan, whereafter A.Q. Khan became associated with the PAEC. By the time A.Q. Khan joined the PAEC, the uranium enrichment programme was well under way and KRL, then known as Engineering Research Laboratories, had been fully established alongwith the pilot centrifuge plant at Sihala. A.Q. Khan had been briefed by Bashiruddin on what PAEC had been doing and what they were planning to do and therefore it was an ideal and perfect time for him to jump in and make a place for himself in the programme.
What Qadeer did bring to Pakistan were drawings of first generation Urenco centrifuge designs, as he was hired by the Dutch firm, Fysscish Dynamisch Onderzoek or FDO also known as Physical Dynamics Laboratory, which was a sub-contractor to the Urenco Consortium, and was tasked to examine the causes of failure of mechanical parts of the Urenco programme. A.Q. Khan was working as a translator-cum-metallurgist for FDO, but despite his Urecnco designs, it still took real work, lots of wide ranging technical expertise, trained manpower, R&D facilities and much more to build on these and advanced generation of centrifuges which enabled Pakistan to successfully enrich uranium, and all this A.Q. Khan simply could not have done alone, for which he continued to rely on critical PAEC help and technical support. The British-Dutch-West German Urenco Consortium, however, was established exclusively for producing low enriched uranium (LEU) through centrifuges for commercial and industrial purposes, not for producing Highly Enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons.
The PAEC and KRL collectively, or A.Q.Khan individually could not promise any time frame to Bhutto to achieve any of their goals. It was always that they would do their best. There never were any guarantees either from KRL or from PAEC. Every time A.Q. Khan was in trouble in meeting many of his unrealistic goals and promises, PAEC/PINSTECH came to his rescue. Moreover, PAEC was not dependent solely on the drawings that A.Q. Khan brought from Urenco. Having started the enrichment programme before Qadeer arrived in Pakistan, the PAEC had established an elaborate supplier's network with the brilliant S.A. Butt in charge of procurement, who had opened up other options for the enrichment programme. S.A. Butt had been posted in the Pakistani Embassy of Brussels in July, 1975 and made in charge of buying the necessary tools, parts and materials (mostly special steel and aluminium and much more) in Europe.
Before sanctions were placed on Pakistan, the PAEC had acquired sufficient technological know how, materials and equipment and understanding of the critical technologies involved in the development of a sustainable and viable nuclear programme, which enabled PAEC to develop the same technologies and expetise indigenously once sanctions were placed on Pakistan, especially after President Carter forced France to cancel the reprocessing contract and all doors to western nuclear technology had been shut on Pakistan. Therefore procuring the critical technologies and equipment was just the first step in acquiring eventual self sufficiency in all fields of nuclear science and technology. PAEC chairman Munir Ahmad Khan had told Bashiruddin Mahmood shortly after the Indian nuclear test of 1974 that they had only a few years before the doors of nuclear technology would begin to close on Pakistan. Therefore, they had to get hold of whatever they could in these few years. To this end, S.A. Butt would do a superb job.
An important point related to procurement of critical equipment and technology is that many European and other companies related to nuclear industry were willing to enter and fulfill commercial deals with PAEC in the 1970s and 80s because a large majority of the materials and equipment were essentially ”dual use” items, which also had applications in civil industry and were not specifically on any export control or ban list, at least at that time.
Even before A.Q. Khan had left the Netherlands, the PAEC on its own had begun approaching companies in Europe with lists of components needed for Pakistan's Centrifuge Project. One such company that was particularly eager to make a profit was Van Doorne's Transmissie (VDT) in Tilburg. In the late 1970’s VDT worked on a deal to supply 6,500 maraging steel tubes for the centrifuges, ordered by S.A. Butt. Within the company the order was commonly known as the 'Pakistan pipeline'. The tubes were exported between 2 November 1976 and 10 September 1979. [xxiii]
Even before this, Bashiruddin Mahmood had also acquired large quantities of maraging steel from West Germany in 1975.The PAEC's main procurement agent in Europe, Mr. S.A. Butt had been successful in procuring vital equipment, critical to enrichment technology such as mass spectrometers used in measuring the levels of enrichment, balancing rotors critical in balancing the centrifuges, high-frequency inverters used to regulate the supply of power to the centrifuges and high vacuum valves and gassification and solidification units needed to feed the uranium hexaflouride gas (UF6) into the centrifuges, and then to transform it back into a solid at the end of the centrifuge process, for the Kahuta Enrichment Project.[xxiv]
S.A.Butt had also begun inquriring about frequency inverters in Holland in August 1975. The Swiss firm Vakuum Apparat Technik or VAT was approached in 1976 which was a widely known manufacturer of highly specialized valves used in centrifuges and industry and VAT was happy to oblige.[xxv]
The next stop for S.A. Butt was the Swiss firm called CORA Engineering. The main equipment to be procured from this firm was a major component for the enrichment programme - a gassificiation and solidification unit needed to feed the uranium hexaflouride gas into the centrifuges, and then to transform it back into a solid at the end of the centrifuge process. This piece of equipment was crucial for enriching the uranium hexaflouride through the centrifuges, without which the centrifuges would never work. Elaborately designed and carefully engineered, the gassification and solidification unit was one of the largest single components of the enrichment programme that the PAEC procured in Europe, and it took three specially chartered C-130 Hercules transport planes to fly the completed plant to Pakistan.[xxvi]
In 1977, S.A. Butt approached a well known firm in northern France and arranged to buy as many as 10,000 bellows for the ultracentrifuges. Although French customs forbade their sale, the firm managed to send part of the order through a firm in Belgium, alongwith the dies that enabled the PAEC to make the rest for themseleves.[xxvii]
Also in 1977, S.A. Butt placed an order for high frequency inverters to a British subsidiary,Weargate, of the giant American firm, Emerson Electric. The first shipment reached Pakistan in August 1978. Two additional orders were also placed with Emerson in Britain, including one for about sixty high-frequency inverters, which were shipped to Pakistan. The British firms were not overly concerned because they were convinced that the Pakistanis would never know how to operate such sophisticated equipment, and that the inverters would all sit in their packing cases until they rusted away. This was the attitude until a few days after the first shipment reached Pakistan, when Emerson received a telex requesting a long list of extremely complex modifications. This meant that another Anglo-Saxon prejudice about Pakistani "incompetence" went down the drain.[xxviii]
Also, in July 1980, following earlier successful shipments of frequency inverters from Europe, two officials of the PAEC, Anwar Ali and I.A. Bhatti managed to get several shipments of frequency inverters and transformers to Pakistan.[xxix]
Some rare expertise such as spectrometry, chromatography and highly advanced nuclear instrumentation and measurement technology paramount in enrichment work, was again the feat accomplished by PAEC's scientists and engineers working on the enrichment project, and later KRL scientists and engineers who had originally come from PAEC, worked closely in technical areas with PAEC/PINSTECH experts. A.Q. Khan's successor at KRL, Dr. Javed Arshad Mirza was also transferred from PINSTECH to KRL along with hundreds of scientists and engineers when the PAEC under Bashiruddin Mahmood had initiated work on the Kahuta Enrichment Project, code named Project-706.
The PAEC through its excellent procurement network in Europe was also able to procure other critical pieces of the uranium enrichment puzzle, the special pipes and supersolid steel or maraging steel used in the development of centrifuges, from Singen and Saarbruecken, the mass spectrometers and magnets from Bremen and Bonn, all in West Germany. The mass spectrometers were also a critical element in the enrichment programme because without mass spectrometers, it would have been impossible to measure the levels of enrichment achieved.
The German newspaper Der Speigel reported in 1989 that " There is no doubt that Munir Ahmed Khan, chief of the Pakistan Nuclear Authority, with whom Finke already had a cup of tea, has secretly developed his country into a nuclear power; the bomb puzzle is complete. He had many individual parts--ranging from transformer sheets to uranium conversion--supplied by small West German firms, using a network of agents to this end. The special pipes and supersolid (maraging) steel from Singen and Saarbruecken, the mass spectrometers and magnets from Bremen and Bonn were made-to-measure for Khan's programme which is carried out in a number of nuclear centers".[xxx] Finke was the head of the German firm NTG that helped PAEC develop tritium purification and recovery processes. Tritium is used to boost fission warheads and develop Hydrogen bombs.
It is imperative to understand that A.Q. Khan's blueprints were based on first generation enrichment technology originally developed by the Urenco Consortium in the late sixties and early seventies whose SWU (unit of the measurement to separate U-238 and U-235 in natural uranium in order to create final product that is richer in U-235 atoms) was so low that thousands of centrifuge machines would have to be deployed for thousands of hours at performance levels much inferior to the then installed centrifuges at Urenco. In these first-generation centrifuges, the rotors were made of aluminum and the bearings were not frictionless. Hence they were relatively low-efficiency machines - incapable of operating at high velocities - which translates into many more centrifuges being required in the cascade, thousands of them.
The PAEC (under Mr. Munir Ahmad Khan) challenged the economic and technical viability of the drawings and blueprints that A.Q. Khan brought from Holland, and presented a programme that would employ the most efficient technology by setting up an infrastructure for advanced machine design for the next generation centrifuges and in the two decades that followed, spent huge sums of money for developing centrifuge technology and its support infrastructure. PAEC used “proven technology” with heavy emphasis on R&D, with much higher SWU, while reducing costs and improving efficiency through the use of state-of-the-art materials, control systems and manufacturing processes. [xxxi]
PAEC enabled KRL to take advantage of commercial advances in construction materials (thanks to PAEC/PINSTECH’s scientists) and advanced manufacturing methods to develop centrifuge machines that achieved several times the SWU performance previously demonstrated by early KRL machines, but at substantially reduced cost.
KRL under A.Q. Khan's control never built an explosive atomic device for Pakistan, but it did build lots of centrifuges, under active PAEC guidance and technical support, and centrifuge is purely a mechanical device. The PAEC provided technical assistance and guidance in all-important areas of enrichment (and much more) to KRL, as centrifuge was the “vehicle” to the enrichment process. The PAEC played an important role in uranium enrichment from the very beginning, and thus their know-how became increasingly important in the overall programme. Without PAEC scientist's and engineer's active participation and involvement, KRL's abilities probably would not have grown beyond an advanced machine design shop. [xxxii]
The PAEC had begun work on producing indigenous nuclear fuel for civilian applications like KANUPP, before KRL was established. Without PAEC/ PINSTECH active guidance and participation, KRL centrifuges (in all likelihood) would only have produced low-enriched uranium (having less than 5 % of U-235) and not the highly enriched material (90 % and above) needed for atomic weapons. Therefore, PAEC chairman Munir Ahmed Khan began the Pakistani Uranium Enrichment programme in 1974 under several covert programmes, including one based on Italian centrifuge designs and another based (Urenco early model) that got the most publicity in the West. Other parallel programmes that the PAEC started were based on better design parameters than the early Urenco model, to achieve super-critical operating speeds that would provide PAEC with a wide base of advanced engineering (machine design) experience on which they helped KRL develop future advanced generation of centrifuges.
This approach caused a major friction with KRL, (which AQ Khan has time and again portrayed as PAEC’s bureaucratic red-tapism against him), but forced KRL to shift its strategy from smuggling machines (not a reliable option) to R&D. KRL had envisioned that future generations of machines would be developed through reverse engineering or they would make thousands of first generation machines, clearly a Russian approach wasting precious resources with limited chances of success. KRL eventually was forced to undertake a long-term programme to develop significantly faster centrifuges through R&D under PAEC/PINSTECH guidance. In either case, all PAEC projects were evaluated from an economic point of view to ensure that lifetime cost improvements actually paid back the money committed to undertake the research and from a technical point of view to ensure that improvements were introduced as early as possible within the manufacturing phase as part of the future generation. The centrifuge essentially is a highly specialized mechanical component and is one link in the long chain of enrichment technology. As A.Q. Khan stumbled on many occasions, he received vital technical support from PINSTECH and PAEC infrastructure and scientists. [xxxiii]Another very important element of the ‘gas centrifuge’ technology used in enriching uranium at KRL is the crucial raw material for enrichment, known as Uranium Hexaflouride gas, or UF6.
From the start of the enrichment project, the availability of the ‘hex’ plant was critical to the success or failure of the entire project, and as crucial as the centrifuges themselves. Without a hex plant, Kahuta would never work, except perhaps as a test facility, wholly dependent on outside supplies of uranium hexafluoride, whose import was impossible from abroad. [xxxiv] At the PAEC's Dera-Ghazi-Khan plant, natural uranium is pulverized and converted into uranium hexafluoride.
This technology was as sophisticated and challenging as the centrifuge plant itself. Parallel with development and construction of the Kahuta enrichment plant, the PAEC set about with the construction of uranium hexaflourdie plant, and procurement of materials for it, aimed at the production of sufficiently large quantities of hexafluoride gas that would enable KRL to enrich uranium to weapon grade. This enabled PAEC to supply KRL with sufficient amounts of UF6 for enrichment. Dr. Aminuddin of PAEC played the leading role in the successful production of sufficient quantities of UF6.
Moreover, it is important to understand what it takes (in lay man’s terms) in the engineering of centrifuges which scientists and engineers across the world consider to be the marvels of engineering. Technologically speaking, the whole idea of building “production centrifuges” in mid 1970s was well out of reach of imagination of any organization in Pakistan. Outside of PAEC and PINSTECH, Pakistan's industrial facilities seriously lacked the level of expertise or infrastructure required for many of the parts that had to be produced As early as 1974, Bashiruddin’s team had successfully experimented and completed "proof of concept studies" of first uranium separation in PAEC labs. There is a huge difference in getting parts from the international black market and making them in a country like Pakistan. The esoteric description of the difficulties Pakistan faced in terms of the technology and many intriguing issues involved such as producing highly complex machining of parts to nanometer tolerance, expert knowledge in handling specialized materials like cutting, electron beam welding of light weight metal called maraging steel used in design of rotors and shopping for maraging steel to begin producing materials for continuous supply of future generation centrifuges was difficult, if not impossible. The closest PAEC was in expertise was commissioning of KANUPP and the Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1) while A.Q. Khan had nothing comparable.
There is no magic wand to learn the complex centrifuge technology. It only takes specially trained scientists and engineers to master the science of extremely low temperature required to produce uranium hexafluoride and handle the flow of Uranium and uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) through cascades of gas centrifuges. The possibility of a nuclear accident, if the systems burst for any reason resulting in the UF6 leak, can be devastating.
Again there could not be any short cut even with what A.Q. Khan brought from Urenco as the scientists and engineers had to learn and master the science of rotor dynamics and centrifuges. Because the UF6 was produced by PAEC after which it was handed over to KRL for enrichment, PAEC scientists and engineers had to give crucial technical support and input to KRL on how to handle the UF6 and other associated problems. UF6 being highly corrosive in nature requires well trained manpower which the PAEC could only provide as it was producing large quantities of the same at its plant at D.G. Khan.PAEC also suggested producing centrifuge designs into several subcomponents and then individually producing some components outside so it would be hard to recognize if these were components of centrifuges, thus ensuring secrecy. Mastering the nuclear fuel cycle is one of many scintillating achievements of PAEC without which A.Q. Khan’s blueprints would be useless, unless Pakistan planned to steal spent fuel from KANUPP on a regular basis which under the watchful eyes of IAEA was impossible at that time, if not much later as the PAEC was determined to break the discriminatory international safeguards and sanctions imposed on Pakistan. The technology Qadeer brought would have eventually been acquired. The PAEC needed to develop nuclear fuel to feed the KANUPP plant especially after Canada had put a halt on the delivery of fuel and spare parts in the wake of the Indian test in 1974.The work had been started on Nuclear Fuel Cycle to make fuel for KANUPP and future nuclear plants two years prior to Qadeer’s arrival in Pakistan. Under Munir Ahmed Khan, the PAEC started an ambitious programme to master the technology of complete nuclear fuel cycle in which “Heavy Water” was one of the most important components. Heavy Water, also used for producing plutonium, was prohibitively expensive and without which Pakistan’s only nuclear power plant would die and the whole nuclear power programme would come crashing down in the late 1970s. In 1996, Dr. N A Javed, a key member of Munir's team at the PAEC, was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz for making Pakistan self sufficient in the production of “Heavy water”. [xxxv] The PAEC's heavy water production faciltiy has a 13 MT per year capacity. A heavy water upgradation plant with a 15 MT per year capacity was also established at the site of KANUPP by PAEC as it is a pressurized heavy water reactor.[xxxvi]There is no doubt that the PAEC originated both the enrichment and plutonium reprocessing programmes. Munir Ahmed Khan and his team believed and worked tirelessly in building the infrastructure that would fabricate nuclear fuel for Pakistan’s nuclear plants and would be a springboard for A.Q Khan’s fame. Munir Khan's team mastered the nuclear fuel cycle’s crucial steps, namely: 1) Mining (uranium ore mining from mines),
2) Milling (uranium ore into yellow cake),
3) Conversion (yellow cake into UF6 or hexafluoride) for enrichment, without which the enrichment would have been impossible for which PAEC laid solid ground work very early on, and 4) Enrichment itself, a step in increasing the concentration of U-235 isotopes from its natural level (0.5-.7%) to 5% level (fuel used in nuclear plants) which was started by PAEC, along with R&D on enriching uranium to 90% and above which is used for nuclear weapons,5) Fuel fabrication – the process of converting the enriched uranium (enriched UF6) into uranium dioxide, sealing it into metal fuel rods and bundling into fuel assembly to be used as nuclear fuel in nuclear power plants to generate electricity, and lastly,6) Reprocessing- Spent fuel from a nuclear power reactor is reprocessed in a reprocessing plant and plutonium is obtained as a result which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.Without acquiring complete mastery over the above steps comprising the “nuclear fuel cycle”, enrichment of uranium would not have been possible, for which Munir Ahmad Khan and his team laid solid groundwork and successfully mastered this technology. Thus, had the nuclear fuel cycle not been mastered, A.Q. Khan would never have been able to claim that he enriched uranium all by himself, which was actually the feat of the PAEC's scientists along with hundreds of KRL scientists working under PAEC's technical and scientific support.
The extensive programme undertaken by the PAEC on the nuclear fuel cycle is the back bone of the nuclear technology in Pakistan and the basic R & D, leading to pilot plants and later adopted on factory scale, was done at the two research centres, the Atomic Energy Mineral Centre in Lahore and the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) in Islamabad which has also acted as a supplier of high quality human resource to almost all the main civil and nuclear defense projects in Pakistan.While the PAEC acquired full mastery over the “front-end” of the nuclear fuel cycle it acquired a reliable capability on the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and that involves the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing technology. The nuclear programme of Pakistan therefore acquired a reliable indigenous capability which was largely acquired as a necessity in view of the restrictions and embargoes imposed by the advanced countries.[xxxvii]
Despite all the fame and his exaggerated importance in Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear weapons, Qadeer was never in charge of the actual development of nuclear weapons themselves. Our general public did not know any better, they just assumed he was a nuclear scientist, which he was not, having specialized in physical/copper metallurgy. Enrichment of uranium for nuclear weapons development and testing was carried out solely by the PAEC. If it were not for PAEC, Pakistan would have failed miserably in her efforts to master gas centrifuge technology because smuggling would eventually lead Pakistan to a dead end.
During the sixteen days that A.Q. Khan spent at Almelo, during which he is said to have copied classified drawings of first generation centrifuges, he could not have possibly understood the complex centrifuge technology in such a short span of time, let alone replicate and establish a whole centrifuge plant on his own in Pakistan. This fact was attested by his lawyer S.M. Zafar in defence of his case against the Dutch government after A.Q. Khan defected from Urenco. He quotes in his book "In the Dutch parliament the ministers related to the issue testified that if one impartially analyses the average time spent by Dr. Khan at Almelo and the nature and extent of the work he did during that time, he can easily conclude that Dr. Khan could not possibly have any spare time to even chat with someone. In their opinion, Dr. Khan couldn’t possibly understand the technology during the sixteen days he spent at Almelo and even then he could only go in or out of the factory at prescribed hours.".[xxxviii]
KRL was under the supervision of PAEC chairman Munir Ahmad Khan right from the start.[xxxix] It only got separated later when it had been finally completed and A Q Khan made in charge. According to Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, Dr. A.Q.Khan had been made fully incharge of the Kahuta Enrichment Project in the fall of 1980 when the plant had become fully operational.[xl] Some of A.Q. Khan's supporters were powerful individuals who had engineered KRL's administrative separation from PAEC, in order to try to take control of whatever part of the programme they could, for a variety of reasons. But the recent implication of A.Q. Khan in the proliferation activities has proven that KRL's separation from PAEC was a big mistake, which allowed individuals with vested interests to make fortunes, and this had become an important consideration for them to continue to give their full support to A.Q. Khan. The dynamics behind the administrative separation of KRL from PAEC were driven by personal ambitions of A.Q. Khan. Munir Ahmed Khan and those working on the enrichment project refused to entertain any individuals who were not meeting the merit criteria for selection (who might have been on the wish list of A.Q.Khan). Because of this A.Q. Khan accused Munir Khan of red tapism and creating ”hurdles” in the programme .Obtaining an unaccountable blank cheque on spending was another important ambition which was on the top of A.Q. Khan's ambitious wish list. But he needed to create the environment which would have made the fulfillment of his ambitions easier, in which he proved to be successful.The first step in this direction taken by A.Q. Khan was that when he joined the enrichment project to work under Bashiruddin in 1976, he accused the latter of procuring sub-standard maraging steel for centrifuges. Bashiruddin was then suspended and an inquiry commission, composed of the then Foreign Minister Aziz Ahmad and the ISI Director General, Lt. General Jilani, was asked to investigate the charge. The material was sent to a foreign laboratory, recommended by A.Q. Khan, for testing. The commission, however, found that the imported material was of the right quality and Bashiruddin was exonerated.[xli] This should have been enough for those at the helms of power at the time to see the writing on the wall, as his high profile and much publicised defection from Urenco had become a major media issue in Europe. Therefore, he could not be seen to have been disowned by Pakistan.
When this failed, he accused some of the most important scientists and engineers working on the enrichment project to be Qadianis, which included the PAEC chairman Munir Ahmed Khan, Project Incharge of KRL, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, and Dr. Riazuddin, Member (Technical), PAEC. This was a move on the part of A.Q. Khan against the PAEC leadership which was clearly aimed at their character assasination and mudslinging, as Qadianis had been declared non-muslims by the National Assembly only a few years prior to A.Q. Khan's arrival in Pakistan, and it was clear that no such individual could ever hold any position in the nuclear programme, whether in the enrichment project or any other part of the programme. But the fact was that not a single scientist or engineer accused by A.Q. Khan was a Qadiani. Bhutto knew that Munir Khan and all the others working on the enrichment project, including Bashiruddin Mahmood and Dr. Riazuddin were not Qadianis, and he told Munir not to bother as he had known him since the 1960s and reposed his full confidence in him and continued to retain him as PAEC chairman. General Zia too retained each of these gifted scientists and engineers, knowing very well that they were patriotic muslims and was well aware of their professional abilities. Bashiruddin would go on to design and develop the Khushab plutoium reactor, Dr. Riazuddin played a key role in developing and designing the first generation of nuclear weapons for Pakistan and Munir Ahmed Khan during his 19 long years as chairman of the PAEC, against all odds placed Pakistan on the nuclear map of the world. But Munir Ahmed Khan continued to be accused of being unpatriotic and a failed scientist in the dock of A.Q. Khan's paid writers in the decades that were to follow this sordid plot.
Then in April 1976 A.Q. Khan addressed a letter to the chairman PAEC, Munir Ahmed Khan, expressing his supposed impatience with the slow pace of the centrifuge-based uranium enrichment project. A few days later, he wrote a similar letter to Prime Minister Bhutto threatening to resign his position if he was not given formal charge of the uranium enrichment project. In response, Bhutto appointed a committee comprising of A.G.N. Kazi (Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission), Ghulam Ishaq Khan (Defense Secretary), and Agha Shahi (Foreign Secretary) to resolve the matter. The committee ruled in favour of giving A.Q. Khan formal charge over KRL which he took over on July 17, 1976 from Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood.[xlii] A.Q. Khan would repay Ghulam Ishaq Khan for his support by not only supervising the GIK Institute of Science and Technology Project established in the 1990s but also financing it by arranging a sum of Rs.1500 million [xliii]. Alongwith securing full administrative autonomy for himself, A.Q. Khan also managed to get an audit-free budget for KRL, which was used in the later years to further his interests.
After Z.A. Bhutto was hanged and General Zia imposed Martial Law, A.Q. Khan slowly began to build his power base in Pakistan. One reason for this was political. Zia knew that Munir Ahmed Khan was an old and close friend of Bhutto who did not hide his admiration for Bhutto. Zia also knew that A.Q. Khan was an easy ally for consolidating his power in front of the masses as he was willing to be an enthusiastic spokesman for glorifying the nuclear programme for political ends of the rulers in addition to Islam, a role which Munir Khan did not believe in playing. In this context Zia also encouraged A.Q. Khan in building up his image and myth as the man behind the nuclear programme and in July 1981, named KRL after A.Q. Khan. But Zia also knew A.Q. Khan's technical worth and retained Munir as chairman of the PAEC. So in Munir, Zia had a man who would continue to run the nuclear programme, and in Qadeer, Zia found a man who was willing to fulfill his desire of identifying the nuclear programme with the regime in power at the time. That is also why A.Q. Khan, who through excessive media spotlight had earned the fabricated role of personifying the nuclear programme, came to be known as the ”political scientist” in Pakistan’s nuclear scientific community, as he was willing to enthusiastically identify himself with the government in power at a particular time. Such politics was used by A.Q. Khan to consolidate himself over the years but this was something that Munir Ahmed Khan and his team at PAEC did not believe scientists should be indulging in.
Munir Ahmed Khan and his team however did not want the enrichment project to become the victim of any clash of personal will or ego, therefore, they quietly went along with the decision to give A.Q. Khan autonomy of KRL, as he would still have to depend on PAEC in all technical areas of the enrichment project, such as designing and developing advanced centrifuges and associated engineering problems, trained manpower and technical expertise and a constant supply and handling of uranium hexaflouride gas and much more.
But the recent proliferation events regarding the A.Q. Khan proliferation network have revealed that the separation of KRL from PAEC was a big mistake. While the PAEC had a full time Member (Finance) and Munir Ahmed Khan had established very strict financial and material controls in PAEC, A.Q. Khan was free to run KRL as he chose. This was acutely realized by Munir Ahmed Khan himself, who confided in Dr. Samar Mubarikmand, Chairman National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) in 1999, a few weeks prior to his death. Samar was Member (Technical) PAEC at that time and had successfully headed the team that conducted the May 1998 tests at Chaghi. According to Samar, Munir Khan said that he had made a mistake all his life by keeping a very low profile, which gave A.Q. Khan a field day and enabled him to hijack the whole credit from PAEC. Munir told him that it was the responsibility of the PAEC scientists and engineers, the "technical" people, to put a halt to A.Q. Khan's megalomania, which had cost the national interest and the nuclear programme dearly.