September 3, 2008A Q KhanChinaForeign AffairsFrancenuclear proliferationnuclear weaponsPakistanSecurityUnited States

Nuclear test outsourcing

A Q Khan, China and the truth (2)

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

On May 28th 1998, Pakistan responded’ to India’s Pokharan-II nuclear tests with tests of its own. There are reports that suggest that at least one of the six devices it tested was a North Korean one.

Almost exactly ten years prior to that, on May 26th 1990, China tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nor test site. That test, it is now revealed, was conducted on behalf of Pakistan, its nuclear protege. Thomas Reed, a former top US defence department official, also writes that:

In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966. [Physics Today emphasis added]

Among the things China got in return was Pakistani centrifuge technology which it needed for its nuclear power programme.

Mr Reed’s account destroys the pretence—by the Reagan and the Bush Sr administrations in the late 1980s—that the United States was unaware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Now, that the Reagan and Bush administrations were deliberately untruthful in their testimonies to the US Congress and the public is well-known. But this is the first time that a senior US government official is making a direct admission that the US government knew exactly what was cooking between Pakistan and China.

As Steve Coll writes on his new blog (linkthanks BOK), the US authorities are reluctant to allow such news to get out.

Reed’s article draws upon the work of Danny Stillman, a nuclear scientist who worked during the Cold War in the national-security division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he monitored the Soviet and Chinese nuclear-weapons programs. Later, Stillman travelled frequently to China as part of a series of exchanges between American and Chinese weapons scientists. The exchanges were designed in part to encourage China to sign on to the test-ban treaty by assuring its scientists that they could maintain their nuclear-weapons stockpile without testing, as the United States planned to do. Along the way, Stillman gathered a great deal of information about the history of the Chinese program, but he has had difficulty winning clearance for publication of this material from the US intelligence community. He and Reed are preparing to publish a book entitled The Nuclear Express.” [Think Tank/The New Yorker]

Mr Reed also mentions that During the 1990s, China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments—though not full-scale device tests—for France at Lop Nur”. And his account suggests that there is a lot that he knows but is not telling. For instance, which were the other third-world” countries that Premier Deng transferred nuclear technology to?

Related Link: China, Pakistan and the Bomb (1977-97)—declassified US government records.



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