Nuke Smuggling: India Living on the Edge

We must insure that India as a nuclear state, fixes herself for the larger interest of the world.


It’s been over two months that four Nepalese nationals were arrested in Kathmandu with 2.5 kgs of smuggled uranium. It rung alarms globally and the illicit business of nuclear smuggling and proliferation was once again pointing its fingers towards impotent nuclear security mechanisms. Interestingly enough, alongside India being the major beneficiary of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) as well as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the ongoing disastrous ill trade has been going on for years. In this particular case, one of the arrested persons claimed that her father-in-law had “brought the material from India some 20 years ago”, where he worked in a uranium mine.

This was not the first time and will not be the last incident of such nature unless India seriously ponders upon its reckless attitude towards the security mechanism of the nukes. The incidents, over the years, have been simply exposing India’s patchy safety and security record and raise questions on the security measures around its nuclear facilities. Importantly, today’s India is in the control of the ultranationalist extremist government of Bhartiya Janta Party that is daydreaming about Maha-Bharat or Greater India.

Importantly, from the very start, India’s first nuclear test was of a device derived partially from Canadian exports designated for peaceful purposes. But, India, used it for developing nukes. When India tested, it prompted the United States and several other countries to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to more severely restrict global nuclear trade.

In November 1994, Meghalaya Police seized 2.5 kgs of uranium from a gang of four smugglers in the Domiasiat region. Then in June 1998, police in the Indian state of West Bengal arrested an opposition politician who they say was carrying more than 100 kgs of uranium. The very next month, the CBI unearthed a major racket in the theft of uranium in Tamil Nadu, with the seizure of over eight kgs of the nuclear material. Alarmingly, in August 2001, Police in the Indian state of West Bengal arrested two men with more than 200 grams of semi-processed uranium. The investigation into the matter is still ongoing.

In December 2006, a container packed with radioactive material was stolen from a fortified research facility in eastern India. Then in 2008, another gang was caught attempting to smuggle low-grade uranium, capable of being used in a primitive radiation-dispersal device, from one of India’s state-owned mines across the border to Nepal. Astonishingly, leftist guerrillas in northeast India, illegally obtained uranium ore by bribing the staff of a government-run milling complex. The local police arrested the culprits in this particular case.

In December 2016, around 9 kg of radioactive uranium was seized from two persons in Thane, and then as recently as in early 2018, a uranium smuggling racket was busted by the Kolkata police with 1 kg of radioactive material.  The smugglers were reportedly trying to sell uranium worth about $440,000.  The level of the impotency of the Indian nuclear security is as such that in 2009, a nuclear reactor employee in southwest India, deliberately poisoned dozens of his colleagues with a radioactive isotope, taking advantage of numerous gaps in plant security, according to an internal government report seen by the Centre.

Moreover, in December 2015, the Centre for Public Integrity had reported an incident at the residential complex adjacent to the Madras Atomic Power Station, to draw global attention to the security hazards and breaches around the Indian nuclear establishments. The Centre had reported that the paramilitary Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) with nearly 95,000 personnel under civilian rather than military control is supposed to keep all these nuclear materials from leaking from India’s plants but “is short-staffed, ill-equipped, and inadequately trained, according to a confidential, draft, Home Ministry report about the force’s future, dated November 2013, seen by the Centre for Public Integrity.

The above-mentioned worrying incidents taking place in India draw attention to a series of continuous anomalies under practice in India. Importantly, India does not have an independent regulatory nuclear agency. India also lacks all-important stringent control and accounting measures. The security mechanism to prevent insider threats has a very lenient existence if any. Moreover, transportation services lack international sophisticated practices, hence are not in compliance with the IAEA guidance. The security mechanism also has no response capabilities for on-site emergency response.

The existence of loopholes in Indian security is part of existing organizational culture and additional training for personnel with security responsibilities is constantly ignored. The bribery and corruption culture of India is known throughout the world and that makes it even more fragile. The fact that no independent regulatory agency responsible for regulating security is currently operational in India and one wonders how on earth India still being trusted with nukes.

It is need of the hour that IAEA must probe into the existing anomalies of the Indian nuclear program. Such type of loose state control shows that the country has to go a long way to become a responsible nuclear power and made member of NSG. India has been an active customer in the nuclear black market. The state must regulate nuclear material, else it will be considered complicit in the illegal sale as well as any disaster resulting from it. In the modern world, as humans, we all need to be extra cautious about matters of dire nature. We must ensure that India as a nuclear state, fixes herself for the larger interest of the world.

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