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Wednesday Nov 13, 2019, Rabi-al-awwal 15, 1441 Hijri

How secure is Indian nuclear program?

17 October, 2006

By Adnan Gill

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A brief answer is, marginally!

India already enjoys the dubious distinction of running the most unsafe nuclear program, now it can hold the crown for running the most insecure one too. The Indian nuclear program has become a serious threat to world security. By large, the security threats posed to its nuclear reactors stem from within. It is a ticking time bomb waiting to be tripped by the numerous insurgencies and separatist movements plaguing India, or by natural disasters. Well over half of India is virtually controlled by insurgent groups, like the Naxalites, where the government's control is minimal to non-existent. Other security threats emanate from the Indians choosing to construct their nuclear facilities on coastlines prone to natural disasters like the monstrous tsunami of 2004.

India is afflicted with countless insurgencies. Over 53 per cent of its geographical territory is under the control of insurgents and separatists. A debilitating insurgency in the Indian-Controlled-Kashmir is still carried strong by groups like All-Parties Hurriyat Conference. The Sikh Khalistani movement seeks to create an independent Sikh State out of India's breadbasket state of Punjab. Northeastern India is bled by at least 50 separatist movements, out of which, the most prominent and oldest one is Naga militant group/National Socialist Council of Nagalim. However the most serious threat to Indian national security is posed by the leftist Naxalite separatists. Prime minister, Manmohan Singh, described this Maoist insurgency as "the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country".

Once dismissed as little more than an irritant, the Maoist movement is gaining ground in India. The Naxalites are fighting the Indian government in states like Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttaranchal, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. Over 45 per cent or two-fifth of Indian territory is now under Naxalite influence which extends to 15 States, affecting 509 police stations. Currently, as few as 25 battalions of military and central paramilitary forces are fighting the armed Naxalites who have a presence in 220 districts and are in absolute control of over 160 districts, and spreading wide and far. They have over 55,000 well-trained, well-armed and highly motivated cadres, hi-tech weapons in plenty and a well-honed fighting strategy. Indian intelligence agencies believe that Maoists of India and Nepal have also begun joint operations. Sri Lanka's LTTE and French Maoists are providing full support to the Indian and Nepalese Maoists. In return, the Indian Maoists provide shelter and training camps to Nepal's Maoists.

Apparently, the separatist/Maoist sympathizers have successfully penetrated all sort of government organization, including Indian military and its state-owned Ordinance Factories. As recent as, October, 2006, Indian army recovered a massive cache of state manufactured arms and ammunition in the eastern city of Kolkata. Three people, including a soldier, were arrested in connection with the seizure of arms. The hoard included anti-personnel mines and ammunition. According to an October 3, 06, BBC report, "An army spokesman said the cache of arms was meant for Maoist rebels and other terrorist groups active in and around eastern West Bengal state." The report added, the Army spokesman Wing Commander RK Das said "the arms were meant for supply to Maoist and other terrorist groups active in the region, and that this was one of the largest recoveries of arms in recent times." Das further added, "The anti-personnel mines are very powerful and a single mine can kill many". In 2005 too, the police in southern Andhra Pradesh seized a huge cache of arms, including 800 rocket shells, which they said were meant for Maoist rebels.

A day after the British police said they foiled a major plot to attack transatlantic airliners, and exactly a month after Mumbai, India's commercial hub, was hit by a series of bomb blasts, the U.S. embassy in India warned American citizens of possible attacks in or around New Delhi and Mumbai. The U.S. embassy spokesman warned, "Likely targets include major airports, key central Indian government offices, and major gathering places such as hotels and markets." Judging from the September 8, 2006, horrible bomb blast in Malegaon (Maharashtra), which claimed at least 37 victims, it would be safe to assume that the warnings issued by the U.S. embassy were based on credible information. Even though the public warnings issued by the Americans did not include direct threats to the Indian nuclear facilities, still the Indian government deployed 38 elite commandos at its Kalpakkam fast breeder reactor in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. At the same time, the Press Trust of India reported additional commando deployments at other nuclear facilities. It reported, "The armed forces were given the responsibility of securing [nuclear] facilities and NSG commandoes were deployed at many nuclear plants."

Few details are available regarding the security standards in place for the Indian nuclear program, but they are believed to be primitive and outdated at best. Depending on the sensitivity of materials, it is generally believed that different levels of security are in place, including fencing and sentries. Physical barriers are installed at nuclear facilities in an effort to deny access to the sensitive areas, and access control is maintained over personnel by visually verifying paper laminated identity cards.

Security experts believe a well conceived attack on Indian nuclear assets by any number of highly-motivated insurgents and/or their sympathizers can potentially materialize in any of the following scenarios:

Scenario # 1: The insurgents steal an intact nuclear weapon from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and detonate it in the middle of Mumbai.

Though highly improbable, of all the separatist threats facing India, perhaps the gravest is the possibility of militants obtaining a fully assembled nuclear weapon and detonating it in a metropolitan. Insurgents could potentially acquire nuclear weapons through one of two plausible ways. They could steal an intact nuclear weapon from existing arsenals, or they could buy a stolen weapon. If an Indian separatist group exploded just one nuclear weapon in a major metropolis, hundreds of thousands of Indians could die and millions will be seriously injured.

Scenario # 2: The insurgents fashion a crude nuclear weapon by stealing fissile material from the Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing Plant (KARP) and explode it in Chennai.

In November/December 2004, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported that India possesses 300-470 kilograms of plutonium, enough to produce up to 120 nuclear weapons, and a reasonable amount of highly enriched uranium (HEU). According to the report by David Albright and Kimberly Kramer titled 'Stockpiles still growing', "India may now be producing HEU in significant quantities at a gas centrifuge plant it has been working on for many years."

Since only a relatively small amount of HEU or plutonium is needed to build a bomb, separatists could potentially steal enough material to build one or more nuclear weapons. A crude nuclear weapon would need 40-50 kilograms of HEU. However, a more sophisticated design would use approximately 12 kilograms of HEU or 4 kilograms of plutonium. The theft of HEU from uranium enrichment plants like the ones at Trombay and Mysore would be especially worrisome, because it is relatively straightforward to make a bomb using this material. The insurgents could acquire enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon and the expertise to construct a workable bomb.

Scenario # 3: The insurgent sympathizers smuggle highly radioactive material out of the Nuclear Fuel Complex to detonate a radiological dispersion device or 'dirty bomb' in Hyderabad.

In an example of a security blunder that could have resulted in the theft of fissile material, in August 2006, security was tightened in and around the Narora nuclear power plant after three men working there were arrested for giving fake addresses at the time of their appointments. Unbelievably, the men were given access to the facilities without first conducting thorough background checks.

The problem is that India does not only have 22 declared -- including under construction -- nuclear reactors, but it also has about 60 -- less secure -- agencies connected with nuclear activities. India is well-known for lax security and overworked systems; security experts believe smuggling of radioactive materials to be highly probable.

If the Maoists can recruit Indian military and ordinance factory personnel to smuggle out state owned military weaponry, then one can safely assume Maoists could one day get their hands on radioactive material to be used in dirty bombs, or in worst case, they could potentially steal nuclear weapons too.

Scenario # 4: Naxalites sabotage KARP facilities to cause large release of radiation in Chennai.

Security experts think the nature of specific threats to Indian nuclear facilities may include an attack with explosive laden trucks. These trucks could be driven through the security parameters to be exploded next to the nuclear reactors or next to the turbines spun by highly radioactive steam. In past, such tactics had been employed with marginal success by the Iraqi insurgents who breached the Green Zone (Baghdad) security wall by exploding a truck next to the wall. A second truck drove through the hole in the wall and exploded inside the Green Zone by the second suicide bomber. India is no stranger to suicide bombings. In the first recorded instance of suicide bombing in South Asia, the Indian Ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber. 

Insurgents may even employ other innovative tactics like mounting an aerial attack using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or an aircraft in a suicide mission. Naxalites are believed to be armed with short and long-range rockets. An attack on the nuclear facilities with rockets is also a realistic possibility to cause panic to facilitate breaching of security parameters.

The consequences of such attacks could include release of radioactive matter such as contaminated heavywater, pressurized radioactive steam, uranium dust clouds, iodine or cesium, and the associated fires and explosions could cause catastrophic structural failures. In fact, the Indian nuclear program has a history of structural failures. For example, in 1994, owing to faulty design, the concrete containment dome of the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) collapsed.

Scenario # 5: The most realistic scenario. In the aftermath of a massive tsunami, insurgents effortlessly get their hands on unguarded nuclear weapons stored at the unsecured military bases, and fissile materials from the KARP, BARC and/or Tarapur Atomic Power Stations and disperse these weapons and fissile materials all over India. They also sell the loot and stage multiple nuclear attacks.

The December 26, 2004 tsunami devastated the coastal stretches of Tamil Nadu. The unimaginable force of the tsunami literally uprooted or flattened every security boundary that was supposed to protect the peripheries of the 500-MW prototype fast breeder reactor coming up at Kalpakkam. The security personnel at the facilities were either killed or fled, virtually leaving the nuclear reactor insecure and unguarded for days to come.

In March 2006, the under construction 1,000 MW Koodankulam nuclear power plants were rocked by earthquake tremors. The tremors were strong enough to create severe panic and fear among the local population about the safety and security of the nuclear power project. According to a statement released by the People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy and the South Asian Community Center for Education and Research, "The quake, very close to the Koodankulam reactor site, raises urgent and important questions about the safety of the plants and the security and well being of the people in Kanyakumari and other southern districts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala". The statement further addressed the slacked attitude of Indian authorities towards the safety and security of its nuclear plants: "The local people's concerns about the impacts of these plants on their safety, health, livelihoods and well-being have all been simply dismissed so far." Arguably, their fears are not unfounded. It's not if, but when someone will take advantage of a natural disaster by stealing the fissile materials and/or nuclear weapons from the Indian facilities?

Unfortunately, that's not where Indian nightmare scenarios will end. In its mad pursuit to become a mini-nuclear power, India is going to ridiculous lengths to amass nuclear technologies in an amateurish hope to enhance its ability to generate additional fissile materials for its nuclear stockpiles. In an example of ultimate irresponsible and reckless behavior, Indians have tried to negotiate with Russians to build nuclear reactors even in the open seas. On November 19, 2003, the Indian news daily, The Hindu, reported a conversation between the Indian national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and the Russian atomic energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev on a Russian offer to India of floating nuclear plants in international waters off the Indian shores, because then, the ownership of the plants can remain with the supplier. How India and Russia planed to protect the floating nuclear power plants in open seas against hurricanes, accidental collisions, terrorist attacks, aerial or underwater attacks, or sabotage is anybody's guess.

As a member of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and under UN Resolution 1540, India is required to establish the highest standards of security for its fissile materials. Sadly, so far, the security standards at Indian nuclear facilities are believed to be rudimentary and primitive at best.

The Indian nuclear program is fast becoming a serious threat to world security. Rising radioactive plumes from the sabotaged Indian facilities or nuclear explosions will certainly poison the food and water supplies in the Subcontinent. Depending on the time of the year, the radioactive dust from India can be carried by the prevailing upper atmosphere winds all the way around the world to Western Europe, or even to the United States!

Realistic threat to the world security from the insecure Indian nukes is marginalized by the world leaders, like U.S. President Bush, who remain obsessed with assumed-threats like the one from Iran. President Bush's tendency to be distracted by self-conceived threats has already resulted into a North Korean nuclear test, while the threats from India remain ticking.

Courtesy: The Defence Journal



Reader Comments:

Completely Flawed

I wanted to ask Mr. Adnan Gill that Have you been to India ? All the comment in this Artical is rubbish. Even the numbers are not consistent in his artical. I always read pakistani newspare to find out the India and what they think about it. But most of the time I found a false claim. Why all the time people like you wann spread wrong things?

Rakesh, Hungary - 17 October, 2006

How secure is Indian nuclear program?

look at your own program instead of having India Phobia. whole world is watching you

randhir, Hungary - 17 October, 2006

most of them are not correct .Editor should not bias the readers and increase anger on anybody in any country

aameer, United Kingdom - 17 October, 2006

India's Nuclear Facilities

The article is thought provoking, for it reveals a lot about the abysmal state of affairs regarding India's nuclear program.

But the author should have also suggested some measures which can be taken to improve matters. After all, the dirty radiation,if any, will affect Pakistan more than any of the countries cited by Adnan Gill.

Hayat Hussain, Pakistan - 17 October, 2006

Great News.....

I think the writer (Adnan Gill) must have been smoking pot (of course afghan made) like sohaib and other crickters. Dont take this as one sided comment. Please go to India and see for yourself. I agree there are problems but not so much as claimed by the writer.

Kingofcochin, United Kingdom - 18 October, 2006

How secure is Indian nuclear program


Your article’s headline was catchy but soon after reading the first few line the entire enthusiasm of reading your article just vanished because of serious lack of facts and just gloomy hypothetical figures. To sum it up the article never appeared to be worth reading anymore and just a piece of advise get all the facts correct before pointing a figure at someone and also take some time to count on your own blunders (A Q Khan and his nuclear bazaar, cross border terrorism, military coup etc..) before pointing a figure one someone else.

Hope you learn from your mistakes.


Bhuwan (Proudly Indian)

Bhuwan Ranjan, Aruba - 18 October, 2006


You ask how safe is Indian Nuclear Program? My question is, How safe is Pakistan Nuclear Program? Pakistan has done World proud by releasing Nuclear Secrets to North Korea, Iran and who knows how many other countries.

Mr. Malik, Pakistan - 18 October, 2006

Sleepless nights

This is a RAW plot to steal your sleep.

Slogan Murugan, Hungary - 18 October, 2006

Is Pakistan Insecure

Even United States is not secure, having dreaded al queda men and its variants within its country, doesn’t mean US is not fit to have nuclear plant. Yes India has militant and insurgency not the few as you have mentioned it has ten times more than that, but it is capable to handle them with iron hand. Lucky India has congress government at the centre which is little flexible and may cause fear to people like you. And if BJP comes again to power So my dream is that BJP to rule India and joining hands with fellow terrorist country Pakistan(Most of the worlds notorious terrorist are trained here, I fear even the RSS are being trained here.)having Musharaff as head. If this comes true both India and Pak with become the most dynamic nuclear country and even US will fear to cross over us, also as Adnan Gill's dream, both countries can have nuclear reactor around the country like tea stalls otherwise Indian curry stall.

Indian, Hungary - 18 October, 2006

This is one sided and totally biased view, rather ridiculous

this is completely an ill minded view. This incorrect analysis shows how hatred this person is towards India as any other extremists in Pakistan.
people who writes in such a reputed newspaper should show a minimum responsibility to be matured enough to analyse the subject by an independent and non-baised way.

Ranjith, Pakistan - 18 October, 2006

ignorant like

probably you are in US, you have become ignorant like them.
Liked your article, but most of the things are far from reality.
Keeping you eyes closed could make you believe that its dark but not to the world.
Like president, like citizens, all in Line of lies and enmity.

Read probably this will help you to realise that together we stand, divided we fall.

Shivam, United Arab Emirates - 18 October, 2006

Dr AQ Khan

Pakistan's Nuclear Security Policy :-
Show me your Money and I'll sell you our Nukes !!!
Your Site is very amusing

Mr S. Gill, United Arab Emirates - 18 October, 2006

Good work with the scenarios, The facts and figures are total BS.
"Over 53 per cent of its geographical territory is under the control of insurgents and separatists." LOL

Arun, Hungary - 18 October, 2006

well done Adnan

.One letter Mr.Hayat suggests measures needed to improve matters. In this regard may i suggest to be deployed in their birthday suits so that all Maoists, naxalites,communists and other extremist politicians will drop to death on seeing the sight. you know laughter kills.By the by Adnan looks like an Indian agent or spy.He knows everything in fine detail more than Indians.I wish i was given this job by Pakistan's ISI.Good-byeeeeee.MR.Musharoff how are you?It's important for your press to see pictures of you and Bush ,Kharzai on public address forum on your recent trip.As Pak tribune knows one pic says more than 1000words.Go and watch it again.

nsrao, Pakistan - 18 October, 2006

Junk Author


AH, Hungary - 19 October, 2006

Most likely scenario

I think you have missed the most likely scenario.So i will put it for you.You are sitting in your home, a van comes from Mental asylum .Take you there give few electric shocks to bring you back to you senses so that you could write readable article which have more facts in them

SAURABH, Hungary - 19 October, 2006

Knowledge Improvement Tips for the author

Well, I myself am no expert on our nuclear program, but there are some very basic flaws in Mr. Adnan's article. First, in Punjab there is now insurgency of any type today. The terrorism there breathed it last in 1992. Today Punjab is the richest and happiest state of India with some kind of celebrations going round the year. Being a punjabi I know this.
Second, the naxalite problem: yes it has spread quite a bit but not like it has been presented in the article. Of the states listed, neither uttar pradesh, nor any state like uttaranchal, karnataka or kerala suffer this problem. One of the buggest sufferers is orissa which the author didnt mention. This shows a complete lack of knowledge on part of the author. Moreover, the naxalite insurgency exists in densely forested tribal areas of these states and doesnt affect the mainstream in any way. But nevertheless the insurgency exists and is gsining teeth.
As for the nuclear program being unsafe, well, no spy sattelite or foriegn intellegence agency has ever been able to get a clue on what goes on inside our nuclear installations. The US will vouch for this. So I am unsure how the author is so sure of the impending disaster. Moreover, the Indian state has a booming economy, its coffers are overflowing and can easily afford to maintain or even expand its nuclear, space or whatever programs it may like successfully if it wishes so unllike rag-tag states like Pakistan who is the only known proliferator of nuclear weapons.

Saurabh Joshi, Hungary - 19 October, 2006


Look at Dr. AQ Khan, a stigma but true picture of a Pakistani who can sell death for money to the some notorious states. Hey guys !! a famous quote for a Pakistani, "We the Pakistani can sell everything (it means everything, ok ? ) for money and so beware of us".

Singh, Canada - 19 October, 2006


I doubt yr ......................Sorry man.Cool down.Good for u.Take care.

Pakistani, Pakistan - 19 October, 2006

Mr S . Gill,s A Q Khan


Pakistani, Pakistan - 19 October, 2006

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