Webinar on “Nuclear Black Market in India Risk/Danger”

By Bismah Mirza

The Rabita Forum International on June 15, 2021 organized a webinar on “Nuclear Black Market in India Risk\Danger. The seminar was organized in the light of recent incidents in India in which large quantity of stolen uranium was recovered. The webinar was hosted and moderated by Mr. Nusrat Mirza, Chairman Rabita Forum International & Editor In Chief Monthly Interaction & Zavia-e-Nigah.

The speakers of the webinar were:

 1. Ambassador (R) Najumuddin Sheikh former secretary Foreign Affairs.

 2. Ambassador (R) Hasan Habib, Center for Policy & Area studies.

 3. Dr. Syed Muhammad Ali, Director Nuclear & Strategic Affairs of Center for Aerospace & Security Studies.

4. Dr. Tahir Mehmood Azad, visiting research fellow at Center for Science & Security for Science & Security in the Department of War Studies at King’s College.

 5. Dr. Mansoor Ahmad, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad.

6. Prof. Rizwan Ur Rehman, University of Karachi and

Ms. Bismah Mirza, former Editor monthly Interaction.

The timeline of incidents of stolen uranium recovered & criminal activity reported near India’s nuclear power plant is given below:

Ms. Bismah Mirza while introducing the topic gave a brief rundown of the events in which stolen uranium was recovered along with criminal incidents taking place at nuclear power plant’s side. She expressed repeated incidents in India of stolen uranium being recovered is alarming for two reasons. Firstly, uranium in small quantities produces massive energy for instance one kilogram of uranium can produce as much energy as 1500 tons of coal and therefore is used in power plants to generate electricity. Secondly, Uranium is sold to countries who are signatories of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or who allow international inspection to verify that it’s being used for peace purposes and India despite being a beneficiary of Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) and member of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has fragile surveillance system.

1. June 4, 2021, 6.4 kilogram of uranium amounting to INR 5 million was recovered from Eastern State of Jharkhan in Bokaro district where seven people were arrested

2. May 5, 2021:  7 kilogram of uranium worth 21.3 crores was recovered from Maharashtra, where two people were arrested.

3. 2018: Kolkata police recovered one kilogram of radioactive uranium which was worth around $440,000.

4. December 2016:  9 kilogram of uranium was confiscated from two people in Thane. 

5. December 2015: The Center for Police Integrity headquarters reported an incident at a recent resident facility adjacent to Madras Atomic Power Station where a head constable used official weapons to kill three fellow officers.                                               

6. 2013: leftist guerrillas in North East India obtained uranium ore from milling complex in northeast India, and was using it to strap to a highly explosives before being caught by police.                                                                                                                                 7. 2009: A nuclear reactor employee in southwest India poisoned dozens of colleagues by taking advantage of the loopholes in plant security.                                  

8. 2008, a criminal gang was caught smuggling low grade uranium from state of India to India to Nepalese border.                                                                                                 

9.  In this year only in another incident; a gang was caught smuggling uranium near Bangladesh border.                                                                                                                  

10. December 2006: A container packed with radioactive material was stolen from a fortified research facility in India.                                                                                                                   

11. 2003: Indian security force caught members of Jamat-Ul- Mujahedeen in a village near Bangladeshi border and confiscated 225 kilogram of milled uranium. Later it was traced to Uranium Mining Complex at Jadugoda.                                                               

12. 2001: In west Bengal, police arrested 100 kilogram uranium                                         

13. July j: CBI unearthed a major racket in theft of uranium in Tamil Nadu and seized eight kilogram of material                                                                                                 

14. 14. June 1998: West Bengal police arrested and opposition politician carrying 100 kilograms of uranium.                                                                                                               

15. November 1994:  Meghalaya police seized 2.5 kilograms of uranium. These incidents the series of incidents point towards

India’s weak command & control system and failure to keep strong safety measure near it atomic power plant. What is more surprising is deafening silence by International community over India’s poor record of security measure near its nuclear safety.                                                                                               Pakistan in this current situation has rightly demanded a thorough investigation of the matter as to how such large quantity of uranium could be available outside any state’s control.

Dr. Syed Muhammad Ali, Director Nuclear & Strategic Affairs at Center for Aerospace& Security Studies (CASS), stressed that Indian Nuclear behavior deserves timely comprehensive review by the international community, by the academic community, by think tanks and by the media, it is very important that the realities of Indian nuclear program is understood in a realistic manner by the above mentioned institutions. Dr. Ali’s talk was not only restricted to safety and security as he also argues on India’s behavior as a Nuclear State.  His central argument was that India is not a ‘Responsible Nuclear state’ and he based his argument on the following “Four Factors”.                                                    

First being, ‘India’s Current Political Ideology’: India’s current government has a historic relationship with India’s nuclear program. He shared three historical facts: election manifesto in 99.istorical facts: 1. BJPs’s election manifesto 1998 of testing of Nuclear weapons and they tested nuclear weapons. 2. BJP initiated- cold start doctrine in 2004 and lastly in 2014 they reviewed there no first use commitment and reviewed their nuclear doctrine. There is a close nexus between Hindutva based ideology of current Indian government and its behaviors to dominate its neighbors and making regional strategic environment unstable.                                                                                    

Second: India’s strategic Behavior: The size of Indian Nuclear program is very large as compared to Pakistan. It has 22 reactors with 7 under construction in connection with poor safety and security record makes it threatening and dangerous not only for Indians but for the regions as well.                                                                                                 

Third India’s poor safety and security record: The pace at which Indian Nuclear Arsenal are growing is a security threat given their poor safety and security record. If the expansion is poorly as the current record shows the risk continues to grow.                                   

Lastly it’s Nexus with the Black Market.  India’s nuclear posture is very ambitious, aggressive and de-establishing. With India’s nuclear build up, coupled with poor safety and security measures the risk of miscalculation also increases especially with regards to stolen uranium incidents.                                                                                            

Dr. Ali argues that according to these four point India’s nuclear build up creates a peace and security issue and which deserves immediate attention by international community. If the international community does not timely review it’s more than dozen nuclear cooperation and deals with India it would be a regional challenge and may also possess a threat to world’s peace.  Dr. Ali pressed upon the world leaders to impose more restrictions with regards to India’s strategic development and expect oversights program to ensure no false flagstaff operation or allegations are leveled by India against another country to divert attention from its poor safety and security record.

Dr. Mansoor Ahmad, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad discussed in detail the reasons ‘ Why the international community is not focusing its attention on India’s  irresponsible nuclear record!’  Dr. Mansoor has characterized India’s nuclear behavior, culture on around 5 Ds. Deceive, Defy, Deny Deflect & Divert.  India deceived international community in 1974 by using a peaceful research reactor facility for obtaining platinum for their first 1974 test and they dumped it as the peaceful nuclear explosion, but in fact, it was an actual test of their working nuclear device, which was acknowledged later by one of India’s leading scientists. Secondly, they consistently denied any linkage of their civilian program with their military program. India is the only country in the world that has overlapping streams of civil and military activities. Dr. Mansoor gave reference of not only his publication which was published by Harvard University in 2017 but also of two other reports of Harvard University, ‘On India’s nuclear program’. The reports which were published by Harvard, focuses on the three overlapping streams, there is a military stream there is a Quasi civil military stream and then there is a completely safeguarded civilian stream of nuclear activities.  Dr. Ahmad explained that, however, the bulk of India’s nuclear activities, consists of their ‘so called’ civilian or peaceful nuclear program, which is outside the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but is directly linked to their strategic program. According to him this probably the cause of this whole safety and security conundrum in India that we keep facing because there is no international regulatory and safety and monitoring mechanism through IAEA and India itself does not have the kind of regulatory frameworks and protocols in force, that are not designed to ensure the safety and security hazards. Secondly, India obtained the

The de-facto membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 on the bases that India may run out of domestic uranium even for its civilian nuclear programs. This was the reason that the United States lobbied for India for a waiver from the NSG. However, after few months of receiving the waiver from NSG a very large Iranian mine was discovered in India. Similarly, India has been developing its uranium enrichment program through assistance of the International Nuclear black market. Dr. Ahmad thinks ink its Institute of Science and International Security has written extensively on it.  But India continues to deceive international community by justifying the development and growth of their uranium enrichment program. Is for nuclear submarine. However India’s expansion far outstrips the requirement of their submarine program contribute to the development of hydrogen bombs. Dr. Ahmmad stats India in addition to diverting fuel from the research activities from 1974 they have tried to deflect attention their vertical proliferation through all kinds of means by negative portrayal of Pakistan.  Dr. Ahmad thinks this a lesson for all of us in terms of perception building. As India through a consistent and systematic perception building campaign; through think tanks and research & other publications has largely overshadowed the facts on ground. Through this medium, India has projected that that it has a very clean nuclear program, which is contrary to the reality. Dr. Mansoor Ahmad believes Pakistan needs to correctly portray its nuclear program and build a realistic perception of both its own & India’s nuclear program.

Ambassador (R) Hasan Habib, Center for Policy & Area studies, states that India

 time and again,  is in the news for its nuclear black-market. The frequent reports of apprehension of nuclear materials makes the region and the world of a very dangerous. Despite India is a signatory to United Nations & IAEA agreements on nonproliferation of fissile material but its control on its uranium mines is questionable. It is far from the standard and its own reports indicate that the security apparatus is poor and yet no serious efforts have been made by India to bring its security apparatus to international standards. The theft incidents indicates source indicate that not only officials, but the private sector is also involved in this lucrative business. According to Amb. Habib it is surprising, that in all the reported cases not one person from the source the scientist or security persons has been named.  The local theft and sales also indicates that the international smuggling links are active in India. Ambassador Habib gave a reference of report, (which could be unsubstantiated) but it said the material was brought in somewhere from the Middle East. He hinted that the continuous theft and smuggling could trigger an International race an international race as a new player might may appear. The regular theft also indicates that the thriving black market is possible with the collusion of political security and criminal element. The stories indicates a greater level of involvement by the security agencies as portrayed. This situation to Amb Habib at this higher levels is violation of India’s international obligations. He claimed that India selling many things to finance its non-civilian activities which is a serious allegation against India and international community should step up to investigate this blame.  Ambassador Habib fears if this turns out to be true than this situation is alarming for Pakistan. As India conveniently blames many of its proliferation on Pakistan, which are baseless and misleading. He continues that if we analyze the reported incidents we find, Nepalese, Bengalis are involved including local groups/ politicians were in possession of India’s fissile material.  Indians are propagating for their proliferation with negative perception building of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program and Pakistan’s counter narrative is not as strong as it should be. India has at least 11 uranium mines and is prospecting for more. Not only this because of the support of the United States it also imports uranium. This is the reason their own uranium behavior is belligerent and India is threatening Pakistan & China the statements coming from India indicate that they are ready to use nuclear as a first option. This is very alarming for Pakistan, India has raffle jets, range of missiles and even submarines to deliver nuclear weapons.   The US, UN & IAEA is silent on India’s nuclear black market and our turning a blinds eye towards all reports indicating India’s nuclear proliferation. However, Ambassador Habib thinks it is mainly west eyes India as frontline state against China.  Ambassador asked a number of questions with respect to India’s preferential treatment. He asks, despite, Pakistan has time and again pointed out about the Indian nuclear black market, but these were conveniently ignored, was it due to Pakistan’s weak diplomacy? Or Pakistan’s stance is not accepted due to India’s Market? Or due India’s prospective role against China?

Is India a responsible nuclear state, in light of recent theft incidents? Or is someone is making money from these theft activities? But then what is the motive? And lastly Why U.S is silent & continuously supporting India on this issue?

Professor Rizwan-Ur Rahman, University of Karachi, in his talk explained the hazards of nuclear radiation with respect to nuclear black kmarket.

Ambassador Najam Uddin Shaikh former secretary Foreign Affairs in his concluding remarks stated that the dangers of the spread of Indian nuclear black market through the unauthorized hands. This unauthorized spread at times is detected by the authorities but 9 out of 10 times goes missing. As the availability of fissile material secretly obtained and served is being done at large scale couple with the facts that India has sought the approval of the international community through Indo-US nuclear agreements 2005 and subsequent 2008 which gave her a waiver. He further said, it is ironic Nuclear Supply Group was put together after peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 and was meant to constraint further such developments in India. It later was used as a tool against Pakistan but India’s ability to acquire nuclear material remains unimpaired and in fact after 2005 & 2008 it was increased considerably.  He poses a number of questions some of them being: Why India was given a waiver and allowed to import uranium? Did she really needed it despite it had thorium in considerable amount which could be converted into usable Uranium?  It is strange that India only ‘discovered’ uranium mine once it has secured the NSG waiver and concluded contract to import uranium.  He is of the opinion that India’s intent is to build and exploit their unsafeguarded uranium facilities he further stated Rajhistan is the case in point, where the uranium will be used to convert to reactive platinum and to make weaponry material.  Though Federation of American Scientist talks of having limited number of nuclear weapons but India’s stockpile is alarming. However the silence is due to the India’s role west sees in countering China and west either covertly or overtly will encourage India to have equivalent nuclear status as of China.

The smuggled material he added is capable of creating a dirty bomb, which the region and the world should fear. Pakistan has been voicing its concerns but perhaps it needs to make it’s narrate strong enough to be heard.

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