India Nuclear Reactor

“Good security is 20 percent equipment and 80 percent people.”

Eugene Habiger 
Head of Security, US Department of Energy

Since the early 1960s, India has embraced nuclear energy as a perennial source of power underwriting its development trajectory. After a three-decade-long embargo, India was again integrated into the global nuclear order with the help of the United States in 2008, paving the way for numerous nuclear energy installations across the country.1 As the worldwide market for nuclear energy shrinks, India remains a bright spot attracting both finance and technology, which coincides with India’s technology diversification strategy. With indigenous, Canadian, Russian, French, and U.S./Japanese reactors in action or installation and negotiations underway for the South Korean one, India would have the most diverse reactor portfolio globally in the next decade. Given its subcontinental size, New Delhi might also be interested in harnessing the benefits of modular technology currently under experimentation. Along with electricity, nuclear technology’s other peaceful uses from the medical to agriculture sectors make nuclear safety and security a pressing concern for India.

This essay first suggests that expansion of the uses of nuclear technology brings the challenge of capacity building for areas ranging from regulatory to forensics, which is neither immediately achievable nor readily acquirable. It then investigates the human factor in physical security by examining security arrangement for all sites throughout the nuclear fuel cycle—what Indian policymakers call “cradle to grave” approach. This paper suggests that an elite nuclear constabulary akin to the one in the United Kingdom can replace the current multi-agency model and fill in some vital gaps. The recommendation to emulate the UK’s Civil Nuclear Constabulary has been made on previous occasions; however, this essay dwells upon the necessity, scope, and functions of such a potential force in adequate detail for the first time.2

Capacity Gap

The topic of nuclear security usually evokes dramatic events of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Stuxnet attack on Iranian facilities, or a potential terrorist attack. Such incidents, although calamitous, are few and far between.3 The routine challenges of nuclear security are far more mundane. For example, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Incident and Trafficking Database, 36 countries reported 189 cases of “unauthorized activities” such as theft and trafficking of nuclear material in 2019 alone. Most of these countries are parties to the necessary conventions that protect their sites/materials and transparent enough to voluntarily disclose such incidents to an international body indicating the best of their intent. It is not their intent but the state capacity that determines their success in protecting critical sites and materials. From credible international analysis, India seems to be more challenged by these mundane issues than dramatic events. For example, closely observing the sub-indicator level data of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)’s Nuclear Security Index, one finds India comfortably ranks third out of 22 countries in its preparedness for cybersecurity vulnerabilities. In contrast, India is much below median ranking on indicators such as controlling and accounting procedures, insider threat prevention, and overall security culture.4 Combating these challenges is directly related to a state’s capacity. This essay adopts a more pragmatic and heuristic definition of state capacity: “a state’s ability to accomplish its intended policy actions.”5 Hence, the term state capacity becomes elastic enough to include an array of abilities such as having legislative and regulatory competence, financial resources, technical know-how, proficient workforce, among others, for preventive, monitoring, detection, and punitive purposes in relation to nuclear security.

An elite nuclear constabulary akin to the one in the United Kingdom can replace the current multi-agency model and fill in some vital gaps.

It is assumed here that with the commitment towards nuclear security in place, enabling legislation, devoting financial resources, and acquiring technology from friendly suppliers becomes significantly easier. However, capacity building is neither immediately achievable nor readily acquirable, making it a momentous task for any state. This concern is frequently echoed by policymakers in India as well. In the aftermath of the Fukushima incident, Jairam Ramesh, then Minister for Environment, wrote Dr. Manmohan Singh raising concerns regarding India’s domestic capabilities against its diversification strategy.6 As Ramesh notes: “Each of the reactor types will call for a certain regulatory procedure, protocol, and capability. Regulatory expertise takes time to build up and in any case is not available easily. Gone are the days of Nehru and Bhabha when public organizations could attract, train, and retain top-flight professional expertise.” (emphasis added)

The capacity gap afflicts the entire span of nuclear fuel cycle, starting from exploration and mining to processing and disposal. Cognizant of these challenges, India instituted the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership in 2011, whose five schools cater to a diverse set of needs for nuclear security in India. There are also dedicated schools such as the National Industrial Security Academy for paramilitary forces guarding nuclear installations and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) for contingency forces prepared to attend chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incidents. To pool nationwide resources—both equipment and individuals—NIDM has created an online inventory called India Disaster Resource Network that allows quick identification of necessary resources across state units to pool them in a timely manner.7 While laudable initiatives, these efforts remain inadequate with chronic shortages of trained workforce. For example, in its latest submission to a parliamentary committee, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board admitted that with a paltry workforce of 300 scientists and engineers, it is incapable of regulating 57,443 medical X-Ray facilities across India. The response was in reference to a query that pointed out that roughly 91 percent of medical X-Ray facilities remain unregistered and hence, unregulated. In 2013, parliament also underscored the lack of Radiological Security Officers (RSOs), who are primarily responsible for on-site security and regulatory compliance. Some progress has been made on that front for Category I and II radiation sites, where adequate RSOs are now available.8 Similarly, despite its booming usage of nuclear technology, a 2013 study suggested that India lacked both technical and human capacity for nuclear forensics such as ion mass spectrometry.9 However, in a paper written subsequently by an Indian scientist, formerly with the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, there was an indication that India has some capacity for research, if not a dedicated nuclear forensic lab.10

The remainder of this essay investigates the human factor in physical security of nuclear installations and make a case for a permanent force responsible for security, transport, and counter-smuggling efforts.

One can dwell upon each of these individual domains—regulatory, materials accounting, cybersecurity, transportation, forensics, among others, to suggest capacity gaps and ways of strengthening them. The remainder of this essay investigates the human factor in physical security of nuclear installations and make a case for a permanent force responsible for security, transport, and counter-smuggling efforts. Such a permanent force resolves many doctrinal and operational challenges with long-term institutional memory compared to currently practiced multi-agency endeavor.

Physical Security: A Multi-Agency Endeavor

Physical security of nuclear sites in India is a multi-agency endeavor. The phrase “physical security” in this section is narrowly interpreted to include institutional efforts in “averting unlawful removal and usage of nuclear materials.”11 At the highest level, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is responsible for overseeing India’s nuclear security. However, AERB, being a regulatory authority operating under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) reporting to the Prime Minister’s Office, does not command a force. The actual security of civilian nuclear facilities rests with various agencies, with the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs, remaining the mainstay of protection across installations. Table One encapsulates different phases of the nuclear fuel cycle and corresponding security agencies responsible for protection.

To start with, mining and processing of uranium in India is done by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL) that currently operates eight mines and three processing plants. Apart from the CISF cover, the UCIL website notes the presence of security on its payroll and floats private security tenders on occasion.12 This can be a recurring feature of many other installations as the exact allocation of duties between CISF personnel and other guards is unknown. Imported uranium pellets and ore concentrate are stored and processed along with other ingredients like Zirconium oxide at two other sites—the National Fuel Complex at Hyderabad and Kota, both secured by CISF. However, the cover provided by CISF to other ancillary units such as seven Heavy Water Plants (HWPs) that are responsible for the production of heavy water (D2O) and nuclear grade solvents is not uniform. For instance, CISF protects HWP Manuguru and HWP Talcher while state police provide cover to HWP sites at Vadodara and Hazira.13 The government does not explain this policy, but one can assume that Manuguru and Talcher plants have Boron-10 enrichment facilities, an isotope that is used as a fuel additive in Pressurized Water Reactors and Boiling Water Reactors, necessitating paramilitary level security.14 Like other DAE installations, CISF protects six major DAE research facilities, which houses six operational and two planned research reactors. However, as the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) is a coastal site, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) provides aerial and coastal surveillance while CISF protects peripheral cover.15

Coming to the security of nuclear power plants, India has a national Design Based Threat (DBT) plan, based on which each site produces its DBT assessment. Beyond mechanical measures in place for surveillance, detection, delay, response, and access control, the physical security of the perimeter rests primarily with two agencies—the CISF and the state police, for the inner and outer perimeters respectively.16 For security and contingency purposes, the perimeter and surrounding areas are divided into various zones. The plant itself has three boundaries—coolant boundary, primary and secondary containment boundaries, followed by a 1.6 km Exclusion Zone, which falls under the administrative purview of the plant operator. It is followed by a five km Sterilized Zone and a 16 km Emergency Planning Zone, whose administrative and security responsibilities are with the state police. Both forces—CISF and state police—conduct mock drills periodically for inter-agency coordination. All nuclear power plants have a co-located near surface disposal facility for low to intermedial level waste.17 Apart from on-site waste disposal, the DAE operates three vitrification plants at Trombay, Tarapur (includes storage), and Kalpakkam, which are located with other operational units, and hence, protected by the CISF. As India mostly recycles its spent fuel, it does not currently need a Deep Geological Repository. Similarly, transportation of nuclear material for Type AF and Type B (U/M) F packages as well as irradiated nuclear fuel packages, which demands Level 2 or 3 security, is invariably accompanied by CISF escorts in front and back along with real-time Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) central monitoring.18 Apart from CISF, district police also provide necessary reinforcement when such convoys pass through their jurisdiction.19

In an event of a nuclear disaster, which includes incidents of sabotage and accidents, a host of agencies from the state to national level get activated (Table Two).20 However, until such arrangements are in place, CISF personnel are not only responsible for continued protection, but they are also first responders for activities like evacuation.

Apart from the civilian installations discussed so far, there is hardly any information about the security of strategic installations, but it is believed a specialized force of the Indian Army is responsible for their physical security. The counter-smuggling efforts on all borders are led by respective frontier forces namely the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force, Sahastra Seema Bal, and Assam Rifles, who are usually trained in arresting smuggling efforts of all types. Some of them are also trained in handling CBRN incidents.

Nuclear Constabulary

As noted earlier, despite CISF being primarily assigned the task of securing Indian civilian nuclear network, their reliance on other forces is telling. The CISF was constituted in reaction to a 1964 fire incident at the Heavy Engineering Corporation Factory, and it is presently responsible for all industrial sites across India and some private organizations after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. It is so thinly stretched that the Ministry of Home Affairs is recruiting veterans to meet the demand. Some have criticized CISF as a threat-based force and not a capability-based force with “conceptual and doctrinal inadequacies.”21 Although no significant security breach has been registered under them, it is unreasonable to expect uniformity of security culture in a rotating force of 140,000 that is deployed across the country protecting VIPs, securing nuclear installation, and providing round-the-clock coverage to software parks.22 No wonder some serious infractions have been noted in the past; for instance, leaving a uranium consignment unattended on the roadside for a lunch break.

Having a unified command would address many doctrinal and operational challenges and create a steady elite force with long-term institutional memory to tackle evolving security challenges.

To ensure operational efficiency and instill security culture, it is high time India conceive a permanent nuclear constabulary like the United Kingdom. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) in the UK is a dedicated force that ensures the security of all civilian nuclear installations across the country along with transportation and counter-terrorism functions. The UK CNC has only 12 sites to protect. Yet, it operates a force of 1,500 agents with a dedicated command and control center, a search team, an interdiction team, a strategic escort group, a group of police medics, and a team with counter drone capability. With economy of scale on its side—over 30 sites across the country, India should pursue the idea of a dedicated force. 

India’s civilian nuclear force can entertain the following functions:

  • Securing key nuclear installations including power plants and research facilities
  • Extending cover to ancillary units like Heavy Water Plants which are under state police
  • Adding airborne and seaborne capabilities to protect sites like BARC
  • Overtaking transit responsibility of all critical nuclear materials (even private ones)
  • Extending protection to private sites on demand
  • Expanding into the counter-smuggling domain
  • Deputing trained workforce to frontier forces, airports and seaports, and major cities

One evident benefit of a dedicated force is that instilling security culture in permanent troops is relatively easier than in a rotating force. Moreover, it requires less effort and investment to enhance the technical abilities of a stable force. As mentioned above, such a dedicated force can expand its remit in multiple ways compared to CISF’s current role. First, instead of relying on state police beyond the 1.6 km perimeter, the new force can secure the sterilized zone (five km) like the UK CNC. It can also cover existing facilities such as Heavy Water Plants that produce critical additives/solvents and Indian Rare Earths Ltd sites that process monazite sands containing Thorium. Second, for sites like BARC, the premium research cluster for civilian and strategic programs, the new force can add airborne and seaborne capabilities to prevent individual or drone attacks instead of relying on the Indian Coast Guard. In the wake of recent drone attack on Jammu Air Force station, suspected by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba using Chinese drones, such preventive capacity of inshore nuclear sites such as Trombay, Kalpakkam, and Kudankulam becomes urgent and inevitable. Third, it can oversee the entire transit arrangement instead of involving multiple agencies. The new force can also provide on-demand, fee-based transit security arrangements to private operators, generating revenue as well as securing equally critical private nuclear assets. It can also include DAE’s planned medical isotope co-production facilities on a public-private partnership format. Fourth, in line with its international commitment presented at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, India has an inter-agency Counter Nuclear Smuggling Team in place. The new force can lead or overtake this effort.23 Fifth, such a force can depute nuclear security officers to each frontier (usually made up of three to four sectors and headed by an Inspector General) of major border policing agencies to integrate nuclear security efforts in border management.

Having a unified command would address many doctrinal and operational challenges and create a steady elite force with long-term institutional memory to tackle evolving security challenges. With the economy of scale favoring India, it is time that an amalgam of agencies paves the way for a permanent nuclear constabulary in India to address a vital capacity gap.

Editor's Note: This article is part of series of pieces published in partnership with CRDF Global. Articles for the series, written by recipients of the CRDF-SAV research grant in nuclear security, cover topics ranging from cyber security at civilian nuclear energy sites, regional and international cooperation in South Asia, to personnel protection at nuclear sites, and other topics related to nuclear security on the subcontinent.

***

Image 1: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

Image 2: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

  1. Eugene Habiger quoted in Rajeshwari Pillai Rajagopalan, Nuclear Security in India, (New Delhi: Observer Research Foundation, 2015), 24.
  2. This idea was originally mooted by Rajeshwari Rajagopalan. See Rajagopalan, Nuclear Security in India, 84. Subsequently, it is echoed by many others. For instance, Sitakanta Mishra and Happymon Jacob, Nuclear Security Governance in India: Institutions, Instruments, and Culture. (Albuquerque: Sandia National Laboratories, 2019); also, Raj Chengappa, “The Dirty Bomb”, India Today, April 6, 2016.
  3. In response to a query on cyberattacks on the Department of Atomic Energy installations in India, the minister responded that no breaches have been reported between 2014 and 2017. See, Q. 1007 of 2017, Lok Sabha.
  4. It is worth noting here that the Indian government contests the NTI’s assessment due to “faulty methodology” and “unreliable information.”
  5. Mark Dincecco, State Capacity and Economic Development: Present and Past, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 2. For a more conventional discussion on state capacity in the Indian context, see Sumit Ganguly and William R. Thompson “Conceptualizing and Measuring State Strength,” in Ascending India and its State Capacity: Extraction, Legitimacy, and Violence. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 53-74.
  6. Jairam Ramesh, Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015), 425.
  7. In the remainder of the essay, “state” is used to indicate regional government as is the practice in India. Constitutionally, law and order is a state subject with minimal interference from the federal government.
  8. Category I and II radiation sources are the ones with activity ratios of >1000 and 10-1000 respectively. For classification, see the IAEA’s “Categorization of Radioactive Sources“. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board follows the same classification. See, AERB Safety Guide No. AERB/RF-RS/SG-1 (March 2011). All AERB Guidelines cited in this essay are accessible at: https://www.aerb.gov.in/english/publications/codes-guides unless otherwise stated.
  9. National Academy of Sciences, “The Emerging Science of Nuclear Forensics” in India-United States Cooperation on Global Security: Summary of a Workshop on Technical Aspects of Civilian Nuclear Materials Security. (Washington, DC, The National Academies Press, 2013), 105-14.
  10. Suresh Kumar Aggarwal, “Nuclear Forensics: What, why and how?” Current Science 110, no. 5, (2016): 782-791, 789. See also, S. Mishra and Chaudhary, P., Proceedings of the National Workshop on Nuclear Forensics: Fundamentals and Applications – Course Material, available at the IAEA website: https://inis.iaea.org/search/searchsinglerecord.aspx?recordsFor=SingleRecord&RN=48017307
  11. This definition is accepted from the preamble of the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) that entered into force in 1987. Accessible at: https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/infcirc274r1.pdf In a broader sense, physical security would include legal, human, mechanical, and other efforts.
  12. CISF website lists UCIL Jadugada under the list of protected sites. Similarly, a newer open cast uranium mine in Banduhurang, Jharkhand is under CISF protection (cf. https://www.aerb.gov.in/images/PDF/f1.pdf). However, observing the UCIL website one finds security staff from guard to manager on its payroll as well as tenders for external security floated from time to time.
  13. HWP Manuguru and HWP Talcher are the only two HWP sites that are listed as having CISF stations. In a question regarding the security of sites at Vadodara and Hazira, the government informed that they were protected by local law enforcement. See Q. 2175 of 2012, Rajya Sabha. Accessible at: https://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/Questions/ShowQn.aspx?tk=8dd47f9e-2db7-480b-939d-d2e44f7f94f9
  14. Baron, et al. “Fuel Performance of Light Water Reactors” in Comprehensive Nuclear Materials Vol II ed. D.D. (Baron & L. Hallstadius. San Diego: Elsevier, 2020), 35-71.
  15. Mishra and Jacob, Nuclear Security Governance in India, 54.
  16. Rajagopalan, Nuclear Security in India, 25-26; 40-44.
  17. Wattal, PK (2013). “Indian Programme on Radioactive Waste Management” Sadhana 38:5, (2003) 849–857.
  18. AERB Guidelines AERB/RF-RS/SG-1 (March 2011); Q. 144 of 2011, Rajya Sabha accessible at: https://dae.gov.in/writereaddata/rssq144_011211.pdf; National Academy of Sciences (2013). “Physical Security at Civilian Nuclear Facilities” in India-United States Cooperation on Global Security: Summary of a Workshop on Technical Aspects of Civilian Nuclear Materials Security. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, pp. 59-70; for packaging classification: AERB/NRF-TS/SC-1 (Rev.1) (March 2016).
  19. AERB Safety Code AERB/NRF-TS/SG-10 (March 2016). For a comprehensive overview of transportation of nuclear materials in India including regulatory, planning, and execution phases, see Kazi, Reshmi (2017). Post-Nuclear Security Summit Process: Continuing Challenges and Emerging Prospects. IDSA Monograph Series No. 59, (New Delhi, Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, 2017) Ch. 3.
  20. National Disaster Management Authority, Management of Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies [National Disaster Management Guidelines]. (New Delhi: National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India, 2009). Apart from the agencies mentioned in the guideline, some have mentioned that India’s most elite force National Security Guard (NSG) might be called into action if necessary. See, Rajagopalan, Nuclear Security in India, 33.
  21. Narendra Kumar, “Paramilitary Forces and Central Armed Police Forces of India: Punching Below Their Capabilities” in ed. Harsh Pant Handbook of Indian Defence Policy: Themes, Structures and Doctrines. (New Delhi: Routledge, 2016) 363-384, 380.
  22. IAEA defines security culture as “The assembly of characteristics, attitudes and behaviour of individuals, organizations and institutions which serves as a means to support and enhance nuclear security.” See IAEA (2008), Nuclear Security Culture: Implementing Guide. IAEA Nuclear Security Series No. 7. Accessible at: https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1347_web.pdf Clearly, such an assemblage of attitudes and behavior would require certain constancy and continuity of personnel.
  23. National Progress Report: India presented at Nuclear Security Summit 2016. Accessible at: http://www.
    nss2016.org/document-center-docs/2016/3/31/national-progress-report-india
    ; also, Q. 251 of 2016, Lok Sabha accessible at: http://164.100.47.194/Loksabha/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=35170&lsno=16
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