India is a big aspirant for inclusion in the group of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for legalizing its nuclear related trade with rest of the world. For this purpose the international community is continually portraying India’s nuclear tract record as A grade. This could be to achieve their (big powers) self-centered goals. After the US, many other countries have followed suit by engaging India into similar kind of uranium deals (Indo-US Nuclear Deal) for a dual purpose. Consequently, it has negative implications for the South Asian nuclear region.
While analyzing India's record, it has been noted that many of the Indian officials have argued that India’s non-proliferation record is impeccable; but the study of Indian proliferation record shows that this is factually incorrect. A lot has been written about India’s first nuclear test with regards to the post-nuclear suppliers group’s debate – that it was actually a device derived from Canadian and US exports designated purely for peaceful purposes. That test spurred the United States and several other countries to create the Nuclear Suppliers Group to more severely restrict global nuclear trade.
India's nuclear program requires a steady stream of heavy water. During the 1980s, India arranged secret shipments of Chinese, Soviet and Norwegian heavy water to help start the Madras and Dhruva reactors through a West German nuclear materials broker named Alfred Hempel. Between 1983 and 1989 India received at least 80 tons of Soviet heavy water under the table, and 26.5 tons of Norwegian heavy water through diversions.
More so, ‘Indian nuclear entities and companies have procured nuclear dual-use material and equipment without revealing to the supplier that the end user is an unsafeguarded uranium enrichment plant. The Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) released two reports in 2006, which give details of India’s proliferation activities. The ISIS reports reveal that India has a tendering process for acquiring equipment for its gas centrifuge programme. The Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) sub-entity Indian Rare Earths (IRE) uses websites and newspapers to invite companies for supply or manufacture of equipment without specifying that the end user is a gas centrifuge program under the DAE. According to the ISIS report, this process has been going on for years with hundreds of advertisements for tenders’.
Our March 10, 2006 article India's Gas Centrifuge Program: Stopping Illicit Procurement and the Leakage of Technical Centrifuge Know-How discussed several weaknesses in India’s non-proliferation credentials. Three main weaknesses are summarized here.
The first is Illicit Procurement. Indian nuclear entities and trading companies have procured nuclear dual-use equipment and material overseas without specifying that the end-user is an unsafeguarded uranium enrichment plant. In so doing, India has conducted illicit procurement for its nuclear programs. According to European intelligence “early warning” assessment India is one of six proliferant countries that require European companies to exercise special care to prevent illegal exports.
Second is the Centrifuge Know-How Leakage. India's procurement system for its gas centrifuge program leaks sensitive gas centrifuge information through its bidding or “tendering” process.
Third, Poorly Implemented National Export Control System. Indian export controls are poorly implemented and the possibility of onward proliferation, such as where imported items are re-exported, remains a serious concern.
In terms of IAEA, it conducted a review of India’s regulatory framework of safety of nuclear power plants (NPPs) in a period of 12 days in March 2015, concluded that Indian nuclear regulatory and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), is not independent and lacks internal emergency arrangements and urged India to take further action for nuclear regulation. Indian export controls also lack proper implementation.
Similarly, in March 2016 Indian media reported that large quantities of thorium were being illegally exported from Tamil Nadu to China and Europe via Sri Lanka. ‘Earlier in 2012, similar kind of news was surfaced that private companies have been allowed to export millions of tons of monazite, and that India has lost large quantities of thorium, worth several millions. The thorium allegations made following claims: (a) A private company VV Minerals is exporting thorium-rich sand illegally (b) Between 2002 and 2012, some 2.1 million tons of monazite has gone missing, which amounts to approximately 235,000 tons of thorium (c) the monazite has not been returned by the private company to the DAE after mining for other minerals.
Furthermore, India has recently confirmed to recover approximately 31 tons of beryl – prescribed substance – from unidentified persons involved in the illegal export of mineral from Rajasthan.’ Nevertheless, incidents of theft and illegal export of such material are not new in India. This has been a common practice in the past also.
It is also clear that India has a poor nuclear materials safety record. According to the NTI (Nuclear Materials Security Index) which assesses the security of nuclear materials around the world, India scores below Pakistan, and is ranked only above North Korea and Iran. Thus, assessing all together, this depicts not only the poor state of export controls in the country but further intricate associated concerns of nuclear proliferation and misuse which are generally not picked by the Western media.
Paradoxically, India’s recently submitted application for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership is said to be on the basis of its better non-proliferation commitments that is nothing more than a bluff. It would be pertinent to mention here the recent hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on US-India Relations, held on 24 May 2016, in which the US Senator Ed Markey questioned the Administration Policy of supporting India’s membership for NSG as an exception. ‘He asked Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal if the US had decided to set aside the factors for membership of NSG or if it was planning to have the factors revised to ensure India’s entry into NSG. Sen. Markey pointed out that US had provided a nuclear deal to India without seeking full scope safeguards and that India had continued to accumulate fissile material for nuclear weapons since then. He called the Administration’s policy as dangerous as it would lead to destabilizing impact in the region’. India is neither party to the NPT nor has it accepted full scope safeguards ever on its nuclear trade, so there should not be any chance of including India into the hub of civil trade.
Last but not the least, if India wants recognition as a nuclear weapons state, it should be required to meet the nuclear group’s standards, including opening negotiations with Pakistan and China on curbing nuclear weapons and halting the production of nuclear fuel for bombs.