Pakistan’s fourth nuclear power plant began providing electricity to citizens Sunday with some help from China, despite concerns about radical Islamist groups operating in the country.
Engineers began final testing of the new 340 megawatt reactor at the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant, which is expected to reach its full capacity in December with the help of China. Local Pakistani Islamic radical groups and the Islamic State have expressed interest in stealing nuclear material from the country’s reactors to build a dirty bomb.
Pakistan has a small nuclear power program, capable of only generating 725 megawatts of electric power, but is building numerous new reactors with financial and technical assistance from China. The country invested about $860 million into its new reactor, with $350 million provided by China, according to a report by the World Nuclear Association.
The country has two more new nuclear power plants at Karachi under construction, which will be completed in 2020 and 2021 respectively. These new reactors will collectively generate another 2100 megawatts of electrical power. Pakistan has been operating nuclear reactors for the last 44 years and has nuclear weapons as well.
A local terror group called Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan plotted in 2013 to steal such material. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, illegally sold unauthorized nuclear technology to other countries for over 20 years. Despite these threats, Pakistan still claims that its nuclear assets are secure.
ISIS said it wants to steal radioactive material from a similar reactor to build a dirty bomb. The terrorist organization asserted in the May 2015 issue of its propaganda magazine Dabiq that it can buy such nuclear material through links to corrupt officials in Pakistan. ISIS does not have a profound presence in Pakistan and exists only in the form of small, independent cells.
Pakistan’s nuclear reactors don’t produce the weapons-grade plutonium necessary to make a nuclear weapon, but materials from them could be used to create dirty bombs. A dirty bomb combines radioactive material with conventional explosives that could contaminate the local area with high radiation levels for long periods of time and cause mass panic, though it would be millions of times weaker than an actual nuclear device.
Russia and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement last year to work together on “peaceful” nuclear energy projects. The stated purpose of these reactors is to generate electricity, power desalination plants and reduce domestic oil consumption so Saudi Arabia can sell the oil abroad. The reactors will be built by the Russian government controlled Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Cooperation. Saudi Arabia will buy 16 nuclear power plants from Russia for $100 billion despite terrorism concerns.
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