Khan’s South African centrifuge factory

Unpardoning and questioning the Centrifugist is vital

What they found in South Africa is mind-boggling — an entire flat-packed DIY nuclear enrichment plant, originally destined for Libya. More evidence then, for those who need it, that Khan’s unquestioned life in secluded retirement poses immense dangers for the rest of us.

Beyond Condi Rice’s election time justifications about the punishment Khan received (more correctly, did not receive), growing victimisation complex in Pakistani public opinion, and the confrontation with Iran’s ayatollahs, the inescapable conclusion from reports such as these is that all the fragments of Khan’s nuclear Wal-Mart need to be uncovered and secured.

The last thing the world needs is flat-packed DIY nuclear plants available to interested parties at bargain basement prices. Gen Musharraf is on his way to Washington to, among other things, press the West on resolving disputes involving the world’s Muslims. He deserves some pressing of his own.

The discovery provides fresh evidence of the reach and sophistication of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s global black market in nuclear know-how and equipment. It also exposes a previously undetected South African branch of the Khan network.

The startling dimensions of the plot began to emerge in September, when police raided a factory outside Johannesburg. They found the elements of a two-story steel processing system for the enrichment plant, packed in 11 freight containers for shipment to Libya.

South African officials have disclosed only that they discovered nuclear components. The Times has learned that the massive system was designed to operate an array of 1,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Once assembled in Libya, the plant could have produced enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture several nuclear bombs a year. Delivery of the plant would have greatly accelerated Libya’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

In the Sept. 1 raid, police found a videotape that detailed the inner workings of Khan’s top-secret government enrichment laboratory in Pakistan, along with trunks filled with designs from the lab.

The questions confronting investigators include whether other countries sought Khan’s help and whether tougher restrictions are necessary to prevent a repeat of what officials have called the most dangerous proliferation operation in history.

The processing system found at Tradefin, an engineering and manufacturing company in Vanderbijlpark, outside Johannesburg, had been designed and built over three years. It was then tested, painstakingly dismantled and packed into 40-foot containers, factory records show.

Investigators from the IAEA and the U.S. have not been allowed to interview the scientist, who is still revered in Pakistan.

As a result, investigators say they are still struggling to uncover the extent of the network. [Los Angeles Times /Truthout]

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