Analysis of IKONOS Imagery of the Plutonium Production Reactor at Khushab, Pakistan

March 16, 2000

  • Pakistan announced the operation of the reactor in April of 1998, just prior to its nuclear weapons tests. For years, Pakistan denied the existence of this reactor.**
  • Preliminary ISIS thermal analysis using Landsat-7 imagery from July 1999 was inconclusive in establishing the operational status of the reactor.
  • The reactor is believed to have a capacity of about 50 megawatts-thermal (MWth), use natural uranium fuel, and be heavy water (D2O) moderated and cooled. This reactor requires an estimated 40 tonnes* of heavy water.
  • The reactor is estimated to be able to produce enough plutonium for a few nuclear weapons a year.
  • The size of the cooling towers indicates that they are capable of dissipating 50-100 megawatts of heat.
  • There is no indication of electrical power production at the site.
  • There is no reprocessing facility at the Khushab site.
  • Before the reactor could operate, Pakistan needed a source of unsafeguarded heavy water. The location of Pakistan’s heavy water production plant was publicly unknown until now. Although the reactor may have had other sources of heavy water, this heavy water plant is large enough to have met the reactor’s requirements.
  • A tonne is a metric ton, equivalent to 1000 kilograms or 2200 pounds.

** For example, in 1992 a spokesman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) strongly contradicted the report by David Albright and Tom Zamora that Pakistan was erecting a 50 MWth atomic reactor. The spokesman expressed surprise over such “concocted” stories and said that Pakistan was considering dealing with the situation on a diplomatic level.

To go to the analysis of the newly-identified heavy water plant at Khushab, click here.

To see an image of the support facility at Khushab, click here.

To go to ISIS’ Pakistan country page, click here.

To go to ISIS’ Satellite Imagery page, click here.

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