Construction of Third Heavy Water Reactor at Khushab Nuclear Site in Pakistan Progressing
by Paul Brannan
October 5, 2010
ISIS has obtained new satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe of the Khushab military nuclear site in Pakistan. The image from September 9, 2010 shows construction of the third heavy water reactor progressing, with a row of mechanical draft cooling towers that appears finished (see figure 1). The previous available image, a GeoEye photo from December 31, 2009 on Google Earth, shows the row of cooling towers for the third reactor under construction (see figure 2). In the same photo, ISIS noted steam being emitted from the cooling towers of the second Khushab reactor, indicating that it was at some stage of initial operation. Pakistan announced the operation of its first heavy water reactor at Khushab in 1998. Pakistan began building the second heavy water reactor at Khushab between 2000 and 2002. It began building the third reactor during 2006. These reactors support Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.
Construction of the third reactor has progressed more quickly than the second reactor. This is evident when comparing the two reactors at similar points in their construction. From the time of initial clearing and excavation for the second reactor, it took at least six years before its cooling towers appeared complete in commercial satellite imagery. In contrast, it took Pakistan less than fives years from when initial excavation is visible in commercial satellite imagery until the third reactor’s cooling towers appear finished.
Though steam can be seen rising from some of the second reactor’s cooling tower fan blades in December 31st, 2009 image, steam cannot be seen above the second reactor’s cooling towers in the latest September 9, 2010 image. During a reactor’s start-up phase, however, the reactor may not be operated continuously. Furthermore, as always, atmospheric conditions can determine whether or not steam will be visible in commercial satellite imagery.