Secrets of India’s nuke stocks out
Washington report bares India’s nuke holdings, says it is far behind China
A Washington study on nuclear material security says India is almost at par with Pakistan in terms of nuclear arsenal, but is far behind China, having only a third of the nuclear warheads China has.
The report says India is one of the few countries that produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and plutonium. It says India’s nuclear weapon arsenal is based on plutonium while the production of HEU is chiefly intended to fuel a fleet of three to five nuclear submarines.
The study basically shows the progress made in reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism since the US-sponsored Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in April last year. It is meant as a status update, halfway to the next summit in 2012.
"Pakistan is thought to possess an arsenal of 90-110 nuclear weapons. This number reflects a significant recent increase, as Pakistan is believed to have doubled its nuclear arsenal over several years. Virtually all of its fissile material stockpiles are designated for military use; Islamabad does not have a civilian plutonium programme and its civilian stocks of HEU are estimated at 17 kilos," the report noted.
India's nuclear weapon arsenal is estimated to be roughly 80-100 warheads, based on plutonium. It is estimated that 0.5 tons of India’s plutonium stockpile are weapons-grade, while the remaining 3.5 tons are reactor-grade. China has some 240 nuclear warheads.
In terms of fissile material holding, India tops in plutonium in the region, possessing 4 plus/minus 0.65 tonnes as compared to China's 1.8 plus/minus 0.5 tonnes and Pakistan's 100 kilos.
India has much lesser HEU, 1.3 plus/minus 0.5 tonnes compared to China's 16 plus/minus 4 tonnes and Pakistan's 2.6 plus/minus 1 tonne.
The report refers to China signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US in January to set up a nuclear centre of excellence and India signing a similar MoU in November last to establish a Nuclear Energy Centre with a nuclear security component in Gurgaon.
Estimating that China has some 240 nuclear warheads, the report says “little is officially known about the status of China’s nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles, which Beijing has never disclosed”.
It, however, noted that China is thought to have stopped producing fissile material for weapons around 1990, but without a formal declaration to date.
Pointing out that Beijing's stocks of fissile materials are entirely devoted to military activities, the report says “this may change in the coming years if China goes ahead with plans to develop a commercial-scale reprocessing plant”.
The report points out that the biggest threat of nuclear material theft comes from Russia, which has the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons—770 plus/minus 120 tonnes of HEU and 175.7 tonnes of plutonium—stored in the largest number of buildings and bunkers.
An estimated 11,000 nuclear warheads and hundreds of buildings containing nuclear material mean that Russia is central to a broader nuclear security agenda, the report noted.
The second largest stockpile is with the US—614 tonnes of HEU, 91.9 tonnes of plutonium and 5,113 nuclear weapons deployed and reserved plus several thousand waiting to be dismantled. The report says the majority of the US fissile material stockpile is designated for military purposes.
The US uses 260 tonnes uranium for weapons and reserves 230 tonnes as fuel for naval reactors. While 38.3 tonnes of plutonium is either in weapons or weapons laboratories and the rest has been declared as ‘excess’ to be disposed off.
The nuclear status of some other countries is: UK: 225 nuclear heads, 21.2 tonnes HEU and 92.9 tonnes plutonium; France: 300 nuke heads, 30.9 plus/minus 6 tonnes HEU and 91.9 plus/minus 15 tonnes plutonium; Germany: non-nuke state but with 920 kg HEU and 9.5 tonnes plutonium, 7.5 tonnes of which is stored outside the country; Japan: no nuclear arms, 2,000 kg HEU and 46.1 tonnes of plutonium, 36.1 tonnes of which is stored outside the country.
Israel is believed to possess some 80 nuclear weapons, 0.3 tonnes HEU and 0.8 tonnes plutonium. The report notes that these estimates are highly uncertain as the Israel government “maintains extreme secrecy over every aspect of its nuclear development, from its still-unacknowledged nuclear arsenal to its fissile material stockpiles to its nuclear security arrangements”.
There is no official word on the nuke stockpile in Iran and Iraq. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Malaysia are believed to have no nuclear material.
Iftikhar Gilani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com.