For Immediate Release: May 13, 1998
For more information, contact: David Albright, President
or Kevin O'Neill, Deputy Director

Pakistan's Momentous Decision
Responding in kind to Indian nuclear tests only would heighten tensions on the subcontinent


India's decision to conduct nuclear tests threatens to spark a nuclear arms race on the Indian subcontinent. While such an arms race has long smoldered in South Asia, a decision by Pakistan to conduct its own nuclear test could set this arms race fully aflame.

Although Pakistan has not admitted to actually assembling nuclear weapons, Pakistani officials have said that Pakistan could conduct a nuclear test quickly. While demonstrating this capability would help satisfy Pakistani public opinion, a Pakistani test would only escalate tensions on the subcontinent.

Moreover, any popular euphoria resulting from a Pakistani test would be short-lived. Pakistan would no doubt suffer the same international condemnation and sanctions that India is expected to receive. Given that Pakistan has fewer economic resources than India, these sanctions would affect Pakistan more than they would affect India.

An equally troubling Pakistani response would be for Pakistan to resume its production of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU). Pakistan declared in 1991 that it had ceased HEU production.

Rather than conduct nuclear tests or resume HEU production, Pakistan should act with restraint. A "wait and see" approach should be adopted until India signals its intentions. Now that it has conducted nuclear tests, India may choose to follow a more conciliatory path with respect to international non-proliferation efforts. A Pakistani test would only assure India's continued hard embrace of its nuclear weapons capability.

An attached fact sheet providing estimates of the current and potential capabilities of India and Pakistan to produce nuclear weapons. Further information from ISIS is available upon request.

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Fact Sheet:
India and Pakistan--Current and Potential Nuclear Arsenals

by David Albright

May 13, 1998

The decision by India to conduct five nuclear tests in May 1998 threatens to spark an all-out nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan have developed the capability to produce unsafeguarded weapon-grade plutonium and weapon-grade uranium (WGU) for nuclear weapons. However, until now, both countries have constrained their nuclear competition, preferring to keep their arsenals undeployed. In addition, Pakistan decided in the early 1990s to stop producing weapon-grade uranium, in essence capping its stock of material for nuclear weapons.

India is widely perceived to have a significantly larger nuclear arsenal than Pakistan. The following estimate shows that if a nuclear arms race developed between India and Pakistan and Pakistan decided to resume WGU production, India's overwhelming advantage could disappear.

ISIS estimates that India has about 370 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium, or the equivalent of about 74 nuclear weapons. India relies principally on the Dhruva reactor for weapon-grade plutonium, and can increase its stock of weapon-grade plutonium at a rate of about 20 kilograms per year. This amount corresponds to roughly four nuclear weapons per year. At this rate, in 2005 India is estimated to have enough weapon-grade plutonium for over 100 nuclear weapons.

India could produce significantly more weapon-grade plutonium by using its CANDU power reactors, although it may not have sufficient facilities to separate significant quantities of plutonium from the irradiated CANDU fuel.

When Pakistan froze its production of weapon-grade uranium in 1991, it had produced an estimated 210 kilograms at the Kahuta gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility. At roughly 20 kg of weapon-grade uranium per weapon, this is enough material for about 10 weapons. As of early 1998, Pakistan is not known to have resumed the production of HEU.

Since 1991, Pakistan is believed to have produced low enriched uranium (LEU) there. If Pakistan decides to resume its production of WGU, it would likely use its stock of LEU to produce WGU more quickly. If the enrichment output of the Kahuta plant remains fixed, Pakistan could produce about 300 kg of weapon-grade uranium during the first year by utilizing its LEU as "feed" for Kahuta. In subsequent years, Pakistan is estimated to be able to produce about 110 kg/yr of weapon-grade uranium, using natural uranium feed. In 2005, Pakistan is estimated to have enough weapon-grade uranium for over 60 nuclear weapons.
In addition, in April 1998 Pakistan commissioned an unsafeguarded reactor that is capable of producing about 10-15 kg/yr of weapon-grade plutonium, or enough for about 2-3 nuclear weapons per year. However, this output is not considered here. Pakistan also could significantly increase Kahuta's output, but this possible action is similarly not considered.

Although India is estimated, as of early 1998, to possess seven-times more nuclear weapons than Pakistan, the table shows that Pakistan could reduce that margin to a factor of less than two over the next eight years. If India wanted to maintain a significant lead over Pakistan, it would be forced to dramatically increase its fissile material production. Pakistan, however, is capable of matching such an increase.


India's and Pakistan's cumulative projected fissile material stocks
and nuclear weapons potential

India Pakistan
End of ... WGPu* # of weapons WGU** # of weapons

1995 330 66 210 10
1996 350 70 210 10
1997 370 74 210 10
1998 390 78 500 25***
1999 410 82 610 30***
2000 430 86 720 36***
2001 450 90 830 41***
2002 470 94 940 47***
2003 490 98 1,050 52***
2004 510 102 1,160 58***
2005 530 106 1,270 63***

* Weapon-grade plutonium, in kilograms
** Weapon-grade uranium, in kilograms
*** Assumes HEU production resumes in 1998.

For additional information, contact ISIS at (202) 547-3633.