India gets near bottom rank in Nuclear Materials Safety Index

US nuclear watchdog says India's regulatory failure to protect weapons-grade nuclear materials has pushed it below Pakistan and China in ranking

 
By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Thursday 09 January 2014

Among the nuclear-armed countries, India has been placed just ahead of Iran and North Korea in terms of securing safety of nuclear materials. According to the Nuclear Materials Security Index (NMSI), a set of data published by US-based non profit, Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), although India's position has improved since 2012 in terms of keeping its nuclear materials safe, it continues to hold 23rd position among 25 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials.

NTI's latest assessment, which was released earlier this week on Tuesday, shows that the world has about 2,000 tonnes of weapons-usable nuclear  materials, spread across hundreds of sites around the globe. “Today, the approximately 1,400 metric tonnes of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and almost 500 tonnes of separated plutonium that make up global stocks of weapons-usable nuclear materials (both the civilian and the non-civilian  or military), which are the key ingredients for a nuclear weapon, are stored at hundreds of sites in 25 countries,” the report states.

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It further adds that guidelines for nuclear security by global nuclear regulator, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are understood by many states as obligations. As a result, “the legal agreements and  the guidelines cover only 15 per cent of weapons-usable nuclear materials: those used in civilian programs. The remaining 85 per cent of materials are categorized as military or non-civilian and are not subject even to those limited practices,” the report states

Reasons for poor ranking

Although, India's score (41 out of 100) improved since the first NMSI was released in 2012, it lags behind its nuclear-armed neighbours, China and Pakistan. India scored additional points for contributing to IAEA Nuclear Security fund and adopting United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 which regulates nuclear proliferation.

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However, NTI states that India's overall score just improved by one point in the index because India's regulatory structure lacks key requirements for securing materials. “India’s regulatory structure is missing key provisions on security; in some cases, security measures are recommended but not required. Weaknesses are particularly apparent 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,” the report states.

It further notes India pledged to establish an independent regulatory agency for nuclear security, but the legislation aimed at doing so has been stalled. Further, the report indicates that as opposed to the global trend of reducing weapons-grade nuclear material in the last four years, India is among the four countries which have increased nuclear materials. The other three are the United Kingdom, Japan and Pakistan. While the UK and Japan increased nuclear materials for civilian purpose, Pakistan and India have increased it in both civilian and military use.
 

Global trends of using weapons grade nuclear-materials
 
  • Since the beginning of 2012, seven states—Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Ukraine, and Vietnam—have removed all or most of their weapons-usable nuclear materials, according to the US National Nuclear Security Administration. Thirteen other states have decreased their quantities of materials over the most recent four-year period measured by the NMSI.
  • Australia again ranks first among 25 states, scoring well across all five categories and demonstrating that all states can do more to improve. Australia increased bettered its 2012 score by reducing its quantities of materials and ratifying a key international legal agreement that commits states to criminalise acts of nuclear terrorism and promotes information sharing and cooperation among countries on investigations and extraditions (the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, ICSANT).
  • Belgium, Canada, and Japan are the most improved states. Belgium passed a new nuclear security legislation, became party to an international legal agreement and began decreasing its nuclear materials as a result of its decision to phase out nuclear energy production. Canada incorporated into its national regulations the new IAEA guidelines regarding the transport of nuclear materials, and it ratified two international legal agreements. After the Fukushima disaster, Japan took a host of important steps that addressed both safety and security. Most significantly, the country formed a new independent regulatory agency to address nuclear safety and security, and it improved measures to address the insider threat.
  • Thirteen states have decreased their quantities of materials over the last four years measured by the NMSI, thereby reducing opportunities for theft. The countries include, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, the United States, and Uzbekistan
  • An additional 15 of the remaining 25 states, or approximately 60 per cent of states with weapons-usable nuclear materials, improved their overall scores in the NMSI -2014. List of countries in order of improvement from most to least is as follows: Belgium, Canada, Japan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Argentina, Germany, Pakistan, Australia, France, Israel, China, India, Norway, Poland.

The NTI nuclear materials security index, 2014

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