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A.Q. Khan, Urenco and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology: The symbiotic relation between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons

AuteurJ.Boer, H.vd Keur, K.Koster, F.Slijper
Datummei 2004
Classificatie (PAKISTAN - KHAN & NETWERK)

Uit de publicatie:

The Khan Network
It is now well known that the father of Pakistan s nuclear weapons programme, Abdul Qadeer
(AQ) Khan, had his scientific roots in the Netherlands in the 1960 s and 70 s. At that time he had
access to what was supposed to be highly secret uranium enrichment technology: the Urenco
ultra centrifuge project. Thanks to security problems, as well as deliberate and unwitting help
from former teachers and colleagues, he was able to build a global nuclear information network
and business. From Pakistan, ultracentrifuge technology, knowledge and materials, were exported
to Libya, Iran and North Korea. A mixture of legal and illegal transactions, involving
businessmen from all over the world as well as individuals in the higher circles of the military
and political elite in Pakistan allowed nuclear proliferation to proceed much faster than even
those most familiar with the issue expected.

The Urenco Connection
Urenco, founded in 1970, is one of the world's leading uranium enrichment companies.1 A
Dutch/German/British consortium, Urenco uses the ultracentrifuge (UC) method to separate the
useable fissionable uranium from the non fissionable uranium. The advanced ultracentrifuge
technology developed by Urenco uses significantly less electricity than gas diffusion,2 which
makes it much cheaper. Moreover, a UC enrichment plant can be built in modules, in contrast
with gas diffusion plants which tend to be large football field sized facilities. Given the
commercial advantages of the UC method of enrichment over gaseous diffusion methods, it is
becoming the technology of choice around the world and eleven countries now have UC plants.3
After many years of denying accusations in that direction, the IAEA and Dutch authorities have
recently confirmed that this very technology seems to have made its way to Iran, Libya and North
Korea as well as Pakistan.4 Moreover, it appears that until very recently Khan used the Dutch
branch of his international network of suppliers and middlemen for Pakistan s nuclear
programme. And one Dutchman is now under investigation for having dealt with one of the other
countries as well.

The Risk of Proliferation
There are two steps in the civil nuclear chain which are most vulnerable with regard to nuclear
proliferation: the export of technology for uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent
nuclear fuel. The vulnerability of Urenco's security measures certainly goes a long way to
explaining how interested states and non state parties could obtain a nuclear arsenal via civil
nuclear technology.