Nuclear Security Summit 2014: India’s Record

20 Mar, 2014    ·   4346

Dr Sitakanta Mishra responds to Prof Chari’s commentary, ‘India’s Mixed Record’, which appeared on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website

Professor Chari’s assertion  on India’s participation and ‘results of its engagement’ with the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) as ‘mixed’ is moot (Mixed Records, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 18 March 2014).

Prof Chari views the Summit process as having “failed to convince New Delhi to increase transparency regarding its nuclear security practice.” He alleges that India is “reluctant to make public information about its on-site and off-site emergency response arrangements for its civilian nuclear facilities.” While highlighting India’s positive record in terms of its adherence to legal obligations, he points towards the delay in passing the proposed Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill, and lack of information in the public domain on the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP).

First, the primary objective of the NSS is to foster a climate of cooperation to encourage participants to take domestic measures to strengthen nuclear security, preventing misuse of nuclear technology and material. The first NSS communiqué itself reaffirmed the fundamental responsibility of States to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials. The NGO, Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), has ranked India low in its Index on the basis of some arbitrary parameters like transparency, corruption, etc. In fact, the truth is that when the NTI approached the DAE for specific information on India’s nuclear material inventory and security arrangements for the preparation of its first Index, a conscious decision was taken by the concerned authorities to not share such sensitive information with an NGO. However, India has never been reluctant to share any information with the IAEA. Therefore, while talking transparency, one must consider the issue of ‘transparent to whom?’

Second, Prof Chari’s assertion that India is reluctant to publicise information about on-site and off-site emergency response arrangements for its civilian facilities is erroneous. Taking into account both design-basis and beyond design-basis threats, a multi-layered protective envelope  is in place around every Indian nuclear facility that includes in-built safety security systems, perimeter security, personnel reliability provisions, facility specific material protection and accounting (NMAC) systems, air defence measures, transportation security (AERB/NRF-TS/SG-10), emergency preparedness and legal provisions to oversee that nothing is mismanaged and gets out of control. Around 22 emergency response centres  have been established across the country and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has four groups of first responders to be activated in times of emergency. What is unavailable is the information about the steps India takes to prioritise nuclear weapons safety and security, for obvious reasons.

Third, it is unfortunate that the new regulatory authority proposed in the NSRA Bill is yet to be approved by the Parliament. However, no model of nuclear regulatory mechanism can claim to be perfect in the world. Even if there were an ‘independent’ regulatory institution with clear-cut division of responsibilities, where will the country get a set of scientists who will exclusively run power plants and another set of scientists who will look into the regulatory matters?

Fourth, the allegation that the information on the charter of duties and mode of functioning of GCNEP is not in the public domain is mistaken. As per the information available on its official website , the Centre will focus on the development of enhanced nuclear safeguards to effectively and efficiently monitor nuclear materials and facilities; advanced, proliferation resistant nuclear power reactors; advanced nuclear energy systems, isotopes and radiation technologies, nuclear forensics; and establishment of accreditation facilities for radiation monitoring. During 2013, a number of off-campus training courses, workshops, public awareness and outreach programmes have been conducted by the Centre in coordination with the DAE and IAEA. Another nine such programmes  are scheduled for the year 2014. As per the answer given in response to a question in Rajya Sabha (Unstarred Question No. 2018 ), “agreements for cooperation concerning GCNEP related programmes and activities have been signed with the USA, Russia, France and IAEA.”

Fifth, as far as ‘peer review s’ of its nuclear security arrangements is concerned, India has committed to host the Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) Peer Review Mission of IAEA and has already made a request to the IAEA in this regard. It is expected to commence late 2014.

India’s participation at the NSS underscores its commitment to ensure national nuclear security. India’s unique three-stage nuclear programme itself, based on the ‘closed fuel cycle’, ensures the security of nuclear materials. India is also working to develop proliferation-resistant fuel cycles and has developed an Advanced Heavy Water Reactor based on low enriched uranium (LEU) and thorium with new safety and proliferation-resistant features. Responding to the global concern with regard to use of HEU in research reactors, India has shut down its only research reactor using HEU fuel, and at present no research reactor is operating on HEU. At all entry and exit points, radiation monitoring devices are installed to monitor movement of radioactive materials. The Mumbai seaport, where India’s major chunk of shipping takes place, is Container Security Initiative (CSI) compliant. Suffice it to say that India had internalised the nuclear security practice in its nuclear programme much before the NSS started.