Event ReportsPublished on Jun 01, 2015
'Nuclear Security in India' Report, launched recently by former PM Envoy on Non-Proliferation Rakesh Sood, sets out a list of policy recommendations which essentially seeks to address the gaps that still remain in the overall architecture of nuclear security in the country.
Former PM Envoy launches "Nuclear Security in India" report

’Nuclear Security in India’, ORF’s recent publication, was released by Amb. Rakesh Sood, former Prime Minister’s Envoy for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, before a gathering of prominent scholars and practitioners at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi on January 6.

The release was followed by a panel discussion with Professor R. Rajaraman, Co Chairman of the International Panel on Fissile Materials and Prof. Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mr. Siddharth Varadarajan, Senior Fellow at Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, and Dr. Rajiv Nayan, Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, discussing the report and the subject in general.

The report, an outcome of extensive research conducted by Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow, ORF and her team, presents a comprehensive analysis of India’s nuclear security policies and practices, including an assessment of threats and challenges, measures adopted by the Indian nuclear and security establishments in response, its strengths and weaknesses and an overview of the best practices around the world in order to gauge India’s nuclear security efforts. Apart from a realistic assessment of the ground realities in so far as nuclear security in India is concerned, the report sets out a list of policy recommendations which essentially seeks to address the gaps that still remain in the overall architecture of nuclear security in India.

Introducing the report, Dr. Rajagopalan brought out some of the major conclusions of the report. She said the broad conclusion of this study is that India’s nuclear security measures are far better than what some of the reports and analyses from outside the country would suggest. She went on to add that India’s nuclear security policies and practices are at par with the best globally. They are fairly robust and actually some of the practices that we have in place are not even followed in other so-called advanced nuclear countries, due to their own social and cultural contexts. Despite this, India has been ranked quite low in some of the global rankings. One of the reasons may be that these studies have taken a quantitative approach and therefore did not examine in-depth India’s nuclear security practices.

A second and more important reason is that we have not publicized enough our achievements. Therefore, this report has recommended that we become more proactive in publicizing our achievements. Because the general assumption appears to have been that India was not open enough because its nuclear safety and security measures were not robust enough, though that is far from the case. A second major conclusion was regarding the nature of India’s nuclear regulator. There have been several debates on this and there is no single view. There are divisions even within the atomic energy establishment on this point. However, it might be in the interest of India to have clear separation of roles and functions between the nuclear establishment and its regulator to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

A third major point suggested in the report is about the force that protects India’s nuclear facilities - the CISF. Even though the CISF has done a fairly good job of managing nuclear security, their mandate is vast. And given that India’s nuclear sector is likely to grow, we might need a more specialised, and dedicated force meant only for securing nuclear facilities. Dr. Rajagopalan concluded with one final point about India’s outreach efforts. India has a robust nuclear security regime in place but it could possibly do a better job of advertising to the world what it does. This becomes particularly important in a globalized world when we are dependent on other countries for a variety of issues, such as India’s membership into some of the technology export control groups including the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Therefore, it might help a great deal India’s case if India could be proactive in advertising all that we do.

While releasing the report, Ambassador Rakesh Sood noted that the report is one of the milestones in India’s journey of opening up to the global nuclear order. The extensive research carried out into the making of the report, Amb. Sood noted, has allowed for a nuanced understanding of the ground realities. He argued that this understanding is further reflected in the set of recommendations given in the report, each of them raising critical questions which have never asked before, and suggesting solutions for consideration of the establishment. He highlighted that secrecy was an understandable element of the Indian nuclear establishment from 1974 up to 1998, not only because India was then considering the nuclear option but also due to the impacts of international sanctions which were imposed on India following the Peaceful Nuclear Explosion in 1974. But a major turnaround occurred in 2000s when India and the US began negotiating a civil nuclear deal, which initiated the process of India’s integration with the global nuclear order.

Amb. Sood said India changed its secretive posture and agreed to bring some of its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards in order to receive the NSG waiver in 2008. While secrecy continues in part as the rest of its nuclear facilities remain beyond IAEA or any other international inspection, Amb. Sood argued that there has been gradual opening up, which is also important as it allows India to project to the world its robust nuclear security practices.

Amb. Sood also acknowledged the importance of learning from the best practices followed across the world in this domain and argued that other countries can learn from India as well. In this regard, he noted that the study of nuclear security practices in the UK, France and Japan conducted by Dr. Rajagopalan and her team is commendable. He concluded by arguing that this report has been successful, giving a nuanced assessment of the levels of nuclear security in India and that it will go a long way in contributing to the discourse and debates on the subject.

Prof. Rajaraman began the panel discussion by noting that the report has retained its value by focusing strictly on safety and security of nuclear and related items and by not delving into broader geo-political and security issues vis-a-vis nuclear weapons. He argued that the variety of materials and installations have varying degrees of sensitivity and thus require different ways and means to secure them. Of utmost priority are the fissile materials that are used to develop nuclear weapons. While the security of fissile materials is critical, Prof. Rajaraman argued it to be relatively easy as these materials are located only on specially assigned locations and sites. Radiological materials, on the other hand, are much harder to trace and protect as they remain stored in various sites including hospitals, research institutions and universities. On relation between safety and security of nuclear materials, he argued that while safety cannot be ensured without security measures, security cannot guarantee safety of nuclear materials.

Mr. Varadarajan stressed that the report has addressed some questions regarding the nuclear security establishment which traditionally have never been raised or debated on this scale in India, which adds to the credibility of the report. While agreeing with the overall conclusion of the report, he focused on a few specifics that required greater emphasis. He reiterated the point made in the report on the need for a relatively independent regulatory body, which if unaddressed will continue to damage India’s reputation as a responsible nuclear power. On this front, he questioned as to why the NSRA bill has not yet been cleared and legislated. He also emphasised on the threat of a cyber attack on nuclear and related installations, as has been captured in the report. He argued that with increase in our reliance on technology, nuclear facilities are more vulnerable to cyber attacks than to a physical attack. He also acknowledged the importance of creating a specially trained security force, one of the recommendations given in the report, even if it established within the ambit of CISF.

Looking at the issue of secrecy and the lack of transparency, Dr. Nayan argued that there are many government documents on the subject which are already available publically and that the report has used them to give a better understanding of the nuclear security set-up in India, which other studies such as the one conducted by NTI fails to capture. The issue, he stressed, could be more about lack of advertising the practices followed than it is about lack of information being made publically. He laid special emphasis on the set of recommendations provided in the report as that will instigate a constructive debate on various aspects of the nuclear security in India and will help identify and address issues which will enhance India’s standing in the world.

To access an electronic version of the report, Click Here .

(This report is prepared by Arka Biswas, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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