ISLAMABAD: The theft of over 200 kilograms of nuclear material during last two decades in India poses serious threats of nuclear terrorism, necessitating the global powers’ role to raise safety standards in the country.
The countries in the region including China and Pakistan have repeatedly called for strengthening regulations following repeated incidents of theft of nuclear material in India. Such incidents raised concerns about India emerged as a potential hotspot in illegal trade of nuclear technology and materials vital for a malicious nuclear supply chain for state and non-state actors.
According a timeline issued by The South Asia Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI), 18 nuclear material’s theft and lost incidents were reported in India from 1994 to 2021 involving over 200kg nuclear material.
The Indian authorities recovered 2.5kg uranium in 1994; 111kg in 1998, also involving an opposition leader; 59.1kg in 2000; 200 grams in 2001; 225 grams in 2003; 4kg in 2008; 5kg in 2009; 9kg in 2016; 1kg in 2018 and 13.75kg in 2021 in multiple incidents.
According to a research paper jointly issued by SASSI President Dr Maria Sultan and now Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, the reports of Indian involvement in the theft of nuclear fissile material dates back to the early 1970s, the magnitude of the threat increased manifold in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the late 1980s, the CIA had concluded that India was trying to develop a sophisticated Hydrogen bomb. In 1994, on a tip-off, a shipment of beryllium was caught in Vilnius, worth $24 million.
“The material could fall into the hands of extremists and terrorists in India with disastrous consequences. The out-of-control material could also be a cause of concern due to the proliferation reasons. It is also the responsibility of global organisations and India’s partners to raise the standard of nuclear safety and security in the country and investigate shortcomings for maintaining tight controls on nuclear and radioactive materials,” said Sarman Ali, an Islamabad-based defence analyst.
Pakistan had repeatedly called for thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion. Foreign Office spokesperson said in a recent statement that such incidents were a matter of deep concern as they point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.
He pointed to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) which made it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into wrong hands.
Following the recovery of 7,100 grams of radioactive uranium by the police in Mumbai in May this year, China had called on all the countries to join treaties for non-proliferation aimed at ensuring nuclear safety.
“The nuclear terrorism is the security challenge faced by the international community. All governments have the responsibilities to strengthen regulation of nuclear materials to combat on nuclear trafficking to ensure the nuclear safety and security,” Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
At least 11 states in India have uranium reserves with Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Meghalaya recording the largest reserves of radioactive material.