Scowling cracks in India’s nuclear safety & security ?
TODAY, India has lost its credibility as a responsible nuclear state since the Indian policy regarding nuclear safety and security remains completely collapsed. The past and present events of nuclear smuggling in India hold sufficient evidence in this regard.
Currently Indian police in the state of Jharkhand arrested seven people for having “mineral uranium” in their possession and for their plans to sell it in the black market.
India has been violating IAEA’ safety rules writ large. Paradoxically, a county—that is India whose system of nuclear security and safety has been completely decimated— claims to have a nuclear profile of an international repute, thanks to the international community’s double standard in this regard.
The current incidents of nuclear theft have raised concerns if a number of terrorist organizations like RSS, AQIS, ISIS or some state actors could buy it from Indian nuclear black market to make dirty bombs.
Although the ongoing developments trigger feverish speculation across the region— if not the entire world— it seems India’s inadequate command and control of its uranium deposits, from where it is mined to feed the country’s nuclear arsenal, has led to a situation where the old, discarded law of the markets – ‘supply creates its own demand’ – has been brought back to life.
What remains a major concern for the South Asian citizenry: the material that is the main input in an atomic bomb to be sniffing out the highest bidder in the illegal market at such a point would surely raise a very large number of red flags inside India as well.
Undeniably, the existing evidence on nuclear trafficking in India sufficiently demonstrates the interest displayed by organized crime like drug trafficking networks and terrorist groups in acquiring, smuggling, selling, buying and using nuclear and other radioactive materials based on the open source information collected in the Database on Nuclear Smuggling, Theft, and Orphan Radiation Sources (DSTO) operated by these culprits whose activities need to be searched.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has demanded a thorough investigation into the reports of illegal uranium trade in India, after seven more people were arrested for possessing radioactive material.
The ITDB was established in 1995 to help participating States and selected international organizations to combat illicit nuclear trafficking and strengthen nuclear security.
It facilitates information exchange and provides material that can be used to analyze patterns and trends, thereby helping identify potential security threats and vulnerabilities.
The ITDB is also an essential component of the information platform supporting the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Plan 2018-2021.
The scope of the information provided through the database is broad. States are encouraged to report a variety of incidents, including those – whether successful, unsuccessful or thwarted – involving the illegal trade and movement of nuclear or other radioactive material across national borders.
Prominent environmental watchdogs have already voiced apprehensions about safety standards adopted by the nuclear establishment, where technical negligence or poor maintenance is commonplace, and regulatory bodies in India habitually sweep major nuclear accidents under the carpet.
The production of nuclear energy is regulated in secrecy by a government body known as the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL).
Nuclear security is the prevention and detection of, and response to unauthorised removal, sabotage, unauthorised access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear or radiological material or their associated facilities.
Nuclear security thus differs from nuclear safety, which involves prevention of and protection against accidents involving such material or related facilities that could give rise to radiation risks.
In common parlance nuclear security gets equated with nuclear terrorism using stolen or improvised nuclear devices and/or Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDDs).
The IAEA’s safety services — which range in scope from engineering safety, operational safety, and radiation, transport and waste safety to regulatory matters and safety culture in organizations — assist Member States in applying the standards and appraise their effectiveness.
These safety services enable valuable insights to be shared and I continue to urge all Member States to make use of them.
Regulating nuclear and radiation safety is a national responsibility, and many Member States have decided to adopt the IAEA’s safety standards for use in their national regulations.
For the Contracting Parties to the various international safety conventions, IAEA standards provide a consistent, reliable means of ensuring the effective fulfilment of obligations under the conventions.
In reality, three issues are distinct concerns with unique causes and implications. First, nuclear safety management relates to the technical steps needed to prevent nuclear accidents and ensure optimal and safe operations.
Second, nuclear security pertains to prevention of unauthorized access, tampering, accounting and protection as well as numerous preventive and reactive steps that require both technical and military security instruments and practices.
Third, terrorism pertains to the presence and activities of violent extremist organizations operating with impunity across state borders; this, of course, is a central concern and its reduction and elimination require different tools and measures.
Regardless of its nuclear status, a state is responsible for eliminating terrorism within its borders.
The failure to mitigate or eliminate terrorism does not absolve a state from its safety and security responsibilities; rather all nuclear capable states must be committed to the highest standard of nuclear safety and security regardless of the internal or external threats.
Without addressing the factors that allow terrorism to exist, nuclear terrorism will always remain a concern, this currently the Indian case is.
So far, it has been an Indian policy to report such incidents to the IAEA to portray itself as a responsible state. It is hard to believe that radioactive material could be stolen from nuclear labs without operators’ connivance.
Nine computers, belonging to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation establishment at Metcalfe House, New Delhi, were stolen. India communicated 25 cases of ‘stolen or missing’ uranium to the IAEA.
Today, India needs to learn that the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has enforced a mechanism of strict measures for administrative and engineering control over radioactive sources from cradle to grave. —To be continued
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.