Behind the smokescreen of Afghan turmoil, Pakistan and China have surreptitiously signed a new nuclear agreement which will push the world towards a renewed nuclear race and conflict.
The Framework Agreement on Deepening Nuclear Energy Cooperation was signed by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and China Zhongyuan Engineering Cooperation on September 8, 2021. The agreement, finalised at a high-level meeting on August 20,2021, was signed through virtual mode and would remain valid for ten years.
The agreement, which envisages transfer of nuclear technology, uranium mining and processing, nuclear fuel supply and setting up research reactors, will help Pakistan increase its nuclear weapons stockpile. For China, an enhanced Pak nuclear arsenal adds teeth to its grand strategy of countering India’s military strength.
According to the latest Bulletin of Atomic Scientist estimate (September 7, 2021), Pakistan already has 165 nuclear warheads. What makes the mushrooming nuclear peril ominous is the series of nuclear-capable missile tests carried out by Pakistan since the beginning of 2021– Ghaznavi (August 2021), Shaheen IA (March 2021),Ra’ad II (February 2021) and Shaheen II (January 2021).
Although the 2021 agreement envisages cooperation in construction, maintenance and waste management of nuclear power reactors, the likelihood of diversion of technology and material for reprocessing facilities meant for producing nuclear warhead material remains dangerously high, if past experience of Pakistan’s illegal nuclear trade and diversion are to be taken into account.
These suspicions are strengthened by the agreement’s sweeping scope and content.
The main thrust of the agreement is on comprehensive cooperation on the construction and maintenance of all future nuclear power projects in Pakistan. Four new plants are on the anvil–two to be located at Karachi (K-4/K-5) and two at Muzaffargarh (M-1/M-2). These plants will be constructed under the Engineering Procurement and Construction Mode by adopting Chinese Hualong One Pressurize Water Reaction (HPR)-100 technology.
The site for M-1 and M-2 plants has already been finalised on the banks of Taunsa-Panjnad link canal in Tehsil Kot Addu, about 32 kms from Muzaffargarh in Punjab. These two plants will have an estimated power generating capacity of 1100 megawatt each.
As per the agreement, besides the construction of these four plants, China will strengthen its involvement in operating and maintaining all nuclear power plants in Pakistan, including refuelling outage, technical upgradation and spare parts. Supplementary agreements to augment the main agreement are to be signed in the near future.
Five significant components of the agreement which offers Pakistan unprecedented access to China’s nuclear capability in terms of technology, material and training are: a) Exploration and mining of uranium and training of personnel; b) Lifetime nuclear fuel supply and supply of initial refuelling fuel assemblies and associated core components; c) setting up of miniature neutron source reactor ; d) Radioactive management resources and assistance, including decommissioning of nuclear facilities, radioactive waste transport and disposal and radiation protection measures and; e) Nuclear technology application, including nuclear medicine, irradiation processing, radiopharmaceuticals, radioactive sources supply and manpower training.
The China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation dates back to 1986. Starting with the construction of nuclear power plants, China over the years has utilised official agreements to supply Pakistan with technology and material for nuclear warheads. The power plants constructed with Chinese technology, material and money include four Chashma Nuclear Power Plants and two nuclear power plants at Karachi. All the Chashma plants are operational. The first plant at Karachi (K-2) became operational in March 2021 and the second plant is expected to initiate its fuel loading in October this year. Construction of a fifth plant at Chashma is on the anvil as per a 2017 agreement.
The September 2021 agreement substantially expands this cooperation with China helping strengthen Pakistan’s nuclear industry chain by setting up additional plants, aiding uranium exploration, supply of nuclear fuel, nuclear waste management and nuclear technology applications.