India has dismissed a report by an influential U.S. think tank that placed it 23rd out of 25 countries in terms of securing its nuclear stockpile from non-state actors.
The report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) improves India’s score by a mere one point on the basis of a financial contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Nuclear Security Fund.
Senior government officials were not left enthused with the report as it equates transparency with nuclear security. “We don’t think it is a great idea to put all information about how India guards its nuclear establishments in the public domain when they are talking about preventing the bad guys from getting in,” explained a senior official while attributing the NTI’s quest for inside information on such sensitive issues to a “fishing expedition for information.”
A democracy like India with a healthy tradition of debate on nuclear issues needs to balance transparency with the need to protect its citizens against terrorism, with which it has to contend with unlike most countries listed by NTI.
NTI’s ranking of countries did not account for different stages of nuclear processes and that is why Australia has topped the list although it undertakes only uranium mining. “How can mining of uranium be compared with say Japan or India whose fuel cycle is much more complex?” they wanted to know.
Corruption is another marker in the NTI list. Senior officials however wondered how that related to nuclear security. “In this case, do they mean that a scientist of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is going to take money and conspire with terrorists? They can’t have such factors weighing in,” they observed.
Officials also felt the aspect of production of fissile material had been overemphasised. “If the issue is production of fissile material, they should have had greater issues with the U.S. and Russia who have hundreds of tonnes of this material. Why should they be so concerned with the small quantity that India has? Moreover, India is placed below a country [Pakistan] that is the Walmart of nuclear proliferation. Our record on non-proliferation and security of nuclear material is there for all to see. We didn’t even want to edify them with a response,’’ confessed an official while citing the near misses in countries on top of the NTI list — a US military aircraft recently took off with a live nuclear bomb and suicide bombers attacked a French company uranium plant in Niger last May.”
“We can only surmise that there is an agenda. It is basically fishing for information and creating a scare about fissile material production. India always had constructive engagement on nuclear security and the Prime Minister was one of the first leaders to welcome Obama’s call for a Nuclear Security Summit made it a point to attend the two previous international nuclear security summits,” the officials said.
Released in advance of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, the NTI Index assesses 25 countries with one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear material as well as 151 others with less than one kilogram or no materials but could be used as safe havens.