Pakistan outranks India in safety of nuclear weapons material

India has been ranked lower than Pakistan and China in terms of safety of its nuclear arsenal, according to a study published by an independent US-based think-tank.

The 148-page report on the safety of nuclear material around the world was released on Wednesday by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private advocacy group in Washington that promotes safe keeping of nuclear materials and urges governments to strengthen their defences against atomic terrorism. The group worked with the Economist Intelligence Unit, a company in London that analyses risks.

In the second edition of its Nuclear Materials Security Index, NTI has ranked India at a lowly 23rd out of 25 countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials. India received 41 out of 100 points, which nonetheless an improvement by one point from the 2012 score.

In comparison, China received 64 points and has been ranked 20th, while Pakistan with 46 points stands in 22nd place.

The list comprises countries with one kilogram or more of fissile materials, and thus covers virtually all nuclear-armed states.

The NTI said the improvement in India's safety standards reflects India's first contribution to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund. ''Overall, however, India's score remains low.''

This is due to a number of factors, including weak regulations that are written as guidance rather than as requirements; increasing quantities of weapons-usable nuclear materials for both civilian and military use and gaps in its regulatory structure such as a lack of an independent regulatory agency.

External risk factors, such as high levels of corruption, which undermine confidence in implementation or enforcement of security measures and also increase the risk that officials may contribute (even unwittingly) to the theft of nuclear material are also among the factors, it added.

Both India and China improved their scores since 2012 by one point by contributing to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund, which supports the implementation of nuclear security activities, the report said.

In comparing both countries, India scored higher than China on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 related to nuclear security issues.

China, however, scored higher in a number of areas, including: the existence of an independent regulatory agency; having invited a peer review of its nuclear security arrangements; and having strong regulations for control and accounting of materials.

Pakistan received 46 out of 100 possible points compared to India's 41, the report said, adding that both countries improved their scores since 2012.

Pakistan improved its score by publishing new regulations for the physical protection of nuclear facilities.

In comparing both countries, India scored higher than Pakistan on international legal commitments because India has adopted all of the relevant treaties whereas Pakistan has not.

Pakistan, however, scored higher in a number of areas, including: the existence of an independent regulatory agency; having invited peer review of its nuclear security arrangements; and having security and other personnel with access to nuclear materials subjected to additional vetting.

In addition, Pakistan has an operational Center of Excellence (COE), whereas the foundation stone for India's COE, the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership, was laid on January 3, 2014, it said.

In its report, NTI said India was briefed on the Index, along with other countries.

''Unfortunately, India did not use the opportunity to review and confirm the data, a process through which governments can choose to provide responses to one, some, or all questions depending on their sensitivities and help ensure the accuracy of the data,'' it said.

''Out of the 25 countries with weapons usable nuclear materials, 17 (more than two-thirds) responded to the data review and confirmation request (including nuclear-weapons states such as France, the UK, and the US),'' the report said.

NTI said India scored at the top for international legal commitments, having signed and ratified the Conventional on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and its 2005 Amendment, as well as the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

India also received the highest possible score for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

Need to improve laws, regulations

NTI recommended that India's nuclear materials security conditions could be improved by strengthening its laws and regulations for mitigating the insider threat, for the control and accounting of nuclear materials, and for the physical security of materials during transport.

''India's existing regulations could be strengthened by taking a more prescriptive approach to security measures, as most countries already do, rather than simply recommending security measures,'' it said.

India's nuclear materials security conditions could also be improved by completing the establishment of an independent nuclear regulatory agency, in fulfilment of a commitment made at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, it said.

Establishing and maintaining a regulatory agency that is independent of influence from those being regulated is necessary to ensure meaningful and unbiased oversight. The importance of an independent regulatory agency has been highlighted in a recent Indian parliamentary panel report.

''Because the potential for theft increases with higher quantities of materials, the NTI Index report recommends that states commit to no net increases of weapons-usable materials and to using existing materials before producing new materials. India's continuing production of weapons-usable nuclear materials means that it is increasing, not decreasing, its stocks,'' it said.