Will IAEA India Visit Facilitate its NSG Membership?
Osman Khan


India has an ambitious nuclear power plan in place to generate 27500 MW capacity by 2024. In its pursuit to achieve the goal within the stipulated time India appears prepared to take risks in the nuclear field by ignoring international nuclear safeties standards. The country also has a dismal record of handling nuclear materials wherein it is perhaps the only country in the world that wittingly or unwittingly lets clandestine trading of nuclear materials go unchecked in its common markets. It also has a history of frequent nuclear leaks, fires, structural damages and high bearing vibrations at its nuclear plants. Director General of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) Mr. C. P. Jamb’s arrogant remarks on incidents of frequent leakages in Rajasthan’s nuclear complex indicate the lax attitudes of managers of Indian nuclear industry. While speaking to the media after a nuclear leak was detected at RAPS this year he reminded Indians that, “We have to get used to it (the leakages and accidents). We needn’t be unduly scared either. If not, we wont be able to maintain such stations. The country should learn to live with these things.”

India, at all international platforms boasts its records of nuclear safety however, its own nuclear experts at home differ on the official versions. According to nuclear safety rankings allocated by the Washington based research institute ‘Nuclear Threat Initiative (NIT), India falls in line with North Korea, Iran, Vietnam and Pakistan as the five least secured countries in the world. The NTI study emphasized on India that it should ensure more transparency, independence for its nuclear regulator and tight security measures to ensure smooth transit of its nuclear stockpiles from one place to another. India’s negligent security in handling of nuclear materials has come to light on at least two occasions in which radio active materials- from a hospital and a university laboratory – were discarded and ended up in a scrap dealer’s shop in New Delhi. The radio active field of the radio active material sold to the dealer was found to be of 500 R (Roentgen) per hour – enough to kill a person with exposure of one hour to the radiation. The incident resulted in one fatality and radiation injuries to at least ten others. It is believed that some of the material was melted and resold to other vendors. No one in India seems concerned on the long term effects that this sold material with radioactive ingredients would cause on Indian lives. There is another aspect of irresponsible handling of nuclear materials in India. Easy availability of nuclear materials in the common markets may facilitate religious extremists and terrorists in acquiring the same for making dirty bombs in India.

Despite acceptance of lax attitude in handling of nuclear materials by some in the Indian nuclear industry, it is a pity that international community fails to acknowledge the same and continues to feed India with latest nuclear technology. The New Delhi incident was not the first one that emanated from India. About five years ago, Germany had reported finding radioactive steel coming from India. The French followed with reports of radio-active buttons in elevators originating from nuclear radio active steel, again from India. The UN nuclear watchdog that kept unusual silence so far on the frequent leakages from Indian nuclear plants, has awakened to the reality and decided to inspect few of the nuclear plants for irregular practices. As such, an operational safety review team of IAEA arrived in India on 29th October amid anti-nuclear energy protests questioning IAEA’s authority and demanding its closure as an independent watchdog. These government organized protests were conducted to send a massage across to the International Atomic Agency that it was not welcome in India for inspection purposes. The Indian move was to influence IAEA’s findings that would otherwise undermine India’s credibility as a responsible nuclear state and thwart its ingress into the prestigious NSG.

In an open letter to the IAEA by Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), it has requested the agency not to allow its team’s visits to be publicized as a blanket clean chit on nuclear safety to the Indian nuclear industry. The letter endeavors to guide the visiting team on issues that plague nuclear establishment. The letter also reveals that work force employed on the nuclear related construction at the nuclear complex was not provided with adequate health cover and forced to work in extremely dangerous environments. The letter also reveals that workers were sent on forced leave for 15 days to deny the IAEA team interview them on their working conditions.

The initial inquiries by the IAEA however, have already been published by one of Rajasthan’s local newspaper. The main print and electronic media has however ignored the development. These initial findings have revealed serious vulnerabilities in India’s nuclear regime. Most concerning was the finding that nuclear complex at Kota, Rajasthan that houses 6 reactors, two more under construction, does not have the auxiliary diesel generators that are crucial to ensure that uninterrupted power supply to reactors continues in case of a loss of coolant accident. The findings have also questioned efficacy of using old equipment to monitor radiation exposures. Meanwhile, Indian nuclear industry has expressed satisfaction on Obama’s re-election as it may assure that its application for full membership of NSG will make rapid progress since the US is to assume the group’s presidency next July. Such a development may have dangerous consequences for Pakistan if India becomes the member of NSG as it will use its veto power to block the opening up of foreign support in Pakistan’s quest for acquisition of latest technology for meeting its energy needs.