According to the Princeton, the New Jersey based international panel on fissile materials, at least two million kilograms of weapons grade nuclear material is stockpiled and any pilferage, however small, can prove disastrous. Even lower level radioactive materials used for a host of medical engineering and agricultural application equipment, once placed in wrong hands can be used in crippling acts of terrorism. The objective of this US-led high-level initiative essentially remains establishing a consensus towards the need for enforcing measures for nuclear security and raising awareness to thwart the threat posed by the spectre of nuclear terrorism; particularly, the threat of ‘dirty bombs’ - a crude device which uses small quantities of radioactive material and is rather simple to fabricate. The forum provides a platform for outlining measures and coordinate global efforts with a deadline that all vulnerable fissile material should be locked down within four years.
The Seoul Communiqué issued on March 27 at conclusion of the 2012 Nuclear Safety Summit did broaden the framework, arrived upon two years earlier, for preventing nuclear-related terrorism. It emphasised the importance of multilateral instruments that address nuclear security and urged the governments to enact legislations binding themselves to international conventions on nuclear terrorism and nuclear material protection. While recognising that the security of highly enriched uranium (HEU) remained high in priority, the summit broadened the agenda by incorporating the relatively lower-powered radiological sources into the high risk category. The communiqué highlighted the need to contain low-level radioactive sources, which are widely used in industrial, medical, agricultural and research applications and can be employed for fabricating dirty bombs, support the creation of a nuclear forensic database, develop nuclear security culture, enforce information security and encouraged countries to share more police data on nuclear smuggling etc.
The forum of nuclear security provides Pakistan with a prominent podium to brandish a sterling record on the safety and security of its nuclear material and assets. These are substantive, commendable and laudatory enough to have been acknowledged by the likes of President Barack Obama, who in the aftermath of the Washington Summit in 2010, expressed confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security in a press conference. The appreciation is well deserved. Pakistan has shown the capability and capacity to develop and maintain an infrastructure for managing its nuclear capability in a responsible and trouble-free manner. This track record shines and speaks for itself in the face of a voluminous propaganda campaign by a very strong anti-Pakistan lobby. By convention, no individual countries are discussed to prevent the nuclear safety forum from becoming a platform for mudslinging, but when leaders from 57 countries, including the US and Russia, congregate under the glare of global spotlight, it is hard to resist the temptation. India, notwithstanding its glaring lapses towards the security of its nuclear material, assets and personnel didn’t miss the opportunity of conducting a baseless propaganda to malign Pakistan. On the eve of the Seoul Conference, the Indian media fired its salvos questioning the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear materials and maliciously indicating to a non-existent “insider threat”, totally overlooking the prominent string of safety blunders that have haunted the Indian nuclear establishment.
The security at Indian nuclear facilities has been breached time and again, which indicated to the culture of relaxed security, bearing the ominous seeds of a nuclear catastrophe. In November 2000, the Indian Police seized 57 pounds of uranium and arrested two persons for illicit trafficking of radioactive material. Lack of security at the Indian nuclear plants was underscored when on November 25, 2009, some rogue elements at Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka, laced the drinking water with tritium, contaminating at least 90 employees. The culprits were never traced despite the presence of CCTV. The death of a nuclear scientist under mysterious circumstances at Kaiga in June 2009 further raised the issue of security of personnel at the Indian nuclear establishment.
Indian nuclear scientists and trading firms were engaged in clandestine activities and were repeatedly caught red handed. On September 29, 2004, the US slapped sanctions on two Indian nuclear scientists, Dr Y.S.R. Prasad and Chaudhary Surendar, for illicitly helping Iran in developing weapons of mass destruction. Both scientists were successive heads of India’s nuclear corporation and experts in the production of plutonium. In September 2002, the UK Intelligence Dossier on Iraq, linked NEC, an Indian Engineering Trading Company, to Iraq’s clandestine programme for developing chlorine-based chemical weapons and propellants for long range missiles. Using front companies, phony custom declarations and false documents, NEC exported 10 consignments of contraband materials that the Saddam regime used to develop chemical warfare capability. The exported items needed special approval before export under the Special Chemical Organisms, Material, Equipment and Technologies Provisions of the 1997-2002 Exim Policy. Inexplicably, the Indian government looked aside as shipments to Iraq, valued at approximately $800,000, which took place between September 1998 and February 2001. The discovery of at least nine very powerful Cobalt-60 radiation sources in a scrap shop in a West Delhi industrial area, which fatally infected five people, truly exposed India as a possible source of radiation emitting material that could be used in a dirty bomb by terrorists.
As the threat of nuclear terrorism raises its profile, the world is getting seized with the issue of its prevention. Watertight security of radiological material remains an important component of the overall paradigm of international nuclear security environment. Ever since declaring its nuclear capability, Pakistan has been quick-footed in articulating a watertight regime for the safety and security of its nuclear establishment and the results are self-evident. It has taken concrete measures to evolve elaborate command and control mechanisms under the National Command Authority, which is in place since February 2000; three years ahead of India. Pakistan’s export control mechanisms are judiciously conceived and have effectively plugged all possibilities of export of sensitive technology to unauthorised seekers. It is time to assert its impeccable safety credentials to claim a greater degree of access to nuclear trade and technology as member of the NSG. The next Nuclear Safety Summit, due in the Netherlands in 2014, should be the forum to forcefully make this justified demand.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.