In a world where nuclear proliferation and “dirty bombs” are a major threat to internal security, Mumbai ATS has reported a very serious incident. Two persons were arrested by the Maharashtra ATS on the basis of specific intelligence someone trying to sell natural uranium, which is a radioactive material that is highly toxic to humans.
A few weeks ago, the ATS received information that one Jigar Pandya was trying to illegally trying to sell natural Uranium. Subsequently, the ATS laid a trap and arrested Jigar Pandya with some small pieces of suspected radioactive material. He told that the material was given to him by one Abu Tahir Afzal Hussain Choudhary. Abu Tahir was then arrested from the premises of Kurla Scrap Association in Mankhurd and about 7.1 kilogram Uranium with estimated black market value of Rs 21 crore was seized from his possession. It is reported that the accused had even got the Uranium tested at a private lab for its purity. The ATS is probing the lab and trying to further trace the links, specially the source of the banned material.
Uranium is a highly dangerous material and if it goes into the wrong hands, it can be extremely deadly to a large population even in small quantities. The seized material was sent by the authorities to Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) for testing and it was confirmed to be natural Uranium. An FIR has been filed under relevant laws including the Atomic Energy Act.
Although 7 kg of Uranium is not sufficient to make a nuclear device, it can be used to make “Dirty Bombs”. A dirty bomb combines conventional explosives with nuclear material to disperse the nuclear material over a large area. A large number of people can be thus subject to nuclear poisoning. Although, the risk of death from such radiation is minimal, the resulting panic and healthcare issues can have deep economic and psychological impact. Further, it is not yet ascertained that from where did Abu Tahir get this supply. There might be more nuclear material available in the black market and a really resourceful and motivated terrorist organisation could use the same to try and build a nuclear fission device, or a bomb.
The commerce in nuclear material is banned internationally by the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty or NPT, which however has not been signed by Bharat. However, on the basis of its excellent record in nuclear security, Bharat has secured a waiver from NPT to source raw material and technology for its civilian nuclear programme. The nuclear energy space is still largely a monopoly in Bharat with only the government allowed to conduct any activity in the field. Only last year, applications of nuclear energy in the fields of agriculture, medicine and nuclear research were opened to private entities. The Atomic Energy Act of 1962 restricts even the information related to nuclear material and declares all mines for fissile material as state property. The act provides for 5 year prison term for violation of its provisions. Similarly, another little known law Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, 2005, provides for minimum imprisonment of 5 years and upto life term for a person trying to sell fissile material to a “non-state actor” or a “terrorist”.
This arrest should ring loud alarm bells in the security establishment of Bharat. The National Investigation Agency should probe the terrorism angle and other security agencies having human and technical intelligence capabilities should coordinate in this case to find out the source of the nuclear material, the prospective buyers in Bharat of such material and if any such material has already been sold to any private persons. Bharat has had an excellent record in terms of nuclear security and non-proliferation. Any laxity in this matter will not only embarrass us in front of the international community, but also pose a grave threat to lives of Bharatiya citizens.
Featured image source : India TV
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