Pakistan seeks probe into illegal uranium sale in India

Published June 5, 2021
In this file photo, FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri speaks to reporters during a press briefing. — DawnNewsTV
In this file photo, FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri speaks to reporters during a press briefing. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday called for investigating repeated incidents of illicit uranium possession and sales in India and emphasised the need for identifying the end-users of the material.

“Pakistan reiterates its call for thorough investigation into such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion,” Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said while commenting on reports about another attempt by private persons to sell 6kg of uranium in India.

Indian police had arrested a group of seven people in eastern state of Jharkhand’s Bokaro city, who were trying to sell about 6kg of uranium. Jharkhand has uranium mines. A uranium processing plant is located at Jaduguda, about 150km from Bokaro city.

This was the second incident of attempted illicit uranium sale in India in 30 days. Last month Indian authorities had seized 7.1kg of natural uranium and arrested two persons from Nagpur. Similar incidents have been reported in the past as well.

Mr Chaudhri said these incidents “point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India”.

Foreign Office wonders who is end-user of material

He said that the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material make it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into wrong hands.

“It is equally important to ascertain the intent and ultimate user of the attempted uranium sale given its relevance to international peace and security as well as the sanctity of global non-proliferation regime,” he added.

It isn’t still clear which customers are these Indian sellers targeting. It is believed that the material could be channeled to the international black market.

The very fact that some people stole or illegally mined uranium raises concerns about nuclear safety and security in India. It also indicates the possibility of a nuclear market existing in India that could be connected to international players.

Pakistan has avoided raising the matter with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, because it has been the government’s policy that security of nuclear material is a national responsibility. However, India should report the incident to the IAEA’s Incident and Tracking Data Base mechanism as the uranium could have been trafficked to non-state or state actors or handed over to other rackets.

India’s nuclear safety and security record is not very impressive. Loose state control, as shown by the latest seizure of uranium, underscores the fact that India still has to go a long way in becoming a responsible nuclear power and be made a member of the Nuclear Supplier Group, a nuclear expert said.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2021

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