China and Pakistan reached a formal agreement last month to construct a third nuclear reactor in the northern province of Punjab that the Obama administration says will violate Beijing's promises under an international anti-nuclear weapons accord.
The secret agreement for the Chashma 3 reactor was signed in Beijing during a visit by a delegation from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission from Feb. 15 to 18, according to U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials,
The agreement calls for the state-run China National Nuclear Corp. to construct a 1,000 megawatt power plant at Chashma, where two earlier Chinese reactors were built.
China last month issued an internal notice to officials within its nuclear establishment and to regional political leaders urging care to avoid any leaks of information about the nuclear deal, which Beijing expects will be controversial, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The reactor deal had been in the works for several years and prompted high-level U.S. government efforts to block the sale because of concerns that it will boost Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
The China National Nuclear Corp., China's main nuclear weapons producer, has been linked in the past to Pakistan's nuclear arms program by U.S. intelligence agencies. During the 1990s, the corporation sold thousands of ring magnets to Pakistan that were used in centrifuges that produced highly enriched uranium for weapons.
Recent U.S. intelligence reports indicate that China is in the process of modernizing Islamabad's nuclear arsenal. The arms cooperation is said to include development of a new warhead for Pakistan's missiles, as well as assistance in reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.
A Congressional Research Service report published Feb. 13 stated that "Pakistan's nuclear arsenal probably consists of approximately 90-110 nuclear warheads, although it could be larger."
"Islamabad is producing fissile material, adding to related production facilities, and deploying additional delivery vehicles," the report said. "These steps could enable Pakistan to undertake both quantitative and qualitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal."
The report warned that spent fuel from Pakistan's Karachi and Chasma nuclear power plants are vulnerable to theft or attack.
Pakistan produced one of the most dangerous cases of nuclear proliferation in the early 2000s when weapons technology was supplied to Libya, Iran and North Korea by the supplier group led by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.
The Obama administration has not publicly contested the nuclear cooperation between the two countries in the past to avoid upsetting U.S. covert efforts against Islamic terrorism in the region.
The new reactor sale also will undermine the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a voluntary association with no enforcement mechanisms that is viewed as a key tool in the Obama administration's effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
China in 2004 joined the group and agreed not to sell additional reactors to Pakistan beyond the two reactors sold earlier. Under Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines, China is not permitted to sell nuclear goods to any country that is not part of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.