Pakistani Nuclear Program 4-5
“PAKISTAN’S NUCLEAR HISTORY:
SEPARATING MYTH FROM REALITY”
extensive research on our nuclear initiative and puts the record straight.
HOW PAKISTAN MADE NUCLEAR FUEL
In 1965 Canada and Pakistan signed a contract for Canada to build the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). At this time, Canada also offered to sell Pakistan a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, but Pakistan was not interested and refused. Canada began helping Pakistan operate KANUPP in 1972. The plant was kept in operation for the first four years with technical support from Canada. During this time, Pakistan began to re-start negotiations with Canada for the fuel fabrication plant. The chairman of the PAEC Munir Ahmad Khan went to Canada in early 1973, attempting to persuade the Canadian government to agree to supply Pakistan with the plant. Canada had two objections: first, Canada would lose the revenue earned previously by exporting fuel. Second, supplying Pakistan with its own fuel fabrication plant would, in turn, make Pakistan more independent in nuclear technology, which could indirectly contribute to nuclear proliferation. [lix]
In 1973, the President of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) decided to support the supply of a fuel fabrication plant to Pakistan, since Canada had also supplied such a fabrication plant to India. Pakistan's KANUPP was also already under IAEA safeguards, and those could be extended to the new plant. A formal contract was signed with Canada's Westinghouse Company, which expected completion of the fabrication plant by 1975. Fuel was to be co-manufactured in Pakistan under Canadian supervision for an initial period of approximately two years, after which Pakistan would be on its own. [lx]
With the explosion of a nuclear device by India in May 1974, Canada's view on nuclear exports changed dramatically. Canada changed its attitude toward nuclear exports, adopting a new and strict nonproliferation policy. This policy "demanded [that] any country receiving nuclear technology or facilities from Canada either sign the NPT or accept full-scope safeguards on all its facilities" as well as not to use Canadian supplies for nuclear explosions. This new policy effectively punished Pakistan for India's misuse of Canadian nuclear exports.
Pakistan refused to subscribe to the new condition. During this time, Pakistan continued construction of the fuel fabrication plant, expecting that all equipment needed for the fuel plant would be shipped from Canada by late 1974. However, just before the shipment was to leave for Pakistan, Canada placed an embargo on the equipment. Canada decided to place an embargo on the equipment for two reasons. Pakistan had signed an agreement with France in the meantime to build a nuclear reprocessing plant under safeguards, which Canada did not like. With such a plant, Pakistan would be capable of reprocessing fuel from KANUPP and producing plutonium, which was contrary to Canada's new nuclear non-proliferation policy. Pakistan also continued its unwillingness to sign the NPT. Therefore, on 23 December 1976, Canada unilaterally cut off all nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. Support abruptly ceased when Canada halted all supplies of nuclear fuel, heavy water, spare parts, safety and other technical information, and sent all Canadian experts stationed at KANUPP home. Pakistan was "left with no choice, but to find a way to make nuclear fuel on its own." [lxi]
Uranium is an essential raw material for nuclear fuel. Pakistan uses natural uranium rather than enriched uranium as fuel for KANUPP because it is a heavy water reactor, which is a better medium for facilitating a nuclear chain reaction than light water. Finding mine able quantities of uranium was a challenge for Pakistan. Reasonable quantities were found in the Siwalik Hills, west of Dera Ghazi Khan. Pakistan, however, had no experience in mining uranium. Beginning in 1972 the PAEC began geological surveys to find mine able deposits of uranium. Uranium deposits were found in several locations in Pakistan. The Atomic Energy Minerals Centre (AEMC) in Lahore was responsible for the exploration and mining operations.[lxii] A team of young engineers from the AEMC carried out the necessary exploration and mining operations. Even skilled labor was scarce, and the drillers and miners trained were "among an illiterate labor force" available in the region. The uranium ore indigenously mined by Pakistan was of relatively low grade and consisted of only a few kilograms of uranium per ton in contrast to uranium ore from Canada, which has a higher concentration of uranium per ton. Therefore, Pakistan's uranium extraction plant had to be designed more carefully, in order to reduce impurities and extract more uranium. Pakistan's uranium extraction was done entirely by chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers from AEMC, with the assistance of Pakistani industries. As a result, Pakistan was able to complete its uranium yellow cake plant within a year. A full scale refining plant was built to turn concentrated uranium yellow cake into a pure uranium oxide usable in a nuclear reactor. [lxiii]
The uranium oxide was next pressed into small pellets of very high density to be burnt after being sealed in zircaloy cladding tubes. Basic research and development (R&D) facilities were created in the mid 1970's at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH). These R&D facilities helped in developing the know-how for making high purity uranium from yellow cake and converting it into uranium oxide and pellets. PINSTECH made valuable contributions, such as setting up uranium laboratories, through which precise chemical processes and quality control procedures were established. PINSTECH also helped train highly skilled manpower and developed special welding techniques and other procedures required for large-scale operations. [lxiv]
When Canada stopped its nuclear exports to Pakistan, other problems in addition to making nuclear fuel arose. Pakistani scientists knew the overall measurements of the fuel but did not have the exact specifications of some of the key materials or the type of machinery needed, nor did they know certain manufacturing procedures or a source of supply for materials and machinery. Some special attachments had to be designed by Pakistan. Suppliers had to be located that were "willing to cooperate in spite of the negative atmosphere generated by the Indian explosion followed by the Canadian embargoes." Since none could be found, Pakistan relied heavily on local industries to make up for the lack of a foreign supplier.
In addition to uranium, technology, and machinery, Pakistan had to also plan for indigenous production of special alloys and materials, such as zircaloy cladding tubes use to encase the small pellets of uranium oxide. Pakistan could not rely on imported cladding tubes for very long, so it began to manufacture its own. Pakistan found large deposits of zirconium-bearing heavy sands along the seacoast and in the riverbanks of Balochistan. PINSTECH worked together with experts from AEMC to set up a pilot plant, which gave Pakistan the necessary experience over several years in the removal of hafnium, an element of earth found in natural zirconium.
Not a single fuel pellet has failed since Pakistan began manufacturing fuel elements for KANUPP in the late 1970's. KANUPP was designed, however, so that even if a few bundles of pellets happen to leak, "the system can easily take care of it." Canada did not supply Pakistan with a test reactor, and although Pakistan approached certain west European countries about testing and certifying its fuel, none agreed. Therefore, Pakistan set up test facilities outside the reactor to check fuel bundles for mechanical, pressure, temperature, and flow conditions. Other tests were also conducted to assure the fuel's strength to withstand the extreme conditions inside KANUPP. Pakistan then showed the results of the tests to "certain international experts and they were satisfied." [lxv]
By indigenously making fuel, Pakistan gained many new technologies. Pakistan produced the first ton of purified uranium oxide and metal before it produced the first ton of copper or any other mineral using local ore and indigenously developed technologies. Further, it taught Pakistani scientists and engineers about precision engineering, quality control, inspection, and design of complicated tools and machinery. Nuclear technology is interdisciplinary, which requires teamwork, and credit has to be given to and shared by all those who contribute and thereby took the country forward. Pakistan's accomplishments in the nuclear field "are an excellent example of collaborative work by people who accepted a challenge and decided to respond to it collectively. The participants, engineers, scientists, chemists, miners, and experts alike developed a system and an institution which is even more important than the product." [lxvi]
Moreover, the KANUPP plant has faced numerous challenges during its over two decades of operation. Following the withdrawal of vendor technical assistance and imposition of embargoes by major nuclear countries in 1976, the plant some times has been shutdown for longer durations to carry out maintenance, modifications or repair. A committed self-reliance programme by PAEC and KANUPP, however, kept the plant operational throughout the difficult period.
In 1980, PAEC successfully produced nuclear fuel for KANUPP and the first Pakistani nuclear fuel bundle was loaded successfully in the reactor core, while PAEC made all-out efforts to create the technical infrastructures, industrial resources and personnel expertise necessary to support station operation. The Design & Development Division (Mechanical), Computer Development Division, In-service Inspection Laboratory, Control & Instrumentation Application Laboratory, Quality Assurance Division and in 1973 the Karachi Nuclear Power Training Centre were established within the plant. At about the same time, the Technical and Health Physics Divisions were strengthened to provide necessary backup for technical and radiation control support. In 1990. the complete loading of the Kanupp reactor core with all Pakistani fuel bundles took place. [lxvii]
Such technical support does not form part of nuclear power plant operation in developed countries but in the case of KANUPP there was no other choice. Incidentally, KANUPP is the only nuclear power plant in the world which has been operating without technical support from the vendor which is vividly indicative of PAEC's commitment to self-reliance.
To acquire self-sufficiency in the production of heavy water, which was required for use in the heavy water plutonium production reactor at Khushab, the PAEC by 1980 completed a heavy water production plant at Multan, with an annual capacity of 13 metric tons.[lxviii]
The PAEC also went on to develop a nuclear fuel fabrication plant at Kundian, with the capacity to process 24 MT of natural uranium per year. This facility manufactures fuel for KANUPP.[lxix] Also known as the Kundian Fuel Fabrication Plant /Kundian Nuclear Complex I , Kundian is a reactor uranium fuel fabrication facility situated where SGN was to build a 50-100 tU/a spent fuel reprocessing plant (project started in 1974, halted in 1977), located near the Chashma reactor. With an annual production capacity of 24 tons, the facility has been manufacturing fuel for the KANUPP reactor since 1978. The Nuclear Fuel Plant is now known as KNC I - Kundian Nuclear Complex I. [lxx]. Kundian fuel fabrication facility is an important part of the nuclear fuel cycle facilities of the PAEC.
The chairman of the PAEC, Munir Ahmed Khan, in a press conference on August 31st, 1980 announced that Pakistan had achieved self-reliance in the manufacture of nuclear fuel from uranium and a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant had been built at Chashma by Pakistani scientists. According to him, fuel from the plant had been used in KANUPP during the past month to produce electricity for Karachi and the setting-up of the indigenous nuclear fuel production plant would save about $40 million in foreign exchange every year since Pakistan earlier had to depend on foreign suppliers for nuclear fuel.[lxxi]
The PAEC in 1981 continued uranium exploration activities and conducted geological mapping, radiometric measurements, drilling and subsurface excavations in the Potowar region. The exploration revealed the existence of uranium ores at Isa Khel and Thatti Nasratti.[lxxii]
In 1989, the PAEC broke an international embargo on Pakistan and was able to ensure Chinese support for a 300 MW Chashma-1 Nuclear Power Plant. This plant has been commissioned and another Nuclear Power Plant at the same site is under construction (CHASNUPP-II). The PAEC in from the 1960s onwards has also come up with over a dozen nuclear medical and agricultural centres throughout Pakistan and PINSTECH has been producing radioisotopes for various applications in industry.
BUILDING THE BOMB--NUCLEAR WEAPONS DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING
The last major link in the long chain of building nuclear weapons is to acquire the means to develop the bomb from highly enriched uranium, or plutonium. This in itself is as great a challenge as producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, and without the know how to build an actual nuclear device, the fissile material or fuel in the form of HEU or PU would be useless.
The next critical step for the PAEC after the setting up the Kahuta Enrichment Project was to set up the Uranium Metals laboratory (UML), so that ultimately when the PAEC got enriched uranium hexafluoride back from the plant at Kahuta, it could be converted into metal and given its right shape to be used in a bomb and machined into a nuclear explosive device.[lxxiii]
Pakistani work on weapon design began even before the start of work on uranium enrichment and plutonium production and reprocessing, under the auspices of the PAEC. In October 1972 two Pakistani nuclear scientists, Dr. Riazuddin and Dr. Masud temporarily working at the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy, returned to Pakistan to begin theoretical work on a fission explosive device. They were posted at the Pakistan Institute for Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH). In December 1973, PAEC scientists elected to develop an 'implosion' over the 'gun' type of nuclear fission device citing economy in the use of fissile material. Subsequently Dr. Zaman Shaikh, an explosives expert at the Defense Science Laboratories, was tasked by PAEC chairman Munir Ahmed Khan with developing explosive lenses for the proposed device. [lxxiv]
In March 1974, chairman PAEC, Munir Ahmed Khan called a meeting to initiate work on an atomic bomb. Among those attending the meeting were Dr. Hafeez Qureshi, head of the Radiation and Isotope Applications Division (RIAD) at PINSTECH (later to become Member Technical, PAEC), Dr. Abdus Salam, then Adviser for Science and Technology to the Government of Pakistan and Dr. Riaz-ud-Din, Member (Technical), PAEC. The PAEC chairman informed Qureshi that he was to work on a project of national importance with another expert, Dr. Zaman Sheikh, then working with the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DESTO). The word “bomb” was never used in the meeting but Qureshi exactly understood the objective. Their task would be to develop the design of a weapon implosion system. The project would be located at Wah, appropriately next to the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF). [lxxv]
The work at Wah began under the undescriptive codename ‘Research’ and Qureshi, Zaman and their team of engineers and scientists came to be known as “The Wah Group”. Initial work was limited to research and development of the explosive lenses to be used in the nuclear device. This expanded however to include chemical, mechanical and precision engineering of the system and the triggering mechanisms. The Wah Group procured equipment where it could and developed its own technology where restrictions prevented the purchase of equipment. They had come up with a nuclear weapon design by 1978 that was subsequently tested in the first cold test in 1983.
The critical thrust towards the actual nuclear device was to set up a theoretical physics group that could work on the design of the bomb. It had to be a purely Pakistani effort and PAEC scientists on the theoretical side had the capability to design their own bomb. They studied the literature that was available and they worked extremely hard, developed computer codes, acquired powerful computers to design this system and came up with the design that was to be manufactured. Another facility that was set up in those days was a manufacturing facility for the bomb. Therefore at the PAEC, the finest experimental physicists, engineers, electronics people and chemical engineers formed a team to manufacture these weapons. [lxxvi]
In 1973 Dr. Riazuddin travelled to the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy, after which he proceeded to the United States to obtain open-source information on the 'Manhattan Project' from the Library of Congress and the National Information Center, Maryland. After his return from the United States, Riazuddin was inducted into the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as Member (Technical). Dr. Riazuddin later worked as part of the team that worked on designs for Pakistan's nuclear explosive device. As he explained, "we were the designers of the bomb, like the tailor who tells you how much of the material is required to stitch a suit. We had to identify the fissile material, whether to use plutonium or...enriched uranium, which method of detonation, which explosive, which type of tampers and lenses to use, how material will be compressed, how shock waves will be created, what would be the yield." Since Pakistan found it difficult to manufacture beryllium reflectors, the first nuclear explosive device designed by the 'Theoretical Group' used Uranium-238 as a reflector.[lxxvii]
Moreover the PAEC had to develop its own explosive plants. The explosive used in a nuclear bomb is a very special type of explosive (HMX Explosive).
On 25 March 1974 Pakistani nuclear scientists including PAEC chairman Munir Ahmed Khan, Dr. Riazuddin, and Dr. Hafeez Qureshi convened a meeting with the head of the Pakistan Ordnance Factory at Wah cantonment, Lt. General Qamar Ali Mirza, to set up a plant to manufacture His Majesty's Explosive (HMX) for use in the explosive lenses of the proposed implosion-design fission device.[lxxviii] The project was codenamed "Research." It could not be purchased from anywhere in the world, and nobody would sell it to any other country. So the PAEC had to put up its own plant for this and the PAEC had to have chemical engineers who would operate this plant and make the explosives. Then the explosives had to be given the right shape according to the design that was delivered by the PAEC’s design team. The explosive had to be machined. The machining of the explosive was an awesome task. Explosives were very difficult materials to handle and their machining was a very dangerous process. PAEC had a dedicated team of people, mechanical engineers who were not afraid of this and who did this job, which of course was done by remote control. These pioneers risked their lives to machine the explosives.
When a nuclear bomb is manufactured, it has to be detonated and the detonation is not from one point. It is from several points on the surface of the bomb and the trick lies in this that one should be able to detonate the bomb from several points at the same time. This is called simultaneity and the simultaneity has to be of the order of 50 ns (nanosecond). A ns is one-billionth of a second. Therefore, it can be imagined that in 50 ns, the bomb has to be detonated at several points so that the implosion takes place in a simultaneous fashion and sets off a nuclear chain reaction. [lxxix]
This was a challenge for the PAEC electronics team because they had to develop the trigger mechanism. Then after the bomb had been manufactured, and the engineers had put the electronics in it, and it had got the explosives in it, in addition to the metallic uranium which was produced by Dr. Khalil Qureshi who converted the enriched uranium hexalflouride gas from Kahuta into metal and did all the coating and machining. That was one part. Then there had to be a holding system that would hold everything, the bits and pieces in such a way that a very rugged device was obtained. The device had to be rugged so that if deliverable weapons were required, there would be no problems. A missile or aircraft could therefore easily deliver the bomb.[lxxx]
All these things had to be started at the same time in parallel.
COLD TESTING THE BOMB
The last major link in making a bomb was to test the accuracy, and effectiveness of the weapon design parameters and accuracy of the triggering mechanism of the bomb itself. This required an elaborate system of facilities and technologies for nuclear testing. There are two types of tests, one is the “cold” test, and the other is the “hot” test. A cold test is one in which natural uranium is used instead of the enriched uranium, and the chain reaction does not take place.
In March 1983, the PAEC crossed a historic milestone. The first nuclear bomb had been manufactured. On 11th March 1983, the PAEC went for a cold test. A cold test is the actual detonation of a complete nuclear bomb except instead of enriched uranium, in the middle of the bomb, natural uranium is used. So it will not go into fission. It will not acquire full power, but it is a complete bomb in all respects. It produces a high flux of neutrons when the detonation takes place and one has to have the capability of measuring these neutrons. The diagnostics department of the PAEC had this capability and they measured neutrons from these cold tests very successfully. If there is a cold test and neutrons are detected and measured, the scientists can be more than 100 % sure that if enriched uranium is used in the same bomb, it is bound to give a fission reaction and a nuclear explosion. [lxxxi]
Pakistan’s first cold test of its nuclear device was carried out on 11 March 1983 in the Kirana Hills near Sargodha, home of the Pakistan Air Force’s main air base and the Central Ammunition Depot (CAD). The test was overseen by Dr. Ishfaq Ahmed. The tunnels at Kirana Hills, Sargodha are reported to have been bored after those at Chaghi, i.e. sometime between 1979 and 1983. As in Chaghi, the tunnels at Kirana Hills had been bored and then sealed. Prior to the cold tests, an advance team was sent to de-seal, open and clean the tunnels and to make sure the tunnels were clear of the wild boars that were found in abundance in the Sargodha region. After clearing of the tunnels, a PAEC diagnostic team headed by Dr. Samar Mubarakmand arrived on the scene with trailers fitted with computers and diagnostic equipment. This was followed by the arrival of the Wah Group with the actual nuclear device, in sub-assembly form. The device was assembled and then placed inside the tunnel. A monitoring system was set up with around 20 cables linking various parts of the device with oscillators in diagnostic vans parked near the Kirana Hills. The Wah Group had indigenously developed the explosive HMX (His Majesty’s Explosive) which was used to trigger the device.
The device was tested using the "push-button" technique as opposed to the "radio-link" technique used at Chaghi fourteen years later. The first test was to see whether the triggering mechanism created the necessary neutrons which would start a fission chain reaction in the real bomb. However, when the button was pushed, most of the wires connecting the device to the oscillators were severed due to errors committed in the preparation of the cables. At first, it was thought that the device had malfunctioned but closer scrutiny of two of the oscillators confirmed that the neutrons had indeed come out and a chain reaction had taken place. Pakistan’s first cold test of a nuclear device had been successful and 11 March became a red letter day in the calendar of the Pakistan nuclear programme.
A second cold test was undertaken soon afterwards which was witnessed by, among others, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Finance Minister, Lt. Gen. K.M. Arif, Vice Chief of Army Staff and Munir Ahmed Khan, chairman, PAEC. The need to improve and perfect the design of Pakistan’s first nuclear device required constant testing. As a result, between 1983 and 1990, the Wah Group conducted more than 24 cold tests of nuclear devices at Kirana Hills with the help of mobile diagnostic equipment. These tests were carried out in 24 horizontal-shaft tunnels measuring 100-150 feet in length which were bored inside the Kirana Hills. Later due to excessive US intelligence and satellite focus on the Kirana Hills site, it was abandoned and the Cold Test facility was shifted to the Kala-Chitta Range. Also, during the 1983-1990 period, the Wah Group went on to design and develop an atomic bomb small enough to be carried on the wing of a small fighter such as the F-16. It worked alongside the PAF to evolve and perfect delivery techniques of the nuclear bomb including ‘conventional free-fall’, ‘loft bombing’, ‘toss bombing’ and ‘low-level lay-down’ attack techniques using combat aircraft. Today, the PAF has perfected all four techniques of nuclear weapons delivery using F-16 and Mirage-V combat aircraft indigenously configured to carry nuclear weapons.[lxxxii]
The PAEC decided to keep on working on better and improved bomb designs and since 1983, the PAEC theoretical physicists, led by Dr. Masud Ahmad, did a remarkable job in that they designed one sample of the bomb after the other. After every 18 months or 2 years or so, the PAEC would have a new design and would perform a cold test on that. The success rate in every cold test was 100 percent. One design after the other kept coming out; they manufactured the bombs, tested them and were successful. After many years of bomb designing and development, the PAEC came through a series of 4 or 5 designs and then came up with a model that was the state-of-the-art. [lxxxiii]
The PAEC had a team of 300-400 people from the Diagnostics Directorate who were responsible for developing the detonation procedure. There are 5-6 different disciplines that have to be dealt with in this process. Each discipline in itself contained electrical engineers, electronics people, physicists, chemical engineers, metallurgists and so on.
This entire infrastructure for nuclear testing came into being by 1980. KRL had tried to come up with its own weapon design, based on an early Chinese bomb design, but it failed cold tests and was not adopted by Pakistan. The same design was in all probability passed on to Iran and Libya by A.Q. Khan.