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Enabler of a dirty bomb

The justification George W Bush gave for the 2003 Iraq invasion was an accusation of Saddam’s ramping up Iraq’s nuclear programme and possession of WMDs. These criminally false claims were buttressed with forged intelligence reports that Iraq was acquiring uranium from Niger.

Bent upon invading Iraq, Washington set in motion an atrocity that would eventually see more than a million perish. Iraqis still face the ravages of this war with studies showing a 17-fold increase in congenital birth defects and the carcinogenic effects because of depleted uranium munitions used by American forces.

Reports from India say that in recent years, there have been 25 reports of missing radioactive substances within India; in 13 cases the material was never recovered. These alarming events have been totally ignored by Washington and its allies. One can imagine the shrill jingoistic rhetoric emanating from Delhi, the blaring Indian media and threatening Western capitals if this uranium pedaling norm had been in Pakistan.

Recently, two people were arrested by the Maharashtra ATS; 7.1kg uranium worth $2.9 million was recovered from them. On December 20, 2016, Thane police apprehended two people with 8.8 kg of uranium. In March 2016, India’s Intelligence Bureau busted a smuggling ring that involved illegal exports of beryllium, an atomic mineral ore.

On June 7, 2010, two women were arrested in Meghalaya with a package containing uranium. They were arrested on the basis of information provided by two men arrested earlier in Assam’s Dhubri district. They also possessed a package of uranium with a seal of the Indian Department of Atomic Energy.

In Oct 2010, Indian authorities arrested a man in Purulia possessing uranium in a sealed box carrying the inscription “URM, Made in USA”. In Feb 2008, an Indian was arrested trying to sell 4 kg of uranium near the Nepal border. On March 11, 2021 four people were arrested from a house in Boudha, Nepal for possession of 2.5 kg of uranium. One of the arrested persons claimed that her father-in-law worked at a uranium mine in India and had smuggled it from there.

India is a vast country. It is also a nuclear entity that has 22 power generating nuclear reactors. Some of these also produce weapons-grade nuclear materials with a single uranium enrichment plant at Rattehalli near Mysore producing three three tons of highly enriched uranium.

Over 7,000 institutions, including hospitals, use radiological devices and materials. The safety and security of these radiological sources are the responsibility of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). In 2012, a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General India revealed that a large majority of the facilities using radiological materials are not even registered with AERB.

The two key agencies for making weapons-grade nuclear material and delivery systems are the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Defense Research and Development Organization. The former produces the nuclear core, the latter explosives required for the detonation of bombs as well as the delivery missiles. Last year, a report by Dr Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow of the Observer Research Foundation, found glaring loopholes in the protocols for hiring of contractors and short-term laborers of both these extremely sensitive facilities.

India’s nuclear complexes are claimed to be thoroughly guarded and the movement of nuclear material monitored persistently. The readily available uranium and other radioactive materials in criminal hands belie these claims. They also portend a catastrophe being criminally ignored yet imminent by culpability.

Mayapuri is dubbed Asia’s largest scrap market. Irradiators find their way here as scrap and are scavenged for radioactive materials like Cobalt or Cesium. These radioactive materials can be used to develop a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) popularly known as a ‘dirty bomb’. Used with conventional explosives to disperse it, an RDD detonation in a metropolitan area could result in a radiological ruin costing, apart from loss and harm to lives, billions of dollars in evacuations, relocations, cleanup and the radioactive fallout spread over decades.

In Oct 2019, the Atomic Minerals Directorate found dangerously high levels of uranium concentration in the groundwater samples across the Lambapur-Peddagattu region in Telangana’s Nalgonda district. Apart from posing a grave risk to thousands of nearby residents, this uranium rich area also remains the hotbed of the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency and an alluring element to be put to destructive use.

The maxim that ensures the safety and security of radioactive materials is its absolute security “from cradle to grave”. The inviolable protocol consists of extreme care in handling these materials from start till their final storage / disposal. Given the spate of events, India poses a grave threat as an enabler of nuclear terrorism, a nightmarish specter indeed.

The ready availability of these radioactive substances in India is as dangerous as, like every other atrocity by India, the deafening silence it evokes from all the Western capitals. With the stranglehold of a terror sponsoring RSS on the Modi-led BJP, organizations like AQIS, ISIS and the rampant insurgencies in India, the unchallenged availability of radioactive materials portend a catastrophe bound to happen.

Despite tall claims of equality and human rights from the godfathers of this world, the ironic truth is that we live in a world of selective morality that sees horrendous atrocities unravel in unchallenged perpetuity in Palestine and Occupied Kashmir. What could be a greater ignominy, a harsher rebuke for the purported champions of humanity that remain frozen and tongue tied to the continuing horrors of Modi and Netanyahu, conjoined Hitlers of today.

Coming back to the rash of uranium cases, it is imperative that the world, especially the US, Britain, EU and the IAEA take notice of this extremely grave matter. With Indians dying on the streets for want of oxygen and hospital care, Modi callously forges ahead with the $1.8 billion parliamentary revamp project including a lavish PM residence with 10 four-storey complexes and a vice president’s enclave with 32 buildings.

Given this sickening apathy there shall certainly be elements conspiring to prosper through criminal gains. A dirty bomb, waiting to happen, shall have far more tragic and destructive consequences than the rampant all-enveloping pandemic.

Email: miradnanaziz@gmail.com

Mir Adnan Aziz, "Enabler of a dirty bomb," The News. 2021-05-23.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Nuclear programme , Nuclear materials , Nuclear weapons , Terrorism , Reactors , Uranium , PM Modi , George W Bush , India , Iraq , IAEA , RDD , BJP