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What and how of nuclear security

According to an Indian Express report (March 21), an anonymous tip-off has helped the Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to bust a mineral smuggling racket that involved exports of beryl — an atomic mineral ore of Beryllium. Six persons were arrested in end-January and about 31 tonnes of atomic mineral was recovered; the US, Canada, Russia and Brazil are the recipients. Extracts of beryllium from the mineral ore are used in atomic power plants, space technology and scanning equipment. Beryl is one of the “prescribed substances” notified by the DAE under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962. Prior to the latest operation, a 20-tonne consignment of beryl is learnt to have possibly been smuggled to Hong Kong from Kandla Port in Gujarat in October 2015. The is alarming as India being a party to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 Amendment, is duty-bound to prevent the smuggling of atomic minerals of all kinds.

This also comes in the backdrop of a 2014 report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative that pegged India’s “nuclear security practices” at a low 23rd rank among 25 countries known to possess at least a bomb’s-worth of fissile materials. Report that India exhibited “weaknesses… in the areas of transport security, material control, and accounting, and measures to protect against the insider threat, such as personnel vetting and mandatory reporting of suspicious behaviour”.

Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process has been President Obama’s brainchild since he underlined security of nuclear materials as a priority of his administration in his infamous Prague speech of April 5, 2009. Prague speech became talk of the town because of his amateurish Global Zero concept visualizing, a nuclear weapon free World. Soon after Obama back tracked from Global Zero rhetoric acknowledging that it won’t be possible to achieve it during his lifetime. Of now, only nine nuclear power plants are outside IAEA safeguards, the world over, and eight of these are in India, courtesy India-US Agreement 123.

As a fallout of neo-Cold war, Russia has refused to participate in the Washington summit and has snubbed offers of collaboration over the pending conversion of about 63 Russian nuclear power plants still using Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). Russia has the largest stockpile of HEU, approximately 700 tonnes. Absence of a nation of such capability and stature is obviously a setback to furtherance of the Summit process.

Since its inception, the NSS process has covered a lot of mileage in reducing the requirement of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) through technological improvement and innovations, whereby a large number of civil usage nuclear facilities have switched over to use of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) as their fuel/input material. In 2010, 50 countries had an HEU stockpile of more than 1 kg, it is now down to half the number; and HEU has been totally removed from 13 countries. The NSS initiated an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the globe within four years. By any standard, that has been an underestimation of the task and even after six years hence, the Nuclear Security Summits shall fade into history without being able to claim that all bomb making materials have been sufficiently secured. However, the NSS process did inspired nations into action since they came with report cards in hand to showcase the highlights of all they had done at the national and regional levels towards furthering nuclear security.

Like all earlier summits, this time also, Prime Minister was to lead the Pakistan delegation, but gruesome terrorist attack in Lahore kept him away. Pakistan’s participation at the highest level reflects its strong commitment to nuclear security. The United States has been very appreciative of Pakistan’s participation in these meetings. It has periodically recognized Pakistan’s active engagements with global community on the issue of nuclear security. In a recent policy statement the US State Department has said that Islamabad is well aware of its responsibilities with respect to nuclear security and has secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.

To further contribute towards NSS process and, in the broader context, international non-proliferation effort, Pakistan has ratified the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). On July 08, 2005, states parties to the CPPNM adopted by consensus an Amendment to the CPPNM which expands the scope of the convention to cover nuclear facilities and nuclear material in peaceful use, storage and international as well as domestic transportation. The CPPNM is a legally binding international instrument in the area of physical protection of nuclear material; it also establishes measures related to the prevention, detection and punishment of offences related to nuclear material. Ratification of the 2005 Amendment to the CPPNM is another affirmation of Pakistan’s commitment to the objective of nuclear security and reinforces Pakistan’s credentials as a responsible nuclear state. It demonstrates Pakistan’s confidence in its national nuclear security regime which is at par with the latest international standards in the field.

Earlier, in its meeting held on 24 February 2016, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, the National Command Authority (NCA) undertook a comprehensive review of the prevailing regional and international security environment. NCA took note of the growing conventional and strategic weapons’ development in the region. It expressed serious concerns over the adverse ramifications for peace and security on this account. NCA reiterated its determination to take all possible measures to make national security robust.

The NCA re-affirmed that, as a responsible nuclear State, Pakistan would continue to contribute meaningfully towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures. Pakistan has the requisite credentials that entitle it to become member of all multi-lateral strategic export control regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Pakistan seeks adoption of a non-discriminatory criteria for expansion of all regimes.

In another acknowledgment of Pakistan’s expertise in nuclear security, annual meeting of the international network for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres (NSSC) was held from 14-18 March in Islamabad in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). For the first time, this meeting was held outside IAEA Headquarters. Fifty six officials representing 29 countries attended the meeting. Officials of the World Institute of Nuclear Security and IAEA also participated in the event. NSSC regularly contributes to global efforts for enhancing nuclear security capacity building through an effective and collaborative mechanism.

The emergent global nuclear order is focusing on a greater role for India’s nuclear weapon status, transfer of nuclear technology and materials especially massive import of Uranium. Despite India’s poor track record, the US and its nuclear camp followers are trying to evolve an India specific criteria to upgrade India’s NSG waiver into a full-fledged membership. The DG IAEA has recently expressed his satisfaction over implementation of the agency’s safeguard measures in the country, while appreciating the nuclear safety and security record of Pakistan; even then Pakistan is being subjected to the renewed pressure to freeze its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile capabilities. Pakistan attaches highest significance to its nuclear safety and security and is fully compliant of all international and domestic obligations.

With the summit event coming to a close, there is a question about successor organization. The most popular, and likely to be accepted, idea is that of the IAEA taking over the role. In July 2013, the IAEA had organized an international conference on nuclear security that was attended by 125 states and 21 organisations. By comparison, the NSS have been attended by only about 50 odd countries and 4 organisations.

Nuclear security is a global concern. Securing nuclear materials is a perpetual journey sans an assured destination. To succeed, international nuclear regimes have to come out of biased attitudes and selective applications.

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