The dismal state of nuclear security in India has raised fears of another nuclear catastrophe. In April 2010, about a dozen civilians were exposed to high-level radiation in New Delhi, when they handled parts of gamma irradiator which was sold in scrap by the Delhi University (DU). Removal of the lead cover of the radiation source resulted in radiation exposure which has claimed one life so far, while the condition of two other victims remains critical. The role of DU and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has been equally appalling. The gamma irradiator was not registered by AERB although a Directorate of Radiation Protection gave authorisation to DU to use it in January 1970. Simultaneously, AERB does not have a comprehensive list of the radiation sources that are being used in India for medical, industrial or research purposes. As a regulatory body, it is the fundamental responsibility of AERB to protect people, property and environment from the harmful effects of radiation. The least AERB can do now is to locate all such unregistered radiation sources and ensure their safe handling and disposal. A report published by Outlook magazine in 2009 revealed that a major accident occurs at the Indian nuclear installations every four years or so. In 1988, a heavy water leak resulted in shutdown of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS). On March 5, 1991, 847kg of heavy water seeped out of the moderator system at MAPS out of which only 350kg of heavy water was recovered. Additionally, the estimates of heavy water leakage on March 26, 1999, at MAPS range between 4 to14 tonnes. A large number of workers were exposed to radiation in each of these incidents, besides polluting the environment. In November 2009, 92 personnel working in Kaiga Generating Station (KGS) consumed tritium-contaminated water. The investigations revealed that a disgruntled employee at KGS was the culprit. However, the Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), Dr S K Jain, made a shocking revelation by saying that there can be a small percentage of employees being disgruntled for one reason or the other. Hence, the episode at Kaiga maybe a small indicator of what might happen if the issue of discontentment is not addressed. Nevertheless NPCIL, which operates Indian nuclear power plants, has repeatedly ignored the concerns raised by the security agencies. No action was taken on the recommendations made in the two letters sent on March 28 and July 8, 2009, by the security agencies to NPCIL, which included issuing of ID cards and background checks of the personnel working in the KGS. It was also pointed out with concern that the workers have formed unions, which at times are at cross purposes with the security apparatus. Indeed, nuclear operations are too serious a business to be left to the whim of the workers. There are strict procedures to be followed, which definitely cannot be compromised. In fact, even a small error or defiance of authority at the lowest level can result in loss of lives at a much larger scale. Apart from negligent safety practices, recent events have undoubtedly exposed the shaky security system of the nuclear plants in India. In December 2009, sensitive computer parts were stolen and the culprits were caught when they were trying to shift it out of the nuclear facility at Tarapur. In another incident, three people were caught smuggling 5kg of uranium in Mumbai on December 8, 2009. Regardless of the enrichment level of uranium, it could have been used to make a radiological dispersal device (RDD). Orphan radiation sources not only threaten the lives of the people who come in contact with these, but can also fall into the hands of terrorists and illicit traffickers, which can result in an unimaginable devastation. Besides this, mysterious deaths of employees of the Indian nuclear programme are also a cause of concern. The bodies of Ravikumar Mule and Nuclear Scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam (employees at KGS) were found in strange circumstances in summer last year. Two researchers died in a fire that broke out in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in December 2009. One BARC scientist, Mahadevan Iyer, was murdered in February 2010, while another scientist, Titas Pal, committed suicide in March. In April, the body of Subash Sonawane, a tradesman working in the Waste Management Division of BARC, was found in a well near the Waste Immobilisation Plant in BARC premises. Just before the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed that India has an impeccable nuclear safety and security record, although the reality is far from it. Moreover the participating states in the NSS, including India, undertook to maintain effective nuclear security and a robust domestic regulatory capacity. The work plan of NSS focuses on the importance of the human dimension of nuclear security, the need to enhance security culture, and the need to maintain a well-trained cadre of technical experts. While these pronouncements are significant to achieve the objectives of NSS, much depends on the policies and actions of individual states. If the states do not act responsibly then nuclear security would remain an empty slogan. Apparently, breaches of safety and security in Indian nuclear facilities indicate that, despite claiming to be an accomplished nuclear power, it has yet to evolve an effective security culture. India has presumably not introduced any Personnel Reliability or Human Reliability Programme. A catastrophe is waiting to happen at the Indian nuclear installations that would make the disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl seem trivial, unless nuclear safety and security is accorded due importance. The writer is a defence analyst. Email: