Nuclear Materials Security in Pakistan

Pakistan has a dedicated and a well-established nuclear program – a large nuclear infrastructure for military purposes and a miniscule one for civilian use. Pakistan’s civil nuclear facilities and installations are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “facility specific safeguards,” but like other NWS, its military nuclear complex is outside of any international checks and balances. Pakistan plans to build new nuclear power plants and to expand existing ones to meet the scorching energy requirements in the country. At the official level, Pakistan claims to recognize the significance of careful handling of its nuclear materials and technology right from its production stage to use, and its safe and secure dumping.

With regards to civil nuclear materials control, Pakistan has joined the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) and the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS). Pakistan has also evolved a nuclear technical and scientific support program with the help of the IAEA and its member states. Pakistan has introduced an extensive institutional and legislative response to secure sensitive technologies and nuclear materials to implement UN Resolution 1540. Officially, Pakistan believes that Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is a great initiative, explaining its participation in the previous two summits. It endorsed these summits’ agendas that stressed the need to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials. However, though Pakistan has acceded to the convention on physical protection, it still is not part of the 2005 amendment or the nuclear terrorism convention.

As far as nuclear weapons safety and security is concerned, Pakistan has taken a number of steps especially in the wake of AQ Khan episode. A report on the 2014 NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index appeared in Pakistan’s most esteemed daily newspaper, Dawn, on 10 January 2014, and may be a reflection of dividends of this work:

“Despite superseding nuclear rivals India, a US study on worldwide nuclear materials security for 2014 said Pakistan is ranked 22nd out of 25 countries with weapons usable nuclear materials worldwide. However, Pakistan has shown the most improvement recently among nine nuclear-armed states through a series of steps to update nuclear security regulations and to implement best practices. The 2014 Nuclear Threat Initiative Nuclear Materials Security Index has ranked Pakistan above India in terms of nuclear safety. India is ranked 23rd out of 25 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials in the world while China is placed 20th on the index.

The NTI study predicts further improvement in Pakistan’s regulations for protection and threat prevention. In the 2014 NTI Index, the scores of the nine nuclear-armed states remained mostly static, with some states’ scores increasing or decreasing by a single point.

“Pakistan was a notable exception, with its score increasing by three points,” the NTI Index acknowledged in its latest assessment.

“Pakistan, which improved its score by three points compared with 2012, demonstrated the largest improvement of any nuclear-armed state. Pakistan is taking steps to update its nuclear security regulations and to implement nuclear security best practices.”

In particular, the assessment says, new regulations have improved its scores in the On-Site Physical Protection indicator. Pakistan also participated in new bilateral and multilateral assistance, although its score for Voluntary Commitments was already high.

France, the United Kingdom, and the United States lead the nuclear-armed states in scoring.

The 2014 Nuclear Threat Initiative Nuclear Materials Security Index is the second edition of a unique public assessment of nuclear materials security conditions around the world, the organization website said. Developed with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the NTI Index was created to assess the security of nuclear materials around the world and to encourage governments to take actions and provide assurances about the security of the world’s deadliest materials, it said.”

Why then, are concerns and apprehensions raised by international stake-holders regarding nuclear materials safety and security in Pakistan (despite the fact that it has taken several regulatory measures)? I will try to answer this question in my next post.


Image: Pallava Bagla-Corbis Historical, Getty

Posted in , IAEA, Nonproliferation, Nuclear, Nuclear Security, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Policy, Security, Technology, UN

Muhammad Sadiq

Muhammad Sadiq is a lecturer at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quiad-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan since 2007 and a former visiting fellow (fall 2012) at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, MIIS California. He also served at Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as an “International Relations Analyst” for a short period of time in 2007. He has M.Sc and M.Phil degrees from DSS, QAU. Besides teaching, he is pursuing his PhD from the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. His area of research and teaching include Nuclear Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament, and Nuclear Strategy.

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6 thoughts on “Nuclear Materials Security in Pakistan

  1. Excellent, I think initiatives taken by Pakistan to maximize safety and security of nuclear facilities are satisfactory. It is aware of sensitivity of regional difficulties pose by extremism and terrorism. It has taken best initiatives to maximize security. There is no legislation parallel to Pakistan’s as export control act 2004 clearly explains that any violator or cheater can be punished with imprisonment of 14 years. There is no example of such legislation in the world in this case.
    No doubt some proliferation took place from Pakistan (as in case of A Q Khan episode), but Pakistan is not unique case in this reference. Proliferation happened even from developed countries, the name of Klaus Fuchs is famous in this cause (from Manhattan project). But A Q Khan episode made Pakistan very conscious. So it introduced some reforms and took steps and tightens command and control system further.
    As far as international report is concern, no doubt Pakistan superseded India but it is still at bottom of list. 22nd in 25 is satisfactory but not a good ranking. It is clearly showing that it must take more steps to maximize safety and security to make it equal to that of great powers.
    One important thing which world must appreciate despite having very deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan not a single even of theft of nuclear and radiological material has been reported, whereas more than 150 such events in India has been reported by international media.
    Pakistan must take some more initiative to improve safety and security of nuclear facilities in such sensitive environment to prevent any bad event in future.

  2. Can the commentator above cite any any authentic footnote that justifies his assertion that “more than 150 such events [theft of nuclear and radiological material] in India has been reported by international media?”

    Congratulations Sadiq, on your nation’s achievement.

  3. Reshmi, Thank you.

    I think Pakistan’s nuclear establishment deserves appreciation with regards to its institutional and legislative responses to proliferation and nuclear terrorism challenges. However, to my understanding at policy/strategy level, still it’s at the dangerous track .

    Best wishes!

  4. Thank you for initiating a discussion on security of nuclear materials in South Asia. Three points of reflection from my end:

    1. The NTI Report that the author cites underlines the increase in steps undertaken to ensure the security of nuclear materials in Pakistan. This is a welcome step, especially considering the socio-political instability that the country currently is in. The Report does not indicate that Pakistan always had a satisfactory level of such security, but rather a possible dearth of it, and hence its need to boost it.

    2. That more instances of nuclear/radiological theft are reported in India does not necessarily mean that Pakistan has relatively better nuclear security. This is because one must pay attention to the different political systems of the two countries, including their civil-military relations. Being a democracy, however dysfunctional, with strict civilian control over the entire nuclear apparatus, incidents of theft and goof-ups tend to make their way to the media more easily in India than in countries like China and Pakistan.

    3. Overall, security of nuclear materials is a challenging issue everywhere. One can never be 100 percent certain, but it is important to be vigilant.

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