The seizure of seven kilograms of natural uranium by Indian Police has raised eyebrows across the world with analysts asking the nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to take strict action against India.
On May 6, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) arrested two men in the western Maharashtra state for “illegally possessing” the highly radioactive substance. The confiscated material said to be worth around $2.9 million has raised concerns about nuclear security in the country with people rightly pondering over the safety of radioactive materials.
“We had received information that one person identified as Jigar Pandya was going to illegally sell pieces of uranium substance, a trap was laid and he was arrested,” the Maharashtra police said.
“Investigation into the case revealed that another person identified as Abu Tahir gave him these pieces of uranium.” The police said a huge quantity of substance was recovered when Tahir was apprehended.
A police official said on the condition of anonymity that the accused are being questioned to know the source of the seized material and where it would be sent.
Pakistan raises serious concerns
A former diplomat, Zafar Hilaly said “Imagine, 7.1kilos of highly radio active stolen uranium worth Rs 30 crores was on sale in India, pedalled by Jayesh Pandya, a Modi acolyte, who heads the Indian nuclear mafia. The IAEA owes the world an explanation. The UNSC must ask for an investigation.”
Fears over the safety of India’s nuclear program were shared by seasoned analysts. Former ambassador, Asif Durrani opined, “Seizure of over 7 Kg of natural uranium is a serious development and cast doubts about the safety and security of nuclear materials in India. IAEA must immediately launch investigations and ensure that nuclear safeguards are strictly adhered to by India.”
Mir Mohammad Ali Khan stressed the need for FATF to investigate the matter. “Two people arrested in India by Maharashtra police with Atomic grade uranium to make a dirty nuclear bomb. Nuclear Bomb materials are going in the hands of the terrorists under Modi Sarkar and FATF is bothering Pakistan? wake up IAEA,” he said.
While the investigation into the case is still under way, Pakistan’s Foreign Office has issued a statement voicing serious concern over the incident. A statement read, “Security of nuclear materials should be the top priority for all countries, and there is a need for thorough investigation of the matter.”
Upon sending the seized material to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai it was confirmed that the uranium was “highly radioactive and dangerous to human life”.
It is the second time in India that such a highly radioactive substance has been seized by police in recent years. In 2016, police seized almost 9kg (19.8 pounds) of depleted uranium in the Thane area of Maharashtra.
Atleast 11 states in India have uranium reserves with Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Meghalaya recording the largest reserves of radioactive material used in making nuclear weapons and explosives.
A case-in-point for FATF?
According to FATF, “Proliferation” Proliferation Financing Report, “Proliferation has many appearances but ultimately involves the transfer and export of technology, goods, software, services or expertise that could be used in nuclear, chemical or biological weapon related programs, including delivery systems; it poses a significant threat to global security.”
The Report, which identifies a link between proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and terrorism, states that: “If appropriate safeguards are not established, maintained and enforced for sensitive materials, technology, services and expertise, they can become accessible to individuals and entities seeking to profit from the acquisition and resale, or for intended use in WMD programs”.
The incident involving 7kg uranium not only falls within the scope of FATF but the details showing a racket of uranium black market handlers provide sufficient grounds for proceeding against India under its guidance on Countering Proliferation Financing.
It’s noteworthy that neither the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global watchdog for nuclear affairs, nor the Financial Action Task Force, the global illicit financing watchdog, has issued statement on the incident.