May 21, 2009 Article from: The Australian WASHINGTON: Satellite images issued yesterday show Pakistan has expanded two sites crucial to its nuclear program, as part of an effort to bolster the destructive power of its atomic arsenal, according to a US arms control institute report. The images show a big expansion near Dera Ghazi Khan of a chemical plant complex that produces uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal, materials used to produce nuclear weapons, Institute for Science and International Security analysts said. And at a site near Rawalpindi, photos suggest Pakistan had "added a second plutonium separation plant adjacent to the old one", according to the report. It also says Pakistan has been building two new plutonium production reactors in recent years. "All together, these recent expansion activities indicate that Pakistan is indeed progressing in a strategic plan to improve the destructiveness and deliverability of its nuclear arsenal," it says. The expansion would enable Pakistan to build smaller, lighter plutonium-fission weapons and thermonuclear weapons that employ "plutonium as the nuclear trigger and enriched and natural enriched uranium in the secondary", the ISIS report says. Images taken on August 25 of the chemical plant near Dera Ghazi Khan show new industrial buildings, new anti-aircraft installations and several new settling ponds as part of the expansion, according to the report. The satellite images follow confirmation last week from top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen that Pakistan was expanding its nuclear arsenal. Admiral Mullen said, however, that US military assistance to Pakistan was not being used by Islamabad to bolster its nuclear weapons program. Given the turmoil in Pakistan as the army wages war against Taliban militants in the northwest, the ISIS report says the "security of its nuclear assets remains in question". "An expansion in nuclear weapons production capabilities needlessly complicates efforts to improve the security of Pakistan's nuclear assets," it says. In the past few years, the Dera Ghazi Khan nuclear site has been the target of at least one attack by more than a dozen gunmen, according to the institute, which cites media reports. But the attacks have been blamed on separatists from the nearby Baloch region of Pakistan and not the Taliban, the report says. "The brazen ground assault and nearby bombings are nevertheless troubling, considering the role the Dera Ghazi Khan plant plays in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program," it says. Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta said on Monday that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was "pretty secure" amid concerns the weapons could fall into the hands of Taliban militants. "Right now we are confident that the Pakistanis do have a pretty secure approach to trying to protect these weapons," Mr Panetta said. "But it is something that we continue to watch, because obviously the last thing we want is for the Taliban to have access to nuclear weapons in Pakistan."