India’s Secret Nuclear City | Yasir Hussain

In her address to the UN General Assembly, India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, reaffirmed her country’s support for non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament. But, contrary to its official stance, India has been producing fissile material for its nuclear weapons and is engaged in an arms buildup at a time when other states are cutting-down their stocks. The Centre for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative news organisation in Washington DC published a comprehensive report on India’s secret nuclear weapon facility in Karnataka that will produce thermonuclear weapons along with fuel for its nuclear powered submarines. The CPI’s report clearly discloses the gap that exists between India’s theoretical approach and practice.

Experts fear that the secret nuclear facility will be the subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic research laboratories, weapons and aircraft testing that would not only boost India’s weapons’ capability but would certainly alter the balance of power in the volatile region. Once accomplished in 2017, the facility would enable India to modernise its existing nuclear warheads, which range from 90 to 110 in number.

The report has been published at a time when the Australia-India uranium trade agreement is going to yield enough yellow cake for India to transform its nuclear programme. The deal will free India’s indigenous uranium reserves for weapons’ development and this secret facility shows how much India is prepared to boost weapons’ capability. Ronald Walker, the former Australian diplomat and chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also expressed his concerns that the nuclear deal would do damage to the non-proliferation regime. According to former Indian scientists and military officers, nuclear powered submarines would get newly produced enriched uranium from this secret facility. Currently, India has one indigenously developed submarine, the INS-Arihant, which has already undergone sea trials in 2014. A second, INS Aridhaman, is already under construction and India is also planning to get a Russian nuclear sub on lease. The new facility will provide more than enough enriched uranium to India’s growing nuclear submarine fleet.

Conferring to estimates of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Arihant-class submarine core needs only about 143 pounds of uranium, enriched to 30 percent. However, the estimated capacity of centrifuges in a single Mysore would be 352 pounds of weapons’ grade uranium left over every year even after fueling its naval fleet. This means the fuel would be enough for 22 hydrogen bombs.
The 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) agreed to grant India a specific waiver exempting it from the NSG’s rules governing civilian nuclear trade. With the NSG waiver, an over three decades’ long embargo on civilian nuclear trade with India ended. As a result, India got access to global nuclear trade without being signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The main purpose behind changing the rules of nuclear trade in India’s favour was to make India agree to work on the early negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). However, the recent report shows Indian motivations as being otherwise. This is highly unfortunate as most Indians sought country specific exemption as an important stepping-stone in achieving ‘great’ or ‘world’ power status. Greatness comes with great responsibilities and India’s definition of great power must not be limited to its expending nuclear power.

In another report, US officials and nuclear experts said that India’s security practices have repeatedly ranked lower than those of Pakistan and Russia. According to a presentation made by Indian experts at a US National Academy of Sciences workshop on nuclear security in Bangalore in 2012, most of the troubling incidents at nuclear facilities in India have involved insiders. Without addressing these critical issues, India has been expanding its nuclear arsenal.

There is no doubt about India’s remarkable economic growth but it has yet to trickle down to its millions living below the poverty line. It has the potential to follow in the footprints of the peaceful rise of China. For that, India needs to revisit its security policy. If it aims to play a vital role in the global arena, it needs to quit the confrontationist approach. The acquisition of more nuclear warheads will bring more security consciousness not only in India but South Asia in general.

South Asia is home to the world’s largest population living under the poverty line. Approximately, 194.6 million people are undernourished in India, which accounts for the highest number of people suffering from hunger in any single country. Similarly, Pakistan is equally suffering from massive poverty and poor economic growth. Yet, our priorities are messed up with so-called security concerns. Dichotomies exist in our misplaced priorities. Both states have the potential to transform this chaotic region with sincere and trustworthy efforts.

India is a greater power in the region and it has greater responsibilities associated with it. It needs to show its greatness by uplifting social conditions, not the number of nukes. Instead of developing clandestine nuclear facilities, it needs to work on confidence building measures. The weaponization of South Asia will not bring peace and stability to the volatile region. The flow of incoming weapons will stop the moment India and Pakistan settle their long-standing disputes. A peaceful South Asia is the dream of millions of Indians and Pakistanis. Let us build bridges, remove misconceptions and make efforts for peace in the region.


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