Thursday, September 6, 2012

The whole truth — nuclear Pakistan

By Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood (SI)
Wednesday, September 05, 2012 
I have been associated with Pakistan's nuclear programme and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission since 1963 and therefore I have firsthand knowledge of the various phases of the country's nuclear quest. However the sensitive nature of the subject requires that we should be very careful while talking about it. This is what the (late) Chairman PAEC Munir Ahmad Khan impressed upon all his team members. If some self-glorified scientists/engineers have succeeded to reduce his image to the status of a villain, it is due to his modesty and not advertising his achievements in his lifetime. By awarding the posthumous Nishan-i-Imtiaz thirteen years after his death, the president has done no favour to him but has only corrected a wrong.
Soon after India's 1974 test, the PAEC decided to adopt centrifuge technology for uranium enrichment and I was tasked by Munir Ahmad Khan to prepare a feasibility on the basis of comparative studies of different enrichment technologies. Previous to this assignment, I was commissioning engineer and incharge of troubleshooting during the commissioning phases of KANUPP. Before that, I had worked at Risley Design Centre with the UK Atomic Energy Authority who had applied two patents in my name, and published eleven technical reports in one year — a rare honour for any nuclear engineer.
The Enrichment Project, commonly known as the Kahuta Project or KRL was also started by the PAEC in October 1974 with myself as its director. I handed over charge of the project after 33 months on July 17, 1976 to Dr AQ Khan. By then, we had completed the designs for the centrifuge machine and the process plant in the shabby Second World War Army Barracks near Chaklala airport, known as the Airport Development Workshop. We had deliberately left parts of the outer side of ADW unfurnished to maintain secrecy while the inner parts were furnished as per our needs. It was our deliberate policy to give priority to procurements of essential materials and equipment, build manpower and an indigenous base and not waste time on expensive buildings and cars in the initial years.
We had also managed to procure most of the short term and long term requirements of machinery and materials for the first phase of the project as per our original plan.
Dr AQ Khan joined the project in early 1976 as Director Research. Prior to this, he was working for us in Amsterdam, Holland. The PAEC team had begun work on local development of a high-speed motor for the centrifuge and the aluminium centrifuge base.
We also started indigenous development of high frequency generators and bellows using explosive forming techniques. By July 1976, we had installed and commissioned the centrifuge rotor manufacturing machines, electron beam-welding machine, high strength magnet charging machines, and initiated work on high speed bearings, grooving and welding technologies.
These are few examples only. We had procured large quantities of high strength aluminium and maraging steel for manufacturing centrifuge rotors and other components for centrifuge machines. The team of dedicated scientists and engineers who made the project a success in the initial years and came from the PAEC, among them Dr GD Alam, Anwar Ali, Ijaz Khokhar, Dr Javed Mirza, Brig. Abdus Salam (EME), Col Rashid Ali (EME) and many more illustrious names. Many of them later rose to important positions in KRL under Dr AQ Khan.
By the time the project was separated from the PAEC, it was on its way to produce weapon-grade enriched uranium by 1980. However, once the project was separated from the PAEC, this target was met several years later and at many times the estimated budget. However, I do not wish to undermine AQ Khan's contribution in taking the project forward from where we left in 1976.
Dr AQ Khan succeeded me as head of the Kahuta project on July 17, 1976. He accused me of procuring sub-standard maraging steel and I was later exonerated of this charge. I handed over charge of the project to AQ Khan in the presence of Agha Shahi and Munir Ahmad Khan the same day. I was transferred back to the PAEC and was assigned the job to extend its capacity of the uranium mining and refining project.
Meanwhile, Munir Ahmad Khan had launched over 20 laboratories and projects in the nuclear programme from 1972-1991, each one essential to acquire nuclear capability. Some of them are the uranium mining, refining, uranium oxide and hexafluoride UF6 production plants (the feedstock for KRL).
On the plutonium side, it was Munir Khan's vision to develop plutonium capability for Pakistan and I was assigned the task of designing and building the 50 MW Khushab-1 Nuclear Reactor and metal fuel manufacturing project indigenously for producing plutonium in 1986. The Khushab reactor project was completed within ten years using Pakistani manpower, materials and know-how most economically. Based on this success and the team, which we trained in the PAEC, Pakistan has now expanded this capability by building similar reactors at Khushab.
It was again the PAEC, which carried out several cold tests of different nuclear weapon designs under the leadership of Munir Ahmad Khan. These tests were conducted by Dr Samar Mubarakmand and Muhammad Hafeez Qureshi. The first cold test of a working nuclear device was carried out on March 11, 1983 at Kirana Hills and President Zia was informed of the results by Munir Khan the same evening. Subsequently, 24 more cold tests were conducted by the PAEC between 1983 and the early 1990s. The second cold test in 1983 was witnessed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, General KM Arif (Vice Chief of Army Staff) and Munir Ahmad Khan.
In addition Munir Khan also established the Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Complex, Kundian; New Laboratories Reprocessing Plant, PINSTECH; Chaghi, Kharan and Kirana Hills nuclear test sites; and laid the foundation for the 300 MW Chashma-1 Nuclear Power Plant. The Centre for Nuclear Studies (now a University PIEAS), which has produced indigenous trained manpower for Pakistan's nuclear programme, was also his achievement. He also built several nuclear agriculture, biotechnology and medical centres across the country. Besides, Pakistan's first gamma sterilization plant for sterilization of medical products was built in Lahore under my supervision, which is still serving the nation. These facts can be verified from Dr Samar Mubarakmand.
Pakistan became a nuclear power due to the dedicated efforts of a large team of scientists, engineers and technicians who participated in this sacred endeavour for several decades. The nuclear programme enjoyed complete support of the people, the armed forces and the politicians. There is no single hero of this success story. It has been a great national effort and if credit goes to anybody it goes to the people of Pakistan who sacrificed so much in the shape of sanctions for the success of the programme. Let's not fight for mundane rewards and belittle each others efforts. If some energy is still left in us, it should be spent only in the service of Pakistan — our Pakistan.
The writer is former Director-General (Nuclear Power), PAEC.


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