China on Tuesday expressed concern about reports that Chinese nuclear weapon blueprints were found in Libya. Zhang Qiyue, foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the Chinese authorities were looking into the issue. “China expresses its concern about the relevant reports. We are trying to learn more about the circumstances,” Reuters quoted her as saying.
Diplomats and nuclear weapons experts said Libya had handed over nuclear weapons designs of Chinese origin provided to Libya by a Pakistani-led nuclear trading network. Copies of the designs are being held by the US and UK governments and under seal in the US by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The designs relate to an implosion-type nuclear weapon, weighing about 500kg, designed by China in the 1960s and probably handed to the Pakistanis in the early 1980s. The Chinese origin of the Libyan weapons designs was first reported on Sunday by the Washington Post.
Experts said they showed that China had provided significant nuclear weapons help to Pakistan, including the A. Q. Khan Laboratories. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the leading Pakastani nuclear scientist, admitted this month to passing nuclear secrets to others, and was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf.
The documents and drawings include detailed instructions on how to assemble an implosion-type nuclear weapon, the designs and purposes of individual components and a series of tutorials for those wishing to build a bomb. Some of the documents handed over were in Chinese, but it is not clear that these related to the nuclear weapons designs.
According to David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, the documents contain “very dangerous information that far exceeds that found in public or on the internet”. He described the handing over of the material as “irresponsible and short-sighted”.
He said it was critical to find out whether these designs had found their way into the hands of others apart from Libya.
Ms Zhang repeated yesterday’s China’s position that it was consistently opposed to the proliferation of nuclear equipment and technology. China did not join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty until 1992.
Libya has no missile big enough to carry a spherical device, which is about 0.8m in diameter. But North Korea and Iran both have missiles capable of carrying the weapon.
The weapons designs also contain an initiator of an unusual model, once described by a Chinese scientist to a US conference and still classified in the US, that uses deuterium and tritium to set off the chain reaction.
Although there is some evidence in the material that the documents moved through Pakistan, Pakistan’s own nuclear weapons do not follow this design.
US intelligence has long contended that China provided Pakistan with a nuclear warhead design in the early 1980s. However, the new disclosures raise questions about what else has been exchanged.