India uranium theft

Published June 19, 2021

REPORTS emerging from India about the theft of uranium and possible sale on the black market should be a cause for concern for the international community. According to reports in the Indian media, police had arrested members of a gang in the eastern state of Jharkhand who were trying to sell several kilos of uranium — a key ingredient of nuclear weapons — while a similar incident occurred recently in Nagpur, Maharashtra.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office has rightly highlighted this important issue, calling for a “thorough investigation into such incidents” while adding that the reports “point to lax controls ... as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials”. Considering the nature of these reports, the international community must not remain silent and demand answers from the Indian government. An EU spokesman when questioned about the possible proliferation activities said that the bloc “is aware of the information and understands that the Indian authorities are investigating”.

The fact is that reports of possible proliferation must be taken very seriously. For example, the use of nuclear material by non-state actors in a ‘dirty bomb’ has been raised by the international community as a threat to global security. Moreover, certain states have pointed fingers at this country for supposed lax security protocols when former IAEA chief Yukia Amano had said that Pakistan “is an experienced user of peaceful nuclear technology” during a visit to Karachi in 2018. Also, Western states have questioned Iran’s nuclear activities, whereas the Islamic Republic insists it is not pursuing atomic weapons. The point is that there should be one standard where nuclear safety is concerned.

If the Indian state itself has arrested individuals involved in possible proliferation, then the international community, through the IAEA, must demand a thorough and transparent probe to ensure sensitive atomic material does not fall into the wrong hands. The Indian government must speed up the pace of investigations and make the findings public, otherwise fears of a nuclear black market will only grow.

Pakistan has every right to be concerned that nuclear material does not fall into the hands of non-state actors working against this country. If the international community continues to maintain its silence on these alarming reports, it will give credence to the belief that those who control the global order choose to cherry-pick issues of concern. Where nuclear safety is concerned, this position is simply not tenable.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2021

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