INDIAN NUCLEAR PERIL

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by Rabia Javed 2 March 2020

Nuclear security has been a key issue for South Asia for several decades since India conducted its nuclear tests in 1974. Indian struggle to attain the maximum number of weapons is still underway since New Delhi conducted its so called peaceful nuclear test.  While living with the kind of achieving the maximum numbers of nuclear weapons by India, the Indian struggle to achieve the maximum is moving steadily forward without great exertion but with abundant support. That is unfortunate.

Overall, the issue mainly revolves around the dangerous bargain that India had with the United States (U.S.) under the civil nuclear cooperation. Countries with major powers has up till now bend the rules for making India’s nuclear program to maintain the cooperation U.S. had with India in nuclear trade. Supporting India was also done with the aim of countering China’s emergence as a super power and controlling its influence. These steps taken in support of India have encouraged New Delhi more in expanding her nuclear weapons program that is already expanding at a higher rate.

By and large, India has on various accounts progressed below par in a comprehensive international reportage, such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Security Index. There have been other many reports that have shown that India’s nuclear security is quite under the negative flex. Ignoring these reports, it still is continuing to expand her nuclear forces.

Traditionally, the growing and bulging danger of insider threats also highlights the importance of personnel reliability programs (PRPs). Interestingly such issues exist in Indian facilities at larger scale. While turning down pages from the past one can found that, CISF man kills 3 colleagues at Kalpakkam atomic plant.  The incident occurred was though a fresh example which must have considered as India’s serious shortcomings in securing its nuclear facilities.  Where later estimates given by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that an estimate of around 110 nuclear bombs are stored in such or same facilities which are being guard by these security forces.

With large number of such incidents that started happening or being covered by mainstream media starting from 1993, there exists another important instance that happened in 2008. A criminal gang was found in smuggling low grade uranium which can be used in a radiation dispersal device, from India to Nepal. However, in the same year another gang was caught in smuggling such materials that have close connections with an employee at India’s Atomic Minerals Division. Similar lapses had occurred in 2018 where, a uranium smuggling racket was busted by the Kolkata police with one kilogramme of radioactive material which has a market value of INR 30 million ($440,000). All of aforementioned factors highlight the security measure India has up till now in securing its facilities that cannot be ignored. 

India is operating a plutonium production reactor, Dhruva, and a uranium enrichment facility that are not subject to IAEA safeguards. India’s build-up of South Asia’s largest military complex of nuclear centrifuges and atomic-research laboratories is somehow threatening efforts related to nuclear security and safety. These facilities will ultimately give India the ability to make more large-yield nuclear arms & hydrogen bombs. The international task force on the prevention of nuclear terrorism is of the view that the possibility of nuclear terrorism is increasing keeping in mind the rapid nuclear development by India. Whereas, U.S. officials and experts are of the view that India’s nuclear explosive materials are vulnerable to theft.

Amusingly, in India, nuclear facilities are guarded by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and CISF guard admitted that security at the installations needs more enhancements. Mysterious deaths of Indian nuclear scientists is a matter of concern as some were reported suicide and some were murdered. The possibility of nuclear secrecy gets out in the hands of terrorists cannot be ignored.

Such risks stemmed in part from India’s culture of widespread corruption. India has refused and rebuffed repeated offers of U.S. help in countering such issue and alignments. The U.S. president’s coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction from 2009 to 2013, Gary Samore, stated that:

 “We kept offering to create a joint security project [with India] consisting of assistance of any and every kind. And every time they would say, to my face, that this was a wonderful idea and they should grasp the opportunity. And then, when they returned to India, we would never hear about it again.”

India has a dangerous history of unsafeguarded sensitive facilities, where exist larger insider threats of nuclear bomb being stolen by insiders with grievances, ill motives, or in the worst case, connections to terrorists.

At the bottom of this entire debate is a disturbing fact concerning how a country can be trusted with uranium and nuclear deals with over dozens of countries ignoring its security issues related to nuclear safety. What might change India’s calculation that more deals and weapons would not equates to more security? The safest route to reduce nuclear dangers on the subcontinent is through concerted efforts to improve relations. A nuclear arsenal built by proliferation, as India did in 1974, is inherently unstable.

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