India observes ‘National Technology Day’ on 11 May to mark the anniversary of the Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998. Whereas, during the last two decades, the theft of over 200 kilograms of nuclear material 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 investigations and strengthening regulations following unabated incidents of theft of nuclear material in India. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “Nuclear terrorism is the security challenge faced by the international community. All governments have the responsibilities to strengthen regulation of nuclear material to combat nuclear trafficking to ensure nuclear safety and security”.
Indian authorities recovered 2.5kg of Uranium in 1994; 111kg in 1998; 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. Indian Environmental Portal said that a review of ‘unusual occurrences’ contained within the Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s (AERB) annual reports revealed there had been 16 cases of loss, theft, or misplacement of radioactive sources since 20001 in which radioactive material found its way into the environment. Indian ranked 19th in the “theft ranking’ for countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials.
This reflects the mindset of the Modi’s regime and the character of the Indian state today. UNSC Resolution 1540 and IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) made it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands.
However, increasing cases of nuclear-related incidents have indeed jeopardized India’s aspirations to become a de-jure member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India has consistently violated UNSC Resolutions and has failed to uphold IAEA’s conventions regarding the physical protection of nuclear material. A leading US Non-Proliferation Watchdog, Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) nuclear security index gave India the lowest ranking for its poor safety and security of nuclear material. India’s poor nuclear safety and security have also increased the risk of nuclear terrorism. Despite statutory and institutional arrangements, the non-proliferation record of India is problematic.
Moreover, the safety and security of its nuclear infrastructure also remain questionable. India has a non-transparent policy on cases related to nuclear trafficking. This uncommunicative approach by India regarding loopholes in its safety and security apparatus can prove to be damaging not only to national but also to regional and international security. The international nuclear establishment needs to intervene and ensure that India secures and consolidates its nuclear infrastructure and material.