Nuclear safety and security in Pakistan: An analysis

The emergence of nuclear technologies has brought with it numerous benefits for humanity. But with these benefits, there are some vulnerabilities. The most fundamental problem that is associated with nuclear power plants is their safety and security. We can define nuclear safety as “the achievement of proper operating conditions, prevention of accidents or mitigation of accident consequences, resulting in protection of workers, the public and the environment from undue radiation hazards”. We can define nuclear security as “the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorised access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities”.
The international community is working closely to help member states in promoting the safety and security of nuclear power plants. Since its establishment, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provides the basic standards for the member states to improve the safety and security of nuclear material. As an active member of the Global community, Pakistan is also working effectively with international bodies including IAEA. Pakistan has never faced a single incident (the case related to Dr A Q Khan was an exception) that could be labelled as a violation of international norms related to the standards of safety and security in Pakistan. Generally, the efforts of Pakistan are recognised by the international community, though there is some baseless propaganda. Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano visited Pakistan in March 2018. After the visit, he asserted that measures taken by Pakistan to the safety and security of the nuclear weapons are per the standards of IAEA. In 2018, Pakistan was re-elected as a member of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It was not an ordinary achievement. The head of the IAEA’s nuclear security division also visited Pakistan. He praised the security measures taken by Pakistan to protect its nuclear facilities. Recently in 2020, the “Nuclear Threat Initiative”, a US-based watchdog recognised Pakistan as the “most improved nation in nuclear security”.
This success in establishing robust safety and security does not evolve overnight. It is a lengthy and exhausting journey. Different departments are working dedicatedly under the National Command Authority to ensure nuclear safety and security in Pakistan. The Strategic Plan Division and Pakistan nuclear regulatory authority are playing a leading role in this regard. If we talk about nuclear safety, the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory authority (PNRA), an independent body, dealing with all kinds of issues related to nuclear safety. It was established in 2001. It is prepared with the latest equipment and has well trained technical experts. The function of PNRA includes “issue licenses for imports and exports of radiological substances and controls, regulates, and supervises all matters relating to nuclear safety and radiation protection”. Moreover, Pakistan has also ratified the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. Pakistan is also a signatory to the Convention on Nuclear Safety and strictly follows IAEA guidelines related to nuclear safety issues. At present, Pakistan is following the Nuclear Security Action Plan (NSAP) in coordination with IAEA. The main purpose of this plan is to reinforce the capabilities of PNRA. Pakistan also has a proper Nuclear Emergency Management System to deal with any kind of emergencies related to radiation. Pakistan is also party to the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident. Pakistan has enacted “export control law “and proper “export control Division (SECDEV) “for sensitive material demonstrates the fact Pakistan is strictly following International obligation to stop the illegal trade of radioactive material.
If we look at the security issues related to nuclear security, Pakistan is following almost all the international standards from the UNSC resolution 1540 to Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). After the 9/11 incident, different initiatives were adopted to counter any kind of security threat from the terrorists. Pakistan actively participated in the Nuclear Security Summit and adopted many measures as prescribed in NSS to further strengthen its security system. Pakistan is also an active member of the global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism. Authorities at the highest level in Pakistan are regularly monitoring the security of nuclear plants in Pakistan. Pakistan has employed modern technological tools for the better preservation of its nuclear materials; these include “intrusion detection systems, access control systems, delay barriers, and search systems and a central alarm station”. Moreover, Pakistan is also working successfully to train special soldiers for the physical protection of its nuclear plants. It has established the Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security. Its role is to develop a special force for the physical protection of its plants. At present, more than 10 thousand active security personnel are working under the strategic plan division for security purposes.
By observing these initiatives, one can ascertain that Pakistan is following two types of major steps. First, at the domestic level, it is building its capacity at both the organisational and technical levels and providing it with proper legal arrangements. While on the other hand, Pakistan is also effective with international bodies not only to strengthen its arrangements but also to create a safe and secure nuclear environment at the international level. Despite these vigorous efforts and recognitions from international bodies, Pakistan is faced with coordinated fallacious propaganda about the safety and security of its nuclear reactors. This propaganda is generated by actors who want to achieve their interests by maligning Pakistan. Pakistan is also facing discriminatory behaviour in the supply of civilian nuclear technology. Although this civilian nuclear technology has been playing an effective role in the well-being of the masses. It is high time for the international community to step up and tear down the distorted image of Pakistan propagated by a few elements. Moreover, the international community should pave the way for indistinguishable treatment with Pakistan in nuclear trade. This will help in building not only a stable environment internationally, but it will also help Pakistan in further enhancing its safety and security measures that are a prerequisite for international peace and stability.

The writer is a scholar of MS International Relation at COMSATS University, Islamabad. He can be reached at

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