Indian nuclear proliferation | By Prof Dr Muhammad Khan

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Indian nuclear proliferation


IN a period of less than one month (May 6, 2021 to June 4, 2021) there have been two major cases of Uranium theft in India.

In the first case, Indian police arrested two men in western Maharashtra State with over seven kilogrammes of natural uranium. These two Indian nationals were “illegally possessing” the highly radioactive Uranium.

In the second case 6.4 kilogrammes of uranium was seized from the possession of seven persons in the eastern Indian State of Jharkhand in Bokaro district on June 4, 2021. These two incidents are only recent in the history of Indian uranium theft cases.

These uranium theft cases have exposed the Indian State control over the highly sensitive radioactive and sensitive material.

The founding institute of the Indian nuclear energy programme, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) of India has also confirmed that seized uranium from these two theft cases is ‘highly radioactive and pure’.

In the history of Indian nuclear programme, there have been hundreds of such incidents both at individual and the collective theft and smuggling cases which questioned the very security and control of radioactive material by the State.

The nuclear experts believe that such incidents are very serious from the perspective of nuclear terrorism.

These nuclear smugglers may be the people of Hindu terrorist gangs: Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal which have already declared as terrorist organisations by Central Intelligence Agency of the United States in 2018.

These are two sub-organizations of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the founding organization of ruling BJP.

Nuclear experts believe that these terrorist organizations can detonate radioactive material by combining it with any conventional weapon, which called “dirty bomb”.

In a way, if not prevented, such cases of the theft of radioactive material may lead towards nuclear terrorism in India or its neighbourhood.

Indeed, tracing the history of Indian nuclear programme, there have been continuous incidents of the theft of radioactive material. So far over 153 such cases have taken place ever since 1980s.

Besides, there are dozens of cases of the uranium theft which were not reported in the press. Owing to the continuous leakage of information, incidents of stealing sensitive nuclear material, seizing of depleted Uranium and hundreds of cases of nuclear proliferation, the nuclear experts believe that Indian nuclear program has become the most hazardous for the mankind or at least for the people of South Asia.

The outcome of the investigations of all these thefts and proliferations is still unknown. In 2016, there was a seizure of 8.861 Kilograms of Depleted Uranium by police in India’s Economic capital, Mumbai, which cost approximately 24 crore rupees (Indian rupees).

The Indian police arrested two people, who possessed this Depleted Uranium. One of them, Mr Prajapati has been named as Director of an unlisted company that deals with manufacturing of metals, chemicals and related products.

The most hazardous aspect of this seizure was that it contained 0.3 % Fissile Isotope U-235 which could be used both for military and civilian purposes as reported by BARC.

The worrying aspect was that this was sourced from outside India which means that these smuggling and theft cases of radioactive material are linked with international gangs through Indian Diaspora.

The Indian track record further revealed that in June 2009, an Indian scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam, who was working at “Kaiga Atomic Power Station” was mysteriously found dead along the bank of the Kali River near Nisarga Guest House of the Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd in Mallapur Township.

Later investigations revealed that, he was involved in training apprentices of the actual reactor and was in possession of the “highly sensitive information and might be doubted for Indian nuke proliferation”.

Earlier, Mr. Anil Kumar Tiwari, Director of the Uttaranchal Space Application Centre, was killed in the similar circumstances in November, 2006. India otherwise has poor record of the chemical and nuclear safety.

A lengthy study regarding the safety of Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), revealed over 135 “extremely serious safety issues warranting urgent corrective measures in the nuclear installations like Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, Uranium Corporation of India Limited, Indian Rare Earths Limited, Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC) and the Heavy Water Board”.

The 40 MW Cirus, has also suffered the radiation leakage with the Candu reactors suffering from massive leakage of heavy water and the “Fast Breeder Test Reactor” of 40 MW at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, built with French assistance, was rated `unsafe’, and discarded”.

From 1986 to 1991, the inlets of the Madras Atomic Power Station and its reactors got cracked and it remained shut down because of the leakage of tons of heavy water.

These incidents of theft and smuggling of highly radioactive material may lead towards nuclear terrorism in India.

In fact, India is a country with worst track record of nuclear proliferation and theft cases of radioactive material in the world. Its nuclear programme is highly unsafe and most dangerous.

Whereas, some analysts believe that RSS is collaborating with Indian nuclear scientists in this proliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear material through underworld organizations for some major game plan.

Others are of the opinion that it is because of poor security measures of Indian nuclear programme and radioactive material which may lead towards nuclear terrorism.

In both cases, IAEA, UNO and major powers especially the United States must take a serious note of sequential incidents of nuclear proliferation and theft of highly radioactive material.

— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.