The Platform


When discussing nuclear security, transparency and rigorous oversight are indispensable conditions for maintaining peace and stability.

In the complex theatre of international relations, few subjects carry the enormous weight that nuclear security does. Nations endowed with nuclear capabilities bear a solemn responsibility to adhere to rigorous safety and security protocols. These protocols serve to protect not just their own national interests, but also the collective well-being of the global community. This article aims to delve into the intricate concerns surrounding India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), its complex relationship with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and the profound implications stemming from the lack of an autonomous nuclear regulatory institution.

When discussing nuclear security, transparency and rigorous oversight are indispensable conditions for maintaining peace and stability. While it’s understandable that nations like India, which possess military nuclear programs, would envelop the specifics of their military arsenals in layers of secrecy, the state of their civilian nuclear regulatory frameworks can offer critical insights into the overall landscape of nuclear security. One might reasonably conclude that a nation with a military nuclear program would establish even more stringent security measures to safeguard its strategic assets.

In the case of India, however, there is a conspicuous absence of a truly independent nuclear regulatory body. The AERB, which is charged with overseeing the safety and security protocols of India’s nuclear establishments, is not genuinely autonomous. Instead, it functions under the purview of the DAE, the very organization responsible for nuclear operations within India. This embedded relationship casts doubt on the AERB’s ability to impartially scrutinize and, if necessary, halt DAE operations that might not adhere to global standards—even if those operations carry substantial safety and security risks.

Within India, the volume of concern has been steadily increasing regarding the country’s swiftly expanding nuclear program on one hand and the noticeable absence of robust safety and security measures on the other. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has rung alarm bells concerning loopholes in nuclear security and the problematic relationship between the AERB and the DAE. These domestic worries are not insular; they have significant implications on an international scale.

Although the responsibility for nuclear security is fundamentally a national concern, the haunting specter of nuclear terrorism and the peril of nuclear materials falling into unauthorized hands have global repercussions. These concerns resonate not just within international bodies, but also among neighboring nations.

Pakistan, for instance, has voiced apprehensions regarding multiple security lapses within India’s nuclear infrastructure. The possibility of cross-border ramifications is undeniable; a security breach could result in a transboundary dissemination of radioactivity that would be catastrophic for the region. These apprehensions underline the urgency of addressing the existing gaps in India’s nuclear regulatory schema.

The lack of a robust security framework poses significant risks, both in terms of transboundary security implications and in emboldening unsavory elements within the system, as well as potential terrorist organizations within India. The scenario of such elements acquiring nuclear materials for financial benefits—or even more alarmingly, for acts of terrorism—is a nightmarish vision.

The ramifications of such a lapse in security are unfathomably devastating. They stretch beyond national borders and possess the capability to disrupt regional and even global stability. Adherence to stringent safety and security measures is not merely a matter of compliance with international norms; it is, in essence, a matter of worldwide security.

As India nurtures ambitions to integrate itself into global non-proliferation frameworks—including its aspiration for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—it must manifest an unwavering commitment to establishing robust nuclear security protocols. This commitment should be contingent upon New Delhi’s ability to fundamentally restructure its existing regulatory framework to meet the highest international standards of safety and security. In the same vein, the forthcoming review conference of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) should serve as a moral impetus for India to assume a greater sense of nuclear responsibility. These international forums present India with an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to nuclear security, responding to concerns voiced both domestically and by the global community.

The absence of an independent nuclear regulatory institution in India is a matter of serious concern, not just for India but for the international community as a whole. The complex interrelationship between the AERB and the DAE presents considerable risks, both in terms of national safety and security and within the context of international peace and stability. These concerns go beyond mere compliance with international norms; they are moral and strategic imperatives. The potentially catastrophic consequences of lax nuclear security cannot be ignored. India must recognize its responsibilities on both a domestic and international scale, and take decisive action to address the current gaps in its nuclear regulatory framework. Only then can India credibly claim to be a responsible and reliable actor in the global nuclear milieu.

Humma Rehman Qureshi is a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.