Issue BriefsPublished on Sep 23, 2014 PDF Download
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Nuclear Security in India: Mapping the Threat Scenario

This Issue Brief analyses the possible nuclear and radiological threats that India could face. It also examines the various ways in which these threats could occur and the likely actors inclined to carry them out.

Post 9/11, the concerns about the use of nuclear and radiological materials by terrorists and other extremists has gained significant international attention leading to processes such as the Nuclear Security Summit. Like other nations, India too acknowledges the seriousness of the threat from nuclear and radiological terrorism, even though the possibility of such a mishap remains low.

India, like other nuclear powers, faces serious threats in the nuclear domain. The Indian Prime Minister’s participation at the first two Nuclear Security Summits in Washington, DC and Seoul is a reflection of the importance attached by Delhi to the issue of nuclear security. The neighbourhood in which India is situated is a constant reminder of the ever-changing threat dynamics in South Asia.

India has a strict nuclear security and safety regime, but a few incidents in the past have highlighted certain loopholes in the Indian system. These incidents, however, did not have any links with non-state actors or terrorist groups and thus cannot be categorised as security threats. The poisoning of water with tritium in the Kaiga nuclear power plant and a Cobalt-60 source being found in a scrap market in Mayapuri in 2011 are two such episodes. The Mayapuri incident can be catergorised as an accounting error, rectified thereafter by tightening rules and procedures regarding material accounting, including those followed by universities and research institutions. The Kaiga incident, which involved a disgruntled employee, has been categorised as an “act of mischief.” Post these occurences, the Government of India (GoI) responded with policy changes to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future. However, given the increasing sophistication with which terrorist groups are acting and the kind of support such groups have received from external elements, especially in the Indian context, the possibility of nuclear or radiological terrorism remains.

This paper will analyse the possible nuclear and radiological threats that India could face. It will
examine the various ways these threats could manifest and the likely actors who could show the inclination to carry them out. This paper is part of a larger ORF research project titled “Nuclear Security in India: Mapping Non-state Actor Threats to India’s Nuclear Security”. As part of the study, ORF has carried out substantive interviews with various stakeholders in India’s nuclear security, including serving and retired security officials, the Department of Atomic Energy, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, staff at hospitals and research institutions, and members of the academic and strategic community in India.

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