Authored by: Ubaid Ahmed
Edited by: S. Sadia Kazmi
Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad
SVI organized an In-House Seminar on “FMCT and Global Inventories of Fissile Material” on August 24, 2017 at the SVI Conference Room. Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, a distinguished Pakistani scholar presently based at Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Relations was the guest speaker for in-house seminar. Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President/Executive Director, SVI chaired the session. He began with highlighting two significant issues as to why Pakistan is being pressurized into signing the FMCT and what are Pakistan’s reasons for not signing the treaty. Dr. Cheema likewise voiced his concerns about the unavailability of a uniform data on the inventories of stockpiles wherein various sources display different data figures about the stockpiles.
Following a brief introduction Dr. Mansoor Ahmed formally started his talk in which he focused on the fissile material conundrum facing South Asia. He addressed the question as to whether Pakistan’s policy on FMCT needs to be revisited or should be continued in its present form. He suggested that the answer to this question should be based on the current state of fissile material stockpiles in South Asia. He further stated that the open source estimates from international panel of fissile material, both India and Pakistan held a small fraction of world’s nuclear inventory or fissile material. Referring to the lengthy research paper he recently authored, published by Belfer Center in May 2017 on India’s nuclear exceptionalism; he explained the focus of the paper is on India’s existing and projected potential for fissile material production especially because both India and Pakistan were found engaged in the process of completing their nuclear triads. He further avowed that India is actively building capabilities that are far in over abundance of its prompt requisites for minimum deterrence and it is in the process of converting its stated nuclear posture from counter value to counter force capability. This has its roots in its ability to produce more fissile material which can be converted into warheads at short notice. He also stated that fissile material doesn’t necessarily mean the number of warheads. There is no uniform yardstick for the design and yield of a weapon. However, the standard significant quantities that are acceptable and are generally used in making such estimates are given by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by assessing one nuclear weapon that uses weapon grade highly enriched Uranium (HeU) to contain around 25 kg of HeU or about 8 kg of weapon grade Plutonium. He emphasized that it is imperative to understand that India has enjoyed an over 20 year head start above Pakistan in fissile material production; whilst, Pakistan only responded after India’s 1974 test with its own small, modest and indigenous fuel cycle program. Albeit at present India outstrips Pakistan in fissile material capacity exponentially.
Quoting IPFM estimates he said that India has about 3.2 tons of HeU of which about 1 ton is close to weapon grade, while Pakistan has about 3.1 tons of weapon grade HeU and in terms of Plutonium asymmetry creeps in. Pakistan is estimated to have only about 190 to 210 kg of weapon grade Plutonium whereas India has about 0.7 to 0.9 tons of weapon grade Plutonium, 5.5 tons of separated and reprocessed civil Plutonium and about 11 to 14 tons of additional civil Plutonium that requests separation and can be separated over a given period of time. In contrast Pakistan has no unsafeguarded civil Plutonium stockpiles; the IAEA doesn’t distinguish between civil or military Plutonium. This is interestingly being manifested in how the global non proliferation community is looking at Japan’s plans for reprocessing. Simultanoeusly the next proliferation threat on the horizon is expected to arise in East Asia where if Japan starts its commercial reprocessing program then South Korea will follow suit and so will China. He further added that in the last year of Obama’s administration about a dozen top non-proliferation experts wrote letters to the Department Of Energy and Department Of Defense asking the US administration not to start its own reprocessing program for peaceful purposes because then not only there would be no stopping the Japanese program but there would also be a cascading effect as it has been known that Japan is the signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and a large chunk of IAEA budget in terms of safeguards is spent on safeguarding the civil Plutonium stockpile in Japan.
Dr. Ahmed also asserted that in terms of asymmetry in South Asia it is noteworthy to understand the production capacity, adding that Pakistan had been wrongly accused of having the fastest growing nuclear program in the world. Citing the reasons he mentioned that this was primarily because of the three additional Plutonium production reactors at Khushab that came on line in the last ten years whereas India’s developments are largely ignored in this regard. He termed it as cherry picking of information that has lately become a standard known in the Western think-tank and academic community. Moreover, the combined capacity of four Khushab reactors as per public estimates was about 200 mega watt (MW) thermal, while India already was using 40 MW CIRUS reactor which was decommissioned around 2011.
Likewise India had a 100 MW Dhruva-I reactor which was in operation, in addition to another 125 MW Dhruva –II under construction whilst another 35 MW research reactor for military purpose is also under development. Dr. Ahmed in his talk affirmed that India already had outstripped Pakistan in terms of dedicated military reactor capacity. In terms of breeder reactors India is expected to commission its prototype fast breed reactor which has 500MW capacity. Pakistan on the other hand has no breeder program whereas each of these breeder reactors can produce more than 140 kg of weapon grade Plutonium for India every year. Pakistan has no pressurized heavy water reactors outside safeguards while India has a combined capacity of 2350 MW pressurized heavy water reactors that are outside safeguards and can produce 1250 kg of reactor grade Plutonium per year. India can very easily use any of these reactors for producing 200kg of weapon grade Plutonium along with its planned capacity of additional 700 MW reactors though it might take it another 10 to 15 years to bring it to line but from non-proliferation perspective Pakistan has to account for the full potential of India’s existing and planned capacities.
Stating the Western hysteria he said that now Western think-tanks especially Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and others had gone to great lengths to either underplay or downplay India’s potential to produce fissile material. Basically what they used to say is that the efficiency of India’s reactors and processing plants is so poor that India will not be able to separate the Plutonium it is producing. However, he stated that all these were the nominal capacities and we really didn’t know the actual efficiency of India’s reactors and reprocessing plants. Nevertheless, what we did know was that India’s department of atomic energy had been issuing annual reports that were publicly available. There were statements by Indian scientists in which they had openly claimed that their reprocessing capacity was close to 100% and they were expanding their reprocessing potential from 350 tons of heavy metal resisting capacity to about 1900 tons of heavy metal resisting capacity over a period of 10 years.
Pakistan’s capacity was only estimated to about 140 tons of heavy metal. Even though these were the nominal capacities, that doesn’t mean that these plants were being run on 100% efficiency. Moreover, in terms of Uranium enrichment he mentioned that there were reports of a nuclear city coming up in India and there had been independent analysis from experts at James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies and elsewhere in which it is estimated that at present India’s enrichment capacity is sufficient to fuel its fleet of 5 nuclear submarines. This is the very justification the Indians had been saying was required for building their enrichment program. At the same time there are efforts in place to increase the existing 4500 separative work unit per year capacity to 126000 separative work units per year. It is believed that after meeting the requirements of 5 nuclear submarines which will be around 8 to 9 kg of HeU for about 4 to 5 year for each submarine core, they will have an excess capacity of producing 160 kg of weapon grade HeU each year. India has already conducted thermonuclear test, the capacity of which coupled with India’s existing stockpiles of weapon grade and reactor grade Plutonium can be used to produce hybrid warheads. India is also heading counter force posture and will require more fissile material for weaponization. According to the IAEA the conversion timelines are between a few weeks to a few months in terms of converting fissile material into weapons. India’s fabrication capacity is also much larger than Pakistan. He asserted that whether or not India converts all the material into weapons should not be Pakistan’s problem for there is no independent verification of how much material has been converted into weapons. He suggested this is where the attention should be focused on because when it comes to Pakistan the analysts tend to project all of Pakistan’s estimated fissile material as having converted into weapons and that was one of the reasons why country’s program is and was projected as the fastest growing program of the world. He stated that the total warhead potential of Pakistan from the four Plutonium production reactors at the enrichment program Kahutta is about 14 to 20 warheads. Whereas the fissile material capacity in terms of warheads for India is about 260 weapons per year including its military production reactors, unsafeguarded Plutonium reactors enrichment program, and the breeder. This is likely to grow with an additional fleet of breeders and power reactors coming in line. In South Asia the asymmetry essentially is not in terms of weapon grade material, at present it accounts for all weapon useable materials that are outside safeguards. As per the Indo-Us nuclear deal, India had pledged to separate its civil and military program. The plan was approved by the IAEA. One of the principles of separation of civil and military facilities in India’s case was that no facility directly or indirectly linked to India’s strategic program would be placed under the safeguards. This was the cardinal principle of how India designates its civil and military facilities. This principle was whole-heartedly accepted by the international community and by the IAEA which approves the separation plan. Despite this fact the NSG granted a waiver to India in 2008. Dr. Ahmed opined that it is impertaive to draw India’s analogy with Japan. In Japan’s case, all of its stockpiles are under the IAEA safeguards. Japan is the member of NPT while India is not; India is the only country in the world that is expanding its strategic program under the garb of a three-stage civilian nuclear energy program which was the dream of the founder of India’s nuclear program Homi Bhaba. India is still at the second stage and it is important to account for all the weapon useable material in India’s case. He mentioned two reasons as to why India is likely to convert or use its stockpiles into weapons. One, India proclaims that its civil Plutonium stockpile, which is between 11 to 18 ton, is its strategic reserve; second, India claims to have conducted at least one test in 1998 which used civil Plutonium from one of its unsafeguarded power reactors. From proliferation point of view, both these claims have to be taken seriously. Additionally, there is an ongoing debate in the United States as to whether India can use its civil Plutonium in weapons. It is interesting to note that when it comes to Japan, the US makes weapon equivalent estimates of Japanese civil Plutonium stockpiles. Likewise, there were plenty of reports on emerging proliferation threats from Japanese stockpiles of civil Plutonium. Interestingly, the co-director of the Carnegie nuclear policy program Toby Dalton takes a diametrical approach because he is clearly more sympathetic towards India’s stockpiles. The general perception seems to be that India can’t use its civil Plutonium for weapon but Japan can and will. Moreover another answer to the aforesaid question is that India uses low burn-up rate reactors while Japanese reactors have a high burn-up rate. This is largely because their reactors are light water based and while it is not the best material to be used in weapons it still has the potential for proliferation. US department of energy declassified a detailed report on the same subject, produced by their weapon labs in 1997. It focused on the question whether or not a reactor grade Plutonium could be used in weapons. Here it is important to recall that the US itself conducted a test in 1962 that used reactor grade Plutonium in weapons. However, in terms of Pakistan’s position on FMCT, Dr. Ahmed asserted that Pakistan is just trying to reduce the asymmetry and that is one of the positions it has taken at the CD to factor in the existing stockpiles. However, whilst talking about the existing stockpiles one has to understand that India is continuing to expand its capacity, its stockpiles are well known and it has a huge proliferation potential. He opined that the Indians can be brought under some kind of international scrutiny by bringing agenda on the table at CD. This can’t be resolved bilaterally and has to be done multilaterally with the involvement of like-minded countries who are genuinely concerned about the proliferation potential of the unsafeguarded materials. This should be done for a very simple reason that Pakistan might be able to produce say 100 or 200 kg of weapon grade Plutonium over the next decade which would be in line with the credible minimum deterrence that would be quantified by the CD members. He asserted that currently the question that needs to be looked into is the Indian stance on joining the FMCT, which professes that it will only join the FMCT if it doesn’t jeopardize India’s strategic program. Pranaab Mukherjee as Indian Foreign Minister said on record that India maintains the same stance on the CTBT. Despite these public proclamations, it is unfortunate that all the negative spotlight is always on Pakistan. This stems from two main reasons: one is the Western narrative centered on building an image for Pakistan that it has the fastest growing program. Not realizing that the first Khushab reactor started in mid 1980s, and it took 10 years to complete. Pakistan’s program is more than 40 years old now. Pakistan didn’t build this capability overnight nor did the Indians but thanks to the Indo-US deal and India’s own engineering because of which it is now in a position to breakout at unprecedented levels that would probably bring it at par with the top three nuclear weapon states in the world.
Dr. Ahmed stated that one important point that Pakistan has officially taken up and which is also mentioned in his report is that there has to be a verifiable separation of civil and military facilities in India. There was an earlier report by the Belfer Center year before his own report came out which clinched that India has three parallel streams of nuclear activities. One is of a dedicated military program, the other is a dedicated civil program under the IAEA safeguards and the last one is the civilian energy program that is not under safeguards and is essentially contributing to India’sstrategic program. Conversely, In Pakistan’s case the fuel cycles are already separated, the power reactors are under the IAEA safeguard.There are no discrepancies and there is no overlap in the fuel cycle that would lead to any non-proliferation concerns.
He maintained that in terms of FMCT, unless Pakistan teams up with like-minded countries on the scope and definition of fissile material, it will not be possible to bring the focus on India’s stockpiles. There is also a looming proliferation threat on the horizon in the East Asian region in terms of Japan and South Korea. South Korea has legitimate security reasons and there is also a debate being carried out inside South Korea if it should start its own nuclear weapons program. Though the dedicated weapon program is not the question because the moment South Korea starts reprocessing and stockpiling the separated Plutonium, its breakout capacity will be enough of a deterrent for other countries. This is exactly why the US and other countries are concerned about Japanese plans for reprocessing.
While referring again to the aforementioned reasons, Dr. Mansoor Ahmed highlighted why it is important to link Japanese case with India’s stockpiles. India is not the member of NPT and India’s stockpiles are outside the safeguards. Another common linkage between Japan and India’s case is the justification for reprocessing in both countries which is often pronounced by their decision makers and their nuclear establishment that they want to reprocess because they want to produce fuel for the fast-breeder program. Now the Indians have been trying to complete their first prototype fast breed reactor at Kalpakkam for over a decade.
Correspondingly, he also discussed the assumption of India being able to commission one reactor, which would mean that it will take 2 to 3 tons of civil Plutonium for its initial fuel loading and it would also mean an increased reprocessing capacity. This is one of the justifications used by experts at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and elsewhere to see that India will not divert this material for weapons because it is dedicated only for the breeder program. The breeders will not only produce the reactor grade Plutonium they will also produce 146 kg of weapon grade Plutonium every year as part of their normal operations. India is planning to have 5 or 6 such breeder reactors.
However, given the expansion in India’s reprocessing capacity it will only be able to separate large amounts of Plutonium for its strategic program. This material can be used in producing low yield devices that might have a yield of around 20kg or so, which is suitable for battlefield use and will give India the delivery capability to go for a counter force posture. It is no coincidence that India has now started talking about shift in its doctrine and posture from counter value to counter force. Dr. Ahmed stated that one should remember that the capabilities lead to intentions. Nonetheless the international community supports India’s case believing that it’s the politicians that are in charge there, and because it has the posture of no first use. However, India’s no first use policy was already compromised in 2003 when it added a qualification that it would go for massive retaliation if Indian forces are targeted by any weapon of mass destruction anywhere inside or outside Indian territory. He assessed the proliferation threat from India’s stockpiles as a direct bearing on its evolving counter force posture and its strategic modernization where it is already building a triad which includes a fleet of nuclear submarines coupled with BMDs. This will eventually give India a false sense of superiority and security. He affirmed that India might be able to absorb Pakistan’s first strike and can probably take out a portion of Pakistan’s deployed strategic forces in some kind of counter force decapitating strike, but from deterrence standpoint it would lead to rapid escalation and will contribute to deterrence failure in South Asia. All these possibilities and concerns can’t be separated from India’s existing expansion in nuclear capacity.
Moreover, heading towards the conclusion he proclaimed that whilst looking at the holistic picture of India’s evolving and emerging strategic posture one can easily assess that it is aimed at securing its position as a regional and global player and now it is also shifting from application of soft to hard power. Adding to this, India’s nuclear expansion is the key to achieve that status. The central pillar of this strategy is India’s ability to produce large amounts of unsafeguarded fissile material stockpiles. No other country in the world at present is producing or expanding its fissile material production capability outside the NPT states but India. This is not to suggest that Pakistan should enter into an arms race or should enter into a bomb for a bomb race with India, rather it is to educate the international community and to bring out the narrative that India doesn’t need 1000 or 2000 warheads to destroy Pakistan. This should be seen as a real emerging threat which will eventually be a problem for countries like China and probably even for the United States in the next 10-15 years.
Following a very lengthy talk started the question/answer session moderated by Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema. The maiden question was asked by Mr. Syed Muhammad Ali, Senior Research Fellow from Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS). He inquired that why the capacity factor, efficiency and availability factor of Pakistani reactors and Indian reactors are accessed differently by the Western assessments? Dr. Ahmed responded by saying that there are two reasons: one is that India has gone to great lengths to convince the world that its reactors are really not functioning at all or functioning at very low levels of efficiency, same is the case with its reprocessing program. India has been able to sell this narrative. It is not just statements alone but it’s about big money. If one is able to raise 10 million dollars for setting up a regional offshoot of a major American think tanks that focuses on nuclear issues like Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs in India then it’s only natural to be intentionally sympathetic towards India. However, the other reason probably is that Indian experts reside in the top universities of the United States and have sufficient influencing power with them.
Ms. Saima Aman, Research Associate from CISS asked about Pakistan’s position on the FMCT (as it stands now in the CD is terrible), in the light of the present circumstances? Dr. Mansoor Ahmed suggested that Pakistan needs to evaluate what its overarching objective is: short, medium or long term. Point is that even if one opts forthe negotiations today, Pakistan won’t be the one signing it, as there is no consensus over it, yet. However, pessimists do argue that once Pakistan goes back into the CD, there will be a rapid momentum towards finalization. Certainly, Pakistan has the option of not being a signatory of that; it is also not part of the NPT and the pressure is being taken in all regards. Same is the case with joining of the CTBT. Dr. Ahmed referred to his paper pointing out the factual statistics. Pakistan has a very limited program for deterrence purposes. It cannot compete with India in the medium or long run. The sooner the FMCT is concluded and some measure of multilateral restraint is brought upon India’s program, it will prove better for Pakistan.
With this Dr. Cheema concluded the session by designating it a very educative and comprehensive session. He formally thanked the Guest Speaker Dr. Mansoor Ahmed and appreciated the welcoming response from the participants during the session.
Round-table on ‘FMCT and Global Fissile Material Inventories’ was covered by the following newspapers
Government’s official newswire APP also carried the story