Foreign Policy Blogs

Sour Grapes? IDSA Questions NTI Nuke Materials Security Index

After the Nuclear Threat Initiative released its Nuclear Materials Security Index, the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi posted a rebuke of sorts by Dr. Ch. Viyyanna Sastry, a Research Fellow, and Rajiv Nayan, a Senior Research Associate, both at the IDSA. In it, Sastry and Nayan allege that the NTI index was released as part of a “hidden agenda” related to the Global threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), that NTI’s decision not to include radiological materials was arbitrary, refers to its methodology as faulty, and contends that the index reflects a political and Western bias.

Okay.  Fair enough.  In the spirit of democracy, the IDSA and any other think tank or analyst is welcome to comment on, deconstruct or otherwise dissect the NTI’s work.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion it actually comes down to this sentence in the IDSA piece: “It is surprising that the Report places India at the 28th spot in the first list with Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea below it.”

NTI took the time to respond to the IDSA piece, countering that it did indeed consider including radiological materials, but that “While a real threat, radiological sources vary widely in terms of type of materials, nature of application (used by a diverse set of actors and facilities for medical, industrial and research purposes), and the consequences and impact of a dirty bomb attack. As such, they require a substantially different set of security requirements. Because the dirty bomb concern is an analytically different problem, we chose to focus on how to prevent a nuclear terrorism attack using a catastrophic nuclear yield-producing device fueled by dangerous weapons-usable nuclear materials.”

As for the charge of political and Western bias, NTI countered that relied on an independent panel of experts which had “more representation from the non-Western and developing world (e.g., Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and South Africa) than any other sector to ensure the Index reflected an international point of view. The panel provided extensive input into the framework before data was gathered to ensure its objectivity.”

A little anecdote:  In the mid-1990s, a team from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission traveled to India under the helm of then-Chairman Ivan Selin.  At the time, the technical team found the safety and physical conditions of the nuclear facilities they visited strongly lacking.  Not wanting to offend their hosts, the team held their opinions.  However, Dr. Selin was so alarmed at the condition of the plants that he strongly pressed the head of the technical team to speak candidly about the condition of the nuclear facilities.  Needless to say, the Indian government was not pleased and vowed never again to allow the U.S. government to visit any of their nuclear facilities again. (Sidenote: The rift was not permanent and, after the 1998 test sanctions were lifted, the NRC again visited India and was able to gain access to the unsafeguarded nuclear plant at Chennai, as well as BARC. Yours truly was part of that visit.)

Now, the Indian government is by no means alone in showing technological pride in its innovations – after all, the Indians were cut off from Western nuclear cooperation after 1974 and, as a result, were forced to improvise, creating their own “INDU” reactor, a riff on the Canadian-Deuterium. or CANDU, Reactor given to them by Canada before the weapons test. However, as NTI rightly points out, the Index was created to instigate “a broad and deep conversation about the role of transparency in nuclear materials security…” NTI also adds that “…India and other states can take steps to make public its security regulations (absent sensitive information) and invite meaningful peer reviews.” I would add here that, of the Member States of the IAEA with nuclear power programs, one notable country has never requested a safety review of its facilities. Guess which one?



Jodi Lieberman
Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.