cloud of Nuclear Security: The Nuclear Security Summit

The dangers of a nuclear world are beyond doubt. Radioactivity is a process in which an atom decays and emits alpha, beta, or gamma radiations. Gamma radiations are extremely harmful and are to be administered with extreme caution. Radioactivity has played a pivotal role in propelling medicine and nuclear science forward. A watershed moment has been the utilization of such processes for producing electricity, i.e. nuclear energy. For example, India is aiming to increase installed capacity more than seven fold to 3Making the world safer5000 MWe by the year 2022 and to 60,000 MWe by 2032.

The global scenario is no different. Nuclear energy is conspicuously driving many nations forward: France, Britain, Iran, Pakistan, etc. France generates close to 75% of electricity via nuclear means. For the developing nations it is a sure shot of success up the arm. In addition, it is a sustainable solution. However, there are some dangers that are fraught with production of electricity via nuclear energy. Also of caution is the use of nuclear fuel remnants to produce nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are not hell bent on destruction, but are programmed for obliteration. However safe the methods of production are, there exist legitimate chances of nuclear proliferation. Proliferation is not a problem, but proliferation of fissile nuclear material into the hands of the non-state actors is a matter of immense concern. Imagine a terrorist releasing a nuclear weapon into India or USA. Although counter measures are available, the psychological dent would be massive and perennial.

It is in this wake that the President of the USA convened a summit meeting of the representatives (head of governments) to discuss and arrive at a consensus on nuclear security. It is thus pertinent to dissect the broad umbrage that nuclear security comprises so that we can understand the threat perspective.

Nuclear Security, in short, is securing the nuclear technologies and the raw materials and finished products that it uses. This basic exposition has to be comprehended in the light of the several threats it faces. Securing raw materials or fissile materials is extremely important because proliferation of those would have disastrous effects. Proliferation to non state actors would be even more terrible. Leaks in nuclear establishments can create catastrophes, bigger than that of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The recent case of radioactive imported metal in Delhi is a clear example of how such materials can destroy lives. In countries that use plutonium, the use of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for producing weapons – weapons of mass destruction, that is – is another concern. Nuclear reactors are purported for producing energy and not be used for development of missile grade weapons. In addition, nuclear energy producing states are also to ensure and assure that they follow stringent and safe measures of disposal. The half-life of various radioactive isotopes is thousands of years long and thus can pose a serious damage to the future generation. In terms of proliferation, strict accounting and trackingcontrols have to be maintained.

So did the world achieve something tangible at the Nuclear Summit? Yes and no. In terms of creating awareness and highlighting the feasibility of a dirty nuclear bomb, there has been progress. Hitherto, the dangers of nuclear destruction are well known and documented. But it has been able to create a common viewing lens through which the world can address the problem. The next commonsensical step was to put countries in a common line with differing commitments that would ensure a safer nuclear world. Although promises were made, it would be heighten fears if the countries did not follow up on them. Countries have to discern the bigger picture. A safer nuclear establishment and non-proliferation regime makes a safer nuclear world. So it would not augur well for countries to fall back on their commitments which in turn increase threats. Countries also have to comprehend that there is no meaning in stocking up nuclear arsenals. In such a manner, the minimum deterrence policies have to be quantified. India, Pakistan and Iran remain a major issue of contention. Although India’s accountability and responsibility can see it through, Pakistan and Iran represent multiple headaches for the US. A nuclear Iran will create instability in the Middle East and might spark an arms race between Israel and Iran. India and Pakistan are deeply entrenched in their security complex. It will be interesting to note the little progress that can be made by the committed countries before the Nuclear Proliferation Review commences.

More to follow.

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Published by: Hemant Shivakumar

The author holds an undergraduate in engineering and has worked in research roles at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and Chaitanya in Chennai. The author is also a former LAMP fellow and a NPFP fellow visiting Australia.

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