Indian police arrested seven people on 3 June 2021 for illegally possessing 6.4 kg of ‘Uranium’. The main suspect (black market) from whom the Uranium was obtained is still unknown.
It is a second such nuclear material theft incident that has occurred in India within the short span of less than a month. The last incident in India occurred on 5th May 2021. These occurrences raise major concerns about India’s nuclear security and point to the existence of a robust nuclear black market in India.
This is not a new occurrence; dozens of episodes of collective and individual uranium theft and smuggling have occurred in India over the years, prompting alarm from a number of countries including Pakistan as well as from other international organizations.
Theft occurrences in India highlight India’s poorly-guarded nuclear facilities which are susceptible to subnational or transnational groups based in India, raising the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Read more: Assessing India’s failed nuclear security
A serious situation
India’s extensive nuclear program much of which is not subject to IAEA safeguards is so vulnerable that the Indian state is unable to put a halt to uranium theft, which has been consistently happening over the years. India’s nuclear facilities have been made more vulnerable by the country’s booming underworld.
Recent incidents reveal that a black market is expanding in India. Major people involved in the black market have not been apprehended, raising concerns that the black market is linked to India’s BJP government. The ‘Hindu Bomb’ could fall into the hands of Hindu terrorists if this serious negligence on part of the Indian government continues.
There are uranium reserves in at least 11 Indian states, with Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Meghalaya having the biggest reserves. The smuggling of radioactive material has sparked fears that terrorist organizations such as the RSS, or some non-state actors could purchase them in the Indian nuclear black market to make dirty bombs.
Given the pattern of uranium theft incidents in India, one can reasonably argue that India has a nuclear mafia. The concerns about the security of Indian nuclear installations, especially research centers are even more alarming.
An international concern?
The risk of nuclear terrorism under the watch of the Hindutva BJP government is rising. Given ongoing insurgencies in India, and political unrest in many states, nuclear material in these areas is increasingly vulnerable to terrorists not just as sources for dirty bombs, but also as targets of sabotage. The lack of safety measures in uranium mining ventures in India also endangers the safety of the Indian population.
Uranium theft in India is no longer an Indian national issue; it has become an issue of international concern. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) bind India to take stringent measures to prevent nuclear terrorism.
In 2008, NSG accorded a trade exemption to India. Resultantly, India gained access to the international uranium market and has thus developed a large uranium reserve. Recurring nuclear theft incidents in India speak volumes of its poor nuclear safety and security standards. NSG countries must come forward and hold India accountable for lapses in nuclear security as repeated nuclear incidents undermine global peace and security.
Muhammad Shakir is a Former Research Fellow at the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) University Islamabad. He is a graduate of the Strategic and Nuclear Studies Department from the National Defense University. His areas of interest include Arms Control & Disarmament, Nonproliferation of WMDs, and Nuclear Discourse in South Asia. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.