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Saturday, 19 December 2009

India’s Poor Nuclear Safety

The tragic nuclear incident at Chernobyl in 1986 had clearly verified that even without using an atomic bomb, this very technology can eliminate hundreds of people through radiation exposure, leaving behind thousands of persons, affected with fatal diseases which also travel from generation to generation. After that major incident, big nuclear powers and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) emphasised the atomic countries for the need of a tight mechanism in order to avoid any catastrophe.
Although responsible nuclear states have adopted strict measures at their nuclear plants so as to save the lives of their employees and the nearby population, yet India’s record of poor nuclear safety has surprised the international community in the era of ongoing nuclear age. In this regard, in the end of November, this year, more than 90 Indian workers suffered radiation due to contamination of drinking water at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka.
In fact, this latest incident took place on the 25th of November, but it was on the 28th that the media got the story when many suffered persons were hospitalised, and it became impossible for New Delhi to conceal the tragedy.
Instead of admitting their faults and to improve the security of their atomic plants, both Indian scientists and high officials hastened to cover the incident in one way or the other. In this respect, some Indian scientists remarked that the affected employees did not use to “go into the actual reactor area, but work around it”, while Director of the Kaiga station, AM Gupta said that these workers had “no exposure to the reactor directly, it was surprising to see them with higher level of radiation.” On the other hand, gravity of situation could be judged from the fact that Indian rulers immediately sent instructions to its officials and scientists to avoid giving any details to the media. In this context, The Nuclear Power Corporation, which runs Kaiga plant, did not reply to the media queries over the nuclear accident. Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada, N S Channappa Gowda, while concealing the facts pointed out that no casualties or injuries were reported. Notably, Indian Atomic Energy Chairman, Anil Kodkar called the mishap at Kaiga an act of sabotage.
The Time of India and some other sources suggest that there “was no official word from the usually secretive nuclear establishment…the employees were in hospital because they experienced a higher level of radiation after drinking water. However, tests confirmed radioactivity in the urine samples.”
Meanwhile, India’s poor nuclear safety can be noted from the statement of Minister of state, Prithviraj Chavan who clarified that there were no video cameras there to catch who did the mischief, further saying that in future “the government would install cameras in all such areas.”  Surprisingly, this statement made it clear that Indian other atomic plants are also without cameras.
Although Indian officials and scientists tried to hide the fatal leakage at the Kaiga plant through many contradictory statements, yet an internal probe by Nuclear Power Corporation indicated possibility of mischief by an insider who had deliberately added some heavy water containing tritium to the drinking water cooler. So it is a most alarming that anyone can cause any mischief at Indian any nuclear facility. This raises more questions regarding the poor safey of Indian all nuclear plants.
Nevertheless, Indian nuclear power installations have not been practising the right safety methods along with rigid security measures. The incident at Kaiga Atomic Power Station is not the first one, Indian past record shows various kinds of security lapses in relation to various nuclear plants and the related sensitive materials.
On July 27, 1991, a similar event took place at the heavy water plant run by the Department of Atomic Energy at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. Nuclear radiation had affected and injured many labourers there.
Coupled with other events of nuclear theft, smuggling and killing have become a regular feature of Indian atomic plants and facilities.
In July 1998, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seized eight Kg. of nuclear material from three engineers in Chennai. It was reported that the uranium was stolen from an atomic research center. The case still remains pending. On November 7, 2000, IAEA disclosed that Indian police had seized 57 pounds of uranium and arrested two men for illicit trafficking of radioactive material. IAEA had said that Indian civil nuclear facilities were vulnerable to thefts.
On January 26, 2003, CNN pointed out that Indian company, NEC Engineers Private Ltd. shipped 10 consignments to Iraq, containing highly sensitive equipments entailing titanium vessels and centrifugal pumps.
In 2004, when the issue of international nuclear black market came to surface, Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr. A.Q. Khan was only blamed by America and Europe for proliferation activities by neglecting the western nationals and especially those of India. While in February, same year, India’s Ambassador to Libya, Dinkar Srivastava revealed that New Delhi was investigating that retired Indian scientists could possibly be engaged in “high technology programs” for financial gains during employment in the Libyan government.
In December 2005, United States imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for selling missile goods and chemical arms material to Iran in violation of India’s commitment to prevent proliferation. In the same year, Indian scientists, Dr. Surendar and Y. S. R Prasad had been blacklisted by Washington due to their involvement in nuclear theft. In December 2006, a container packed with radioactive material had been stolen from an Indian fortified research atomic facility near Mumbai.
Some months ago, death of India’s nuclear scientist, Lokanathan Mahalingam raised new apprehension about the safety of Indian atomic assets. He was missed from the scenario and after a couple of days; his dead body was recovered from the Kali River. Indian police concocted a story that Mahalingam had committed suicide by jumping into the river. It is a big joke to hide some real facts behind his death because wisdom proves that if an educated person decides to commit suicide, he will definitely adopt a soft way to eliminate his life. Notably, Dr. Haleema Saadia disclosed that death of the scientist is a conspiracy—as soon as his dead body was found, within no time; the police had announced that Mahalingam had committed suicide.
Besides, in the recent past, solid evidence has surprised the world regarding the existence of Hindu terrorism which also shows future dangers of Indian proliferation owing to its poor safety. In this respect, Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra arrested a serving Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit along with some officials who confessed that they were involved in training of the Hindu terrorists, supplying them the military-grade explosive RDX, used in bombings of various Indian cities including Malegaon. The investigation further indicated the confession of Lt. Col. Purohit for the bombing of Samjhota express, while proving close links of the Indian army officials with prominent politicians of BJP, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal, who have been pressurizing New Delhi to release the arrested persons. Nevertheless, the enquiry still remains pending. Meanwhile, assassination of Indian Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Hemant Karkare in Mumbai during terror attacks also endorsed these links.
All these developments prove security lapses in connection with Indian weapons and especially nuclear facilities. In this context, most dangerous aspect is that Hindu fundamentalists, trained by Indian military experts or secret agency RAW could even prepare and obtain Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Thus they could jeopardise the global peace by using these fatal weapons inside America and Europe so that these developed nations could also point finger at Pakistan because of their ‘stereotypes’ against the Muslims and Islamabad in wake of war on terror.
Nonetheless, it is regrettable that despite India’s poor record of nuclear safety, and violation of various international agreements, and its refusal to sign Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), CTBT and Additional Protocol with the IAEA, the United States which singed a nuclear deal with New Delhi last year has been praising India as a responsible atomic actor.
So the right hour has come that the international community must take notice of the dangers posed by India’s poor nuclear safety.
By Sajjad Shaukat, Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations