India’s Unsafe Nuclear Program

Author Name: Etfa Khurshid Mirza       29 Jun 2021     Nuclear

In India, the theft and smuggling of nuclear materials has been happening quite frequently and the international community has become negligent towards its obligation of demanding responsible nuclear behavior from the state. In fact, the Indian government has been demonstrating a careless attitude towards the safety and security of its large and growing nuclear program. In a recent incident, two unauthorized persons were arrested in the state of Maharashtra with seven kilograms of uranium. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre confirmed that the confiscated material was uranium, but despite some policy reports, the actual quality of this radioactive material cannot be independently verified. Pakistan and China have expressed their concerns regarding such a poor and insecure condition of India’s nuclear program, but timely and effective action from the international community is still awaited of the large-scale global access to nuclear material and technology which India still enjoys.

India, after receiving a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), has signed civil nuclear agreements with more than a dozen countries including the United States (US), Australia, Canada, Russia, United Kingdom (UK) and several others. According to a report, by 2018, after a decade of the Indo-US nuclear deal, India had imported 7481.51 metric tons of nuclear fuel from the US.

US’ role is very important in case of Indian civil nuclear deals because it set a wrong precedent by neglecting the country’s irresponsible nuclear behavior. Other countries also followed Washington’s footsteps due to the economic attraction of the Indian market. It is ironic that there has been no notable statement from the Democrat-led US Administration on this matter, even though it continues to raise global concern regarding nuclear security and encourages the international community to take stringent measures in this regard. In contrast, the recent incident of uranium fuel rods damaged at the Taishan nuclear power plant received significant hue and cry from the US media, despite the IAEA’s confirmation that there was no radiation leakage. Comparing this situation with what happened in India, the silence from the US is unfortunate. It indicates that perhaps because of the expected Indian utility as a counterweight to China, the US is ignoring the state’s irresponsible nuclear behavior despite its potentially serious consequences.

In 2014, during the Kalpakkam shooting incident, a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) head constable killed three of his colleagues at the Madras Atomic Power Station. The incident raised serious questions about India’s nuclear security force as well as Indian nuclear security measures, as the same force is responsible for guarding the country’s nuclear facilities and materials. The recent two incidents of men arrested with 6.5 (on 4th June) and 7 kilogram of Uranium (on 7th May) shows that India has not learnt from past experiences and there are serious loopholes within its nuclear program security protocols.

While there is growing concern about nuclear governance in India, another looming issue is the risk that its radical domestic political environment and prevailing Hindutva ideology could also influence its nuclear security culture.

If an extremist ideology influences organizational culture, then even the best regulatory mechanism faces greater risks.

In addition, the probable change in the Indian nuclear doctrine from No First Use to First Use is also reflective of the prevailing strategic thinking influenced by Hindu extremist ideology. The dichotomy between India’s declared and operational nuclear policy and its loopholes have led to a huge credibility gap.

The international community needs to sit up and take serious notice that the country with the largest unsafeguarded nuclear enterprise in the entire developing world is repeatedly facing serious nuclear security issues, and displaying both the inability to secure and sheer irresponsible behavior towards safeguarding its radioactive materials. Given the deteriorating Indian economy due to the badly managed COVID-19 crisis, it may also become more difficult for New Delhi to afford stringent nuclear security measures around its dozens of nuclear facilities, with several situated in areas facing insurgent movements.

With growing clandestine proliferation and its possible nexus with the nuclear black market, the risk of nuclear terrorism cannot be ignored. Despite 70-year experience of developing and running its nuclear program, India has proved to be an irresponsible nuclear-armed state in terms of ensuring nuclear safety and security and meeting international standards and expectations. In view of this grave issue, the international community needs to reconsider its nuclear cooperation with India and re-evaluate whether it deserves to be considered for Nuclear Suppliers Group membership.

 

Etfa Khurshid Mirza is a Researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Pakistan working on nuclear and strategic issues. She can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com