Category Archives: ISSSP Reflections

Heavy Water leakage at the Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant

ISSSP Reflections No. 43, June 2, 2016

Author: Kaveri Ashok

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nuclear-power-plant_story_647_031116054750Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS) is situated near Vyara town of Gujarat. The campus houses two units of operational 220MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR), and two units of 700MW PHWRs under construction. The unit 1 was declared world’s best performing PHWR in 2003 by the CANDU owners group (COG). The fact that the Kakrapar nuclear power plant, located about 400km southeast of the epicentres of the 2001 quake scaling 7.9 in the Ritcher scale, continued to function even in the aftermath of the 2001 quake, is evidence of their in-built quake-proof technology.

In its 24 years of operation, the reactor has been shut down thrice due to operational anomalies:

  • Unit-1 was temporarily shut down for 66 days in 1998 due to a leak in its stator water systems.
  • On 10 March 2004, when Unit-1 was in operation generating 170 Megawatts of electricity, an event involving rise of reactor power occurred. (Level 2, INES)
  • On March 11, 2016, a leakage of heavy water from the coolant pipes led to the shutdown of the Unit 1. (Level 1, INES)

In order to better understand the March 11 incident at KAPS 1, this article attempts to contextualise the current incident within the history Heavy Water spills/leaks in similarly designed Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) in India.

Nuclear Reactors: Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor

A nuclear reactor is based on the process of neutron-induced nuclear fission, in which a heavy nucleus, such as that of uranium or plutonium is split into fission products, releasing energy. Each fission reaction releases 2-3 neutrons, which can induce fission in more nuclei, thus starting a chain reaction. Nuclear reactors are designed to achieve a self-sustaining chain reaction to steadily produce energy. The minimum fissionable material required to attain chain fission is called critical mass and when the reactor first sustains a chain reaction, it is said to have become critical. The region of the reactor where the chain fission reaction takes place is known as the core. Typically in a nuclear reactor, the energy produced in the core is transferred to a primary coolant, whose heat is in turn used to generate steam to turn the turbines and hence produce electricity.

Depending upon the choice of the fissile material (fuel), the coolant and moderator are chosen. The fissile nuclei (of isotopes U235, U233 and Pu239) undergo fission with neutrons of all energies. Other atoms such as U238, Pu240 and Th232 undergo fission only with neutrons of higher energy (fast neutrons). In the naturally available uranium, these fissile nuclei are present in trace amounts only. So in order to maintain a chain reaction, the energetic neutrons produced during fission should be slowed down/ moderated; or there should be a large amount of fissile atoms.

In a PHWR, the fuel used is natural uranium. Hence, the neutrons must be effectively slowed down for chain reaction to sustain. Heavy water is used both as moderator and coolant in this type of reactor. There are 47 PHWRs operating across the world, out of which 17 are in India. They are a salient feature of the first stage of the oft cited three-stage Indian nuclear programme.

The heart of PHWR is a cylindrical core called Calandria. This contains the heavy water (moderator). Horizontal tubes made of Zircalloy run through the calandria, (called calandria tubes) inside which there is another tube called the pressure tube, which houses the fuel bundles. Zircalloy is favoured because of its low probability of absorption of neutrons causing fission in the fuel bundle. The coolant heavy water flows through the pressure tubes, thus transferring the heat produced in the fuel bundles during fission. The coolant heavy water is kept at high pressure, to avoid steam formation in the high temperature conditions since steam is not as effective as heavy water in removing the heat from the core. The control rods are used to control the rate of fission, and are made up of neutron absorbing materials such as cadmium and boron. The hot heavy water from the cala­­ndria then transfers its heat to ordinary water in the steam generators, which turns it into steam that drives the turbines which produces electricity.

Heavy Water and Indian PHWRs

Before delving into specific incidents, it is important to note that routine losses of Heavy Water in PHWR are anticipated and accounted for in its regular operation. PHWRs are designed for refuelling while in operation; and heavy water loss from the horizontal calandria pipes during refuelling is one such anticipated event. Similarly, while inspecting the coolant channels, seals and welds of the reactor core, with remote handling machinery, some heavy water loss is inevitable.

A report by Mark Hibbs in 1997 estimates an average HW losses for the Kakrapar reactors were “between 500 and 600 kg/month”, or about 6 to 7.2 tonnes per year. This claim was reinforced by a statement by the first Managing Director of the Nuclear Power Corporation that the annual replenishment for such losses in a typical 220 MW reactor is 7 tonnes/ year. Several AERB annual reports contain the details about outages and radioactive release occurring due to heavy water spills in the PHWRs from time to time.

Heavy water leaks have been recorded previously in the Indian PHWRs. The Rajasthan Atomic Power Station 1 reactor, that achieved criticality in 1972, used to face routine losses of a significant amount of Heavy Water during the initial years due to several failures of the Heat Exchangers. A failure of this kind could have resulted in the mixing of Heavy water with the ordinary water in the steam generator, hence escaping as steam, which in turn could lead to atmospheric release of Tritium. The following table from Dr M.R. Srinivasan’s edited volume of essays and cited in a paper by MV Ramana, Antonette D’Sa and Amulya KN Reddy details the quantities of heavy water spills (Escape); the quantities that are lost, after collecting back as much as possible for reuse (Loss); and the annual losses by virtue of the routine losses.

Year Loss (kg/day) Annual losses (tonnes)
1972 31 11.3
1973 69 25.2
1974 57 20.8
1975 77 28.1


It must be acknowledged that the DAE has come a long way since then managing the heavy water leaks- bringing it down several manifolds- in spite of the sanctions imposed by the global nuclear community, developing indigenous engineering solutions.

In September 1988, a heavy water leak inside the reactor vessel led to the shutdown of the Madras Atomic Power Station Unit 2 (MAPS-2). In 1991, there was another leak of 0.847 tonnes of heavy water from the moderator system.

Rajasthan Atomic Power Station RAPS-1 was shut down on February 2, 1994 after helium gas and heavy water leaked from the reactor’s Over Pressure Relive Device (OPRD). The OPRD is placed at the top of the calandria, whose purpose is to check the rise of pressure inside the calandria in case of an accident. The problem arose after a nickel gasket seal in the OPRD gave way. The nitrous oxide, which formed in the calandria vault due to radiation, began to eat into the nickel seal and once the nickel seal gave way, heavy water and helium began to leak. Heavy water started collecting in the calandria vault when the unit was in operation. Although it was a daunting engineering task, in high radiation zone, the leak was plugged successfully. Post this incident the Pressure tube ageing management programme was accelerated and implemented one year ahead of schedule.

As per the “Operating experience with nuclear members” series of the IAEA, in the year 1997, outages due to primary coolant leaks were recorded in Kakrapar 1, Narora 2 and MAPS 2 units.

On March 26, 1999, the MAPS-2 again witnessed a heavy water leak from the coolant channels. As was the case with the recent Kakrapar plant leak, a plant emergency was declared. However, the reactor was already shut down for 41 days prior to the incident. There were conflicting views on the incident regarding the nature of the incident and the quantity of the spill. The leakage was said to have occurred during a BARCCIS inspection that was underway in the MAPS as part of maintenance work. During such operations, which are done with fuel removed from the inspected channel and reactor in shut down state, the special seal plugs are positioned and operated by remote machinery. One of the seal plugs was not seated properly, resulting in a release of heavy water. This was arrested by reseating of the plug. The plant officials maintained that it was not an accident.

On April 15, 2000, there was a leak of Heavy Water from the moderator system into the reactor building in Narora Power Station— vibration (the flow of moderator heavy water through the heat exchanger tubes caused vibration) caused the failure of a gasket in the system piping. Three years later, on 25 April 2003, there was another leak at the same reactor. This incident also occurred during a BARCCIS inspection.

During the period 2000-2001, there was one incident of release of tritium activity (about 43 curies) from RAPS to Rana Pratap Sagar (RPS) lake, on September 26, 2000. Following the incident, the unit was shut down and the leaky heat exchanger was isolated. The activity released was well within the limits stipulated by AERB for discharge of radioactivity from RAPS to RPS lake.

Reactor, Year Activity released Permissible activity release per reactor per day
RAPS, 2000 43 curies 300 curies (corresponding to an annual dose of 4.2 microSv/year)

In India’s PHWR experience, one of the main reasons for HW leaks had been vibrations in the coolant tubes. When heavy water flowed in the pressure tubes, vibrations occurred and the garter springs, that are located between the two tubes, moved from their positions. This resulted in the coolant tubes sagging and coming into contact with the calandria tubes. While the temperature inside the coolant tubes was around 295 degree Celsius, the temperature in the calandria tubes was about 70 degree Celsius. The temperature of the coolant tubes came down at the points of contact, resulting in the formation of zirconium hydride which leads to the coolant tubes, made of zircalloy, becoming hard and brittle. This in turn causes micro-cracks in the coolant tubes. The hydriding problem in PHWRs has been overcome by using better alloys of Zirconium, containing Niobium, which are resistant to the formation of microcracks.

The Kakrapar Incident

The Kakrapar reactor was running in full capacity when a leakage of Heavy Water and a consequent rise in pressure in the containment building were detected. This resulted in the declaration of plant emergency. Importantly, the safety systems kicked in and the reactor has been in a cold shut down stage and all the radioactivity was contained within the reactor building.


Over a period of time the heavy Hydrogen (Deuterium) in the heavy water gets converted into radioactive Tritium by absorbing neutrons. Because tritium’s radiation (Beta radiation) cannot penetrate the skin, the only real exposure occurs while tritium is inside the body. The health effects depend on the form of tritium present, elemental tritium gas, tritium oxide or tritiated water. Although it is generally considered an insignificant exposure hazard, the body easily absorbs it in the form of tritiated water. Any tritiated water vapour that is inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested will result in complete absorption of all radioactivity. The absorbed tritiated water is rapidly distributed throughout the body via blood, which in turn equilibriates with extracellular fluid in about 12 minutes. When it passes through a human body, it can produce permanent changes in cells. There are three principal potential health effects: cancer, genetic effects and effects on foetuses.

Initial assessment has indicated that the leak is from primary coolant system and the leak rate corresponds to ‘Small Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA)’ category. The coolant tubes of KAPS 1 were replaced with improved Zircalloy tubes in 2011. This was done as part of AERB’s periodic pressure tube ageing management programme, and even by conservative estimates, the replaced tubes were supposed to be operational for 25 years of reactor operation. This is one issue that the AERB and the DAE will have to investigate further.

The leak continued unabated until it was successfully isolated and plugged 10 days later following which the plant emergency was lifted. The affected coolant channel will now be removed and sent to the laboratories at BARC for further investigations in order to probe into the root cause of the incident. According to the AERB, the whole process will take a few months. Special equipment needs to be brought in to remove the affected coolant tube, along with the remote handling machinery and radiation shielding materials.

Kakrapar incident, although classified as an INES Level 1 incident by the AERB, is being dubbed as the second worst mish
ap in India’s accumulated 410 reactor years of experience, following the 1999 turbine fire incident in Narora, in terms of the potential accident it could have led to. However, such labelling could be premature and unnecessary given that the investigation into the incident is still underway and more importantly, the safety systems at the plant worked as planned. As the AERB Chairman S A Bhardwaj
puts it, until a detailed analysis of the events that led to the incident is available, all caution has to be exercised across all operational PHWRs as it cannot be ascertained whether it is a generic problem or a KAPS specific incident yet.

In Conclusion

In his book, Normal Accidents, Charles Perrow says that multiple and unexpected failures are built into society’s complex and tightly-coupled systems such as nuclear reactors. Such accidents are unavoidable and cannot be designed around. Investigations are underway, and it is bound to take a few months time for the complete details of the incident becomes available. This is because of the fact that the reactor was operating at full capacity at the time of the incident because of which the radioactivity levels inside the reactor would be high.

HW leaks and spillages must be dealt with for the following two reasons. First, even if some of these leaks may not be serious safety hazards by themselves, they may be precursors to serious accidents which could result in atmospheric or the environmental release of radioactivity.

Secondly, Heavy Water is expensive and hard to produce, hence making it a considerable burden on the economics of the PHWRs. Here, it is worth mentioning that the PHWRs are generally considered the more economical design compared to Light Water Reactors (LWR), because it uses natural uranium rather than enriched uranium therefore eliminating the requirement and costs of enrichment. More importantly, because of the use of natural uranium and lower burn-up, management of spent fuel from PHWRs is easier as compared to LWRs. The only major initial investment in PHWR is that of heavy water, and thus, managing the leaks becomes important to retain its cost effectiveness.

The Kakrapar incident is a wakeup call for the Indian nuclear establishment to build confidence in the public. Though the AERB website has a section exclusively dedicated to giving updates on the Kakrapar incident, given the speed at which the electronic and social media functions, more proactive communication is the need of the hour. Reaching out to the journalists with timely and accurate information and use of social media will help in establishing the real nature of incidents, leaving little room for speculation and result in alleviating concerns. While it was indeed reassuring that the safety systems of the reactor worked as intended, a transparent root cause analysis of the incident and its management will help build a healthy public dialogue.

About the Author

Ms. Kaveri Ashok is Senior Research Fellow at the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She can be reached at <kaveriashok [at]>. The author is grateful for the valuable comments provided by L.V. Krishnan and Arun Vishwanathan on an earlier draft of the article. Views are personal.

Myanmar’s Rohingyas: Power Struggle, Buddhist Assertion & Ethnic Divide

ISSSP Reflections No. 42, May 31, 2016

Author: Albertina Nithya B.

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The Rohingya Muslims are considered as the most persecuted community of the 21st century. Are the Rohingyas victims of the power struggle in Myanmar? Are the Buddhists using this division among people to demonstrate their assertion vis-à-vis the military? Is the attack on Rohingyas a clash of ethnic identities in Myanmar?

What are the political undercurrents?

Myanmar is a diverse 8aa2society, but the Rohingyas are not part of the 135 registered ethnic groups. While one can state the overriding common sentiment of the Burmese to consider the Rohingya Muslims as illegal immigrants, the problem goes much deeper. The Rakhines are one of the dominant ethnic groups in Myanmar. Their ability to thwart a unanimous victory to the popular NLD in the Rakhine state demonstrates their considerable influence. The Rakhine National Party, created with the merger of Arakan League for Democracy and Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, resulted in the formation of the second largest ethnic political group in Myanmar. Thus it became prudent for any party meaning to establish government, to ensure a place in the good graces of one of the largest vote banks. The Rohingya issue became a political weapon to be wielded by parties to assert their power.

The military is widely believed to be behind the scenes of the communal tensions and plays a crucial role in the recent upsurge in violence. This is evident from the various reports written about the 2012 massacre including the Al Jazeera documentary. Also the research undertaken by Prof. Penny Green with a team of experts from ISCI proves beyond reproach that the 2012 massacre was not a communal riot but planned violence. The research goes on to implicate the military regime in the injustices meted out to the minority community. But why does the military engage in such activities? – political survival.  A false image is constructed by which the role of military becomes indispensible for ensuring safety and security in the state. This leads to closer cooperation and working relationship with the civilian government. It has been observed earlier when the first civilian government of U Nu shared power with the military to suppress the ethnic conflicts.

Slandering and denouncing the Rohingyas became a sure-fire way of ensuring popularity and reputation for the political party. It became a trend, a mainstream sentiment that found resonance among the populace. The political construct of the term ’Rohingya’ is being largely associated with the identity of a Bengali Muslim. Positioning oneself as being against the Rohingyas sends the message of supporting the 500,000 Buddhist monks of the country. The military junta by aiding the monks takes on the role of being the defenders of Buddhist religion and Burmese culture. This, in turn, appeases the dominant forces of the Rakhine province where political parties are largely anti-Rohingya in nature. For example, the Arakan National party’s slogan is “love your nationality, keep pure blood, be Rakhine and vote ANP.”

The linking of Rohingya Muslims with extremist groups is another disturbing trend that is emerging in contemporary times. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s statements, at the 13th ASEAN Chiefs of Defence Forces Informal Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, declared that all the member countries of ASEAN should come together to combat the regional threat of “Bengali extremism” related to the migration of Rohingyas. This demonstrates the fact of how the ethnic and religious identities of being a Rohingya and a Muslim are interchangeably used and reveals the country’s deep feeling of ‘Islamophobia.’

What are the religious undertones?

The 124 year long British colonial rule of Myanmar created among the Burmese, deep feelings of mistrust and resentment towards the foreigners. Buddhist monks like Ashin Wirathu, the face of anti-Muslim organisations like 969 and the Ma Ba Tha movement, are expertly using the xenophobia among people to instigate hatred and violence against the Rohingyas. Almost all the communal tensions that had happened since 2012 are preceded by inflammatory speeches by the radical monk.

The power possessed by the Buddhist monks was evident from the ‘saffron revolution’ of 2007 where they were able to force the government in letting out Aung San Suu Kyi for a few minutes to the view of the public. Though the revolution was a failure, it compelled the government not to underestimate the influence of the monks. The next series of steps adopted by the government displayed its intentions to consolidate the power of the monks to strengthen its reins on power. The anti-Muslim sentiments of fringe groups occupied the mainstream dialogue of the state and resulted in the creation of religious organisations like the 969 movement. Thus the military and the religious extremists forged a symbiotic relationship. But from the results of the current election that happened in November 2015, it was the radical monks who turned out to be the greater beneficiaries.

With charisma, unfounded claims and persuasive words, Wirathu played with the insecurity present among the populace to boost his own popularity. The Rohingya Muslims have become expendables in the hands of extremist monks in their quest for political power and the device they use is the protection of Buddhist religion from the criminal Muslims. Article 364 of the constitution of Myanmar forbids monks from taking part in any political activity. Wirathu, through his actions has proved how getting a seat in the parliament is not the only way by which you can exercise power.

The reason for the victimisation of Rohingyas by Wirathu is seen in his speeches as he paints a vile picture of the small number of wealthy Muslims residing in Mandalay and Yangon. A fear of being economically dominated and left at the mercy of the Muslim community seems to be the preposterous ideas constituting his hate speeches. He claims that if they continue to be complacent, the now poor Rohingyas may become rich and come to dominate them in the future. He also cites another reason for the Rohingyas to be ousted from the land. Labelling them as “enemies of the people” who use violence and distinguishing them from the other Muslims in the country by calling them ‘Bengali Rohingyas,’ he builds a special case for the minority Rohingya.

Why are the other religious minorities not getting persecuted? There are 1.2 percent more number of Christians than Muslims in Myanmar. Any logical explanation would lead to a higher probability of Myanmar’s Christians getting persecuted since they have the same religion as the coloniser. They are more susceptible to fall victim to the country’s sentiments of xenophobia. Then why are the Rohingya Muslims being victimised? The significant number of Muslims in the Rakhine state is one reason attributed for their unjust treatment. This maybe the reason why the Muslims in other parts of the state don’t undergo the same treatment as the Rohingyas.

Images showing the devastations caused by the bombings of Islamic fundamentalist groups in various corners of the world are used by the radical monks in forwarding their case of Muslims being dangerous. Gradually, Wirathu and his group of fanatical monks are assuming the face of Buddhism in South Asia, eclipsing the identity and viewpoints of other moderate Buddhist sects. The TIMES magazine portraying Wirathu as the face of Buddhist terror was banned not only in Myanmar but also in the predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka displaying his international stature. Fearing repercussions and possibility of losing their Buddhist votes, both the majority parties USDP and NLD have towed the line by not fielding even one Muslim candidate. The division among the people in the Rakhine state has served as the perfect vehicle for the augmentation of the influence of the overzealous Buddhist monks. They are playing with the ethnic and religious identity clashes happening in the state.

Paranoia due to clash of ethnic identities?

The animosity between the Rakhines and the Rohingyas started as early as WWII where the former supported the Japanese while the latter was aided by British with weapons. Similar to other ethnic communities, the Rakhines and the Rohingyas differ vastly in their culture, customs and traditions. With the progression of time, the Rakhines in the south started feeling insecure and feared the erosion of their culture and tradition by the Rohingyas. The demand of the Rohingyas for an autonomous state in the northern part of Arakan also exacerbated their fears.

Further complicating the issue was the economic woes of the state. The Rakhine Buddhists already had a problem with the nationalist party of Myanmar and was an ethnic minority in their own way. The paranoia of being dominated by the Rohingyas both culturally and economically set off a violent and insidious hatred to grow among the ethnic group of the Rakhines.

Also the Rohingyas are not seen as an inherent part of Myanmar’s community as seen from themrohingyas being referred to as Bengali Muslims. The state derogatorily labels them as kalars and jailed 5 men last year for mentioning Rohingyas as part of Myanmar’s ethnic community in a calendar. Rohingyas are considered as outsiders and invaders and are seen as an extension of the era of colonial oppression. This symbolism of the Rohingya’s identity makes them the victim of wide-spread hatred among the Burmese. The presence of groups like ISIS in the contemporary world also results in stereotyping the Muslims and coming to the conclusion that all Muslims are terrorists. This phenomenon has been seen in the various protests that happened on the streets of Myanmar throughout 2015 when the crisis of ‘boat people’ captured the attention of the international system. Placards carrying slogans such as “We are under attack by terrorist so called boat people” are common sights in the country.

The majority feel they need to protect their country against the supposed UN bullying of Myanmar. The Burmese masses consider Rohingyas as Bengalis and fear the usurpation of their identity, religion and country. All of this makes them turn a blind eye and be indifferent to or sometimes become the perpetrators that contribute to the dismal plight of the Rohingyas. Any source that links the history of Rohingya with Myanmar is considered as false, fake and a bunch of lies supplied by media in exile.

As seen from above, political, religious and ethnic factors come into play and are interconnected with each other, making the Rohingya crisis one of the most complex issues of the 21st century. Islamophobia is running rampant in the country and the issue of discrimination against Muslims, which is forcing them to flee the country, is of grave concern and needs to be explored further. The fate of 1.3 million people rests on the way in which the crisis is going to be treated by the international community. The pressure they are going to apply on Myanmar to find the earliest possible solution for the refugee situation is of crucial importance.

The silence of NLD is worrying as it is the democratic voice of the country. Many scholars have attributed the relocation of the Rohingyas from the camps to their previous homes and the reduction on the number of Rohingya Muslims trying to flee the country to the democratic government. But the other side contemplate that the fear of human smugglers, perilous journey and being forced into bonded labour are the main deterrents for the fall in numbers. Critics have defended the Suu Kyi government by denoting its nascent state and believe that with the consolidation of power in the course of time, she will address the issue with due importance. But time is something the Rohingya Muslims are short of.

About the Author

Ms. Albertina Nithya B. is pursuing M.A. in International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai. She can be reached at <albertinanithya[at]gmail[dot]com>. Views are personal.  

The Madhesi Conundrum: Making Sense of India’s Stand  

ISSSP Reflections No. 41, May 03, 2016

Author: Sanjal Shastri

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It has been more than six months since Nepal’s new constitution was accepted; yet India has still not openly welcomed the constitution. The official Indian response has merely ‘noted’ the development. What is the reason for India’s approach? Why is the Madhesi community important for India? Did the Bihar elections have an impact? Does the RSS ideology have an impact on India’s stance? What are the implications of Prime Minister Oli’s visit? This commentary will try and address these questions.

In Sri Lanka, Maldives and in Nepal, historically, India has been supporting democratic and inclusive forces. In Sri Lanka, India has been a vocal supporter of devolution of power and the 13th amendment. India’s Operation Cactus helped save President Gayoom’s government from a military coup in the Maldives. Similarly in Nepal, the Indian government in the past has sided with the Nepali Congress. During the time of the monarchy, the Nepali Congress was seen as the frontrunner for democracy and greater inclusiveness. Given India’s history of supporting greater inclusiveness and democracy in the region, how does the latest stance on the new constitution fit in? The current Indian stance can be viewed as a continuation of its policy to support democracy and inclusiveness across the region. While the populations in the hills welcomed the constitution the Madhesis in the Terai launched an agitation claiming the constitution had ignored their demands. The challenge for the Indian government arose because of Madhesi dissatisfaction with the constitution. Over the past decade, Nepal has been in the process of rebuilding. By dismantling the monarchy, a new secular democratic republic is being setup. This therefore, is the ideal opportunity to bring on board groups that were historically marginalized.

While commitment to democracy and inclusiveness is one thing, the Madhesi question has another crucial dimension. Given the open border India shares with Nepal, a long-term solution to the Madhesi question is in India’s best interest. In case the Madhesis remain unhappy with the constitution there is always the risk of them launching a violent movement. Violence across the border in the Terai would be the last thing India wants. Having an open border and people in Bihar having close cultural ties with the Madhesis, a violent movement in the Terai would be a major security concern. The constitution as it stood in September 2015, did not satisfy the Madhesis, throwing open the long-term consequences of this opposition.

The Bihar Elections and the China factor have often been cited as reasons why the Indian government has backed the Madhesis. Were they actually decisive factors in India’s support for the Madhesis? When the new constitution was accepted in September 2015, the belief was that Indian opposition to the constitution was a part of the BJP’s election campaign.  Since the Madhesis have strong cultural links across the border, Madhesi issue would be an emotive one. The election results clearly proved that this was a false belief. Despite supporting the Madhesis, the BJP failed to do well in the elections. Even in the months following the elections the Indian government has stuck to its stance of ‘taking note’ of the constitution. It is unlikely the Bihar elections played a role in the government’s stance.

With 31% of Nepal’s population Madhesis, by ensuring proportional representation, the Indian government would have had a major bargaining block in the parliament vis-à-vis China. This has been one of the points raised by anti-India factions in Nepal. While, there is no denying that the Himalayan nation is of great strategic importance, it is unlikely that the Indian government would see the Madhesis as a counter-weight to China. There is truth in the fact that the elite circles in Nepali politics are increasingly looking towards China, but thanks to cultural, geographical and economic factors, India will continue to be in important factor in Nepal. Culturally, a vast majority of Nepal’s population identifies with India. Indian music, food and even cricket will ensure that India’s power status will be maintained in the future. For a Nepali, it is far easier to maintain people-people contact with India than China. Thanks to the open border with India, it is very easy for a Nepali citizen to visit India. However, they cannot visit China with similar ease. Economically, almost all of Nepal’s fuel, medicine and essential supplies come through India. Geographically, the southern border with India is more conducive to transport goods. Infrastructure facilities and the terrain would mean that China will never be able to replace India as Nepal’s primary economic partner. India therefore, need not be too alarmed about China increasing its presence. While popular media would like to project China’s role in India’s stance, in reality it is unlikely to have had much impact.

Indian support for the Madhesis is a part of its larger policy of supporting democratic and inclusive elements in the region. Apart from this, the possibility of a violent conflict breaking out that has pushed India to take this stand. One final question remains about the role of the RSS ideology. During the initial stages of the blockade, there were reports that Modi and the RSS were unhappy with the word ‘secular’ being included in the constitution. The RSS was reportedly keen on Nepal being called a Hindu state. Going by the foreign policy moves that Modi has initiated, it is difficult to see how the RSS ideology would have influenced his stand. Foreign policy moves like inviting the SAARC leaders including the Pakistani president or visiting Lahore would have been opposed by the RSS ideology. When Modi has taken such a stand on a far more emotive issue like Pakistan, it is hard to see how the RSS would have influenced him over this issue.

Despite a lot of hope being pinned on Prime Minister Oli’s visit to India, the fact of the matter is that nothing concrete has come out of the visit. Traditionally when the Prime Ministers of Nepal have met, they have issued a joint statement at the end of their meeting. This time around there was no joint statement issued. This is a telling fact regarding the success of the meeting. While Nepal has gone on to make several amendments to the constitution, there still remains some disagreement between the two countries. With the blockade being lifted there is hope that this disagreement will be settled sometime soon.

Looking back at what has transpired over the last six months, could India have handled this issue better? It is understandable that there are security concerns surrounding violence in the Terai, but there could have been a better way to deal with the situation. For all the issues the Madhesis have raised, this constitution was the first document that does some justice to Nepal’s pluralistic society. A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs welcoming the developments would have been the right way to go. This would not have jeopardized India’s support for the Madhesi demands. The six-month border blockade and the anti-India protests have done some damage to India-Nepal ties. However with the protests being called off last month both countries seem to be on the road to normalizing relations. Even at this late stage, a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs welcoming the constitution will go a long way in rebuilding trust.

About the Author

Mr. Sanjal Shastri is Research Intern at the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He can be reached at <sshastri93[at]gmail[dot]com>

DPP – 2016: A New Face of “Make in India” in Defence

ISSSP Reflections No. 40, April 18, 2016

Author: Prakash Panneerselvam

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downloadThe much awaited Defence Procurement Procedure – DPP 2016 was unveiled by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during the inauguration of DEFEXPO – 2016.  The DPP – 2016 is an important step in restructuring the existing defence procurement and acquisition policy. Over the last two decades the government has failed to find a solution to the existing problem in Indian defence acquisition process, leading to several delays in acquiring much needed modern weapon platforms by the Indian armed forces. To resolve the issue, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has taken extra care in restructuring the DPP 2016, which he views as an important component in achieving self-reliance in the defence sector.

After assuming the office in 2014, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had constituted a team of experts under former Union Home Secretary, Dhirendra Singh to review Indian defence procurement policy and DPP -2013. The new DPP – 2016 incorporates the Dhirendra Singh Committee recommendations and brings in dynamic changes in the defence procurement process. The DPP lays emphasis on achieving enhanced self-reliance in weapon manufacturing. Many industry and strategic experts have opined the proposed change would speed-up the procurement process. At the same time, it is also important to analyse, how the DPP – 2016 would impact the “Make in India” initiative in the defence manufacturing sector.

Highlights of DPP – 2016

The DPP – 2016 has largely focused on the ease of doing business and has attempted to create a level playing field for Indian industries, particularly private sectors. The DPP – 2016 is quite different from its previous edition for not remaining just as a manual for procurement process. Unlike DPP-2013, the new document has made an effort to clearly lay out the plan to achieve the self-reliance in defence sector by linking the DPP – 2016 with “Make in India” initiative. The “Make in India” initiative was one of the guiding principles of this government. The introduction of Buy (Indian – IDDM), reducing the timeframe for Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) to six months and Fast Track route to speed up procurement process are some of the major highlight of DPP – 2016. Moreover, changes in acquisition process, enabling provisions in “Buy and Make” cases and increase in funding of MoD project from present 80 to 90 percent in “Make” category are aimed to address multiple objective of self-reliance and provides impetus for MSME sector.

The major component of DPP -2016, the chapter on Strategic Partnership (SP) has been temporarily withheld given that there is disagreement within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the proposed SP model. The idea of SP model is to create an additional capacity in private sector to share the burden of Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) and Ordnance Factories (OFs). Since, the private sectors have no capability to compete against the much larger and more experienced DPSUs and Foreign OEMs. The Dhirander Singh and Dr VK Atre Committee suggested SP model to reverse the unequal situation between private sector and DPSUs.

The MoD’s finance department has raised concern over Dr VK Atre Committee’s suggestion to exclude defence manufacturing from the Competition Act 2002 and restrict it to SP mode, which could lead to monopolisation. Further, sub-optimal division of ship-building into above the water and below the water category faced severe criticism reportedly from several key private players. The SP model, the crucial element of the DPP – 2016 is likely to undergo further changes to remove the anomalies in the proposed SP model. Therefore, one has to wait for a clear enunciation of the SP model.

Boost for “Make in India”

The prioritisation of Buy (India-IDDM) in procurement category and “Make” project is aimed to provide handholding to “Make in India” initiative and has the potential to increase the contribution of manufacturing output to 25 percent of country’s GDP. The Indian private sector has also matured over the years is now capable of taking up design & development role in association with R&D organisation. With the DPP – 2016 in place it is becoming increasingly apparent to all concerned that the defence manufacturing capability cannot be built in isolation and requires the active involvement of the private sector.

The defence manufacturing is listed as one of the primary sectors of “Make in India” policy, keeping in mind its ability to attract investment from Foreign OEMs and create millions of jobs in the next five years. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates the defence sector has a potential of increasing the defence manufacturing workforce by 1 million people within five years. The report also claims every million directed job created in defence manufacturing will create additional 0.5 million in indirect jobs through sub-contracts and vendor. The human resource capacity in the private sector has already demonstrated its capability in field of automobile, Information technology (IT) and various other sectors. Government is trying to replicate the same model by inducing private sector and Foreign OEMs to invest in defence manufacturing.

In addition, the “Make in India” initiative also seeks to expand defence manufacturing keeping an eye on the highly lucrative defence export market. Across the world, governments have put in place a defence export strategy to tap the opportunity in overseas defence market. As of now, DPSUs are the leading exporters of weapon equipments and are planning to expand this arm of their business by three to four times in next five years. However, the growth of Indian industry in defence manufacturing sector is minimal when compared to DPSUs and OFs. It is imperative that the government should put in a framework that encourages collaboration between the Public and Private sector companies for defence export based on Public Private Partnership (PPP) model.

The DPSUs and Private sector should also put in place a system to share the capability and capacity to support overseas sales and servicing and maintenance through the life of the product. Even though the private sector companies get licenses for manufacturing weapons and ammunitions, it is the DPSUs and OFs which secure the orders. It is crucial the Indian government focuses on specific issues in defence export which could help in boosting the “Make in India” initiative. The DPP – 2016 which has articulated a level playing field for private sector would provide considerable push for the “Make in India” initiative.

In conclusion, Industry has responded positively to DPP – 2016 and “Make in India” in the defence manufacturing sector. Defence Minister Parrikar understands the limitation in procurement process and has mentioned the need for mindset change in MoD to speed up the process. The need of the hour is to bring transparency in defence procurement process and get rid of the inertia within the defence bureaucracy.

About the Author

Dr. Prakash Panneerselvam is Post Doctoral Associate at the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He can be reached at <panprakash[at]gmail[dot]com>

Peshawar to Charsadda: Is the NAP adequate to deal with the TTP?

ISSSP Reflections No. 39, March 1, 2016

Author: Riffath Khaji
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Last month, the TTP made a deadly attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda. Despite the public anger against a similar strategy in Peshawar in December 2015 (the attack on Army Public School), the TTP seems to be continuing with its strategy.

Is the TTP  targeting the mainstream education, or have chosen them, because they are soft targets? Why is the State in Pakistan, despite the NAP, unable to neutralize the TTP? With the NAP faltering, will there be more Taliban attacks in Pakistan?

Schools and Colleges: Is the TTP targeting mainstream education?

The Pakistani Taliban seems to be targeting the schools and colleges because they are soft targets and also because they are main stream educational institutions. The Bacha Khan University system, started by Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, is based on a secular, moderate and nationalist education.

In 2012, the TTP attacked Malala Yosufzai who represented the mainstream education, which TTP was against. The Army Public School was attacked by the TTP in 2014 not only because there were children of army personal, but also because it was a mainstream institution and a soft target as well. Given the enormity of the issue, physical protection of all the educational institutions will be a tough task. So the State will have to pursue a different strategy. A discussion on the NAP assumes importance in this context.

TTP’s Continuing Attacks: The Failure of National Action Plan?

Post Peshawar attack in 2014, the National Action Plan (NAP) was promulgated in January 2015. The primary objective is to fight terrorism. Following could be identified as the major features of the NAP: Some of the NAP highlights are as follow:-

  • No armed organization to be allowed to operate.
  • The anti-terrorism organization National Counter Terrorism Authority Pakistan (NACTA) to be strengthened and activated.
  • All sources of funding of terrorists and terrorist organizations to be completely eliminated.
  • Action to be taken to stop religious extremism and protect religious minorities.
  • Complete ban to be imposed on airing the views of terrorists and terrorist organizations in the print and electronic media.
  • Terrorists’ communication networks to be dismantled.
  • Immediate steps to stop the spread of terrorism on the internet and social media.

NAP looks good on papers but the reality is unchanged and unsatisfactory.

Despite the counter militancy operations and now the NAP, the violence in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) by TTP has been increasing since 2007. Rise of the TTP in Pakistan’s FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has also resulted in its expansion into other provinces through Punjabi Taliban and the Karachi Taliban.

After Peshawar attack, the State began acting against TTP with an extra vigour through the establishment of military courts, removing moratorium on death sentences and increased air attacks against the TTP. Though there is a tough military action, there seems to be less inputs from the political Establishment in addressing the issue.

Besides the seriousness over the NAP between the political and military establishments, the TTP is a well-networked cadre based organization. It draws its forces from both sides of Durand Line and has shown since its inception that it can re-group and re-organize and launch deadly attacks. As it penetrates into the heartland of Pakistani state from its traditional seat of operations, it is emphasizing and consolidating further. The increase in attacks in Sindh, especially Karachi, shows it is no longer confined to the tribal belts. It is also banking on the Pashtun sentiments and using it to score political points. The very fact that many religious based parties and nonpolitical organizations refused to condemn the Bacha Khan University attack shows TTP’s strength and influence.

With the existing differences at the State and political levels and the core of TTP remaining intact, the danger of more attacks in the coming days cannot be ruled out.  

About the Author

Ms Riffath Khaji is Junior Research Fellow, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She can be reached at kaziriffath737[at]gmail[dot]com

NTI’s 2016 Nuclear Security Index Report

ISSSP Reflections No. 38, February 24, 2016

Author: Beenish Altaf
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NSS 2014

Source: MEA Website

After encountering the frenzy and blazing debates on the repercussions of 2012 and 2014 NTI reports, the year is again open to the same heated arguments once again. Being a national of the South Asian country where the matter of nuclear security always remained an important issue, this article is an attempt to analyse the 2016 NTI Nuclear Security Index.

Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) founded by US Senator Sam Nunn and CNN Founder, Ted Turner, works to strengthen global security by reducing the unauthorized and accidental use of nuclear weapons, preventing the spread of biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear weapons.  In addition, the NTI also assesses and evaluates the safety at nuclear facilities worldwide.

Worldwide Theft/Sabotage Ranking

The NTI 2016 Nuclear Security Index ranks 25 countries that possess “one kilogram or more of weapons-usable nuclear materials.” Both India and Pakistan fall into this category. In Asia, while China is ranked 20th, India and Pakistan are placed 23rd and 22nd in the index out of the 24 states with weapons-usable nuclear materials. Japan occupies the 13th position but has moved up 6 places from 2012 NTI ranking. The top position has been retained by Australia. Among the nuclear weapons states, France is placed at the 7th position, United Kingdom and United States occupy the 11th position.

The third edition of the NTI Report released in January 2016 is prepared in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). This year’s report has a new addition to the index that is the sabotage ranking, which reviews the nuclear security environment in 45 countries based on potential sabotage risks. The theft ranking and sabotage ranking scores assesses the contribution of 24 states across five broad categories (1) Quantities and Sites, (2) Security and Control Measures, (3) Global Norms, (4) Domestic Commitments and Capacity, and (5) Risk Environment.

The table below depicts the country-wise ranking in the 2016 NTI reports and the change from the 2012 NTI Report.

Beenish NTI Pic

Source: NTI Index Website www[dot]ntiindex[dot]org

The Nuclear Security Summit Process

The fourth and final gathering of the world leaders for Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is planned for March 31 – April 1, 2016 in Washington D.C.  The 2016 Washington NSS will culminate the series of three summits held in Washington, DC (2010), Seoul (2012), and at The Hague (2014). All the three summits tried to draw attention to the threat of nuclear sabotage, security of facilities and sites, safety of fissile materials including while in transportation and nuclear terrorism and establish a mechanism to enforce the countries to take stronger measures to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Speaking about the NSS process, NTI Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sam Nunn stated, “President Obama launched the summit process and he and his team as well as a host of committed world leaders, deserve credit for their achievements so far … and the work is not complete, however, and a plan to sustain high-level political attention on nuclear security must be a top priority at the Summit in Washington DC.” This statement creates an impression that the process of NSS has to go beyond the Obama Administration. However, there is no authentic information in the public domain as of yet whether the NSS process is likely to continue.

Likewise the NTI President Joan Rohlfing said “The current global nuclear security system has dangerous gaps that prevent it from being truly comprehensive and effective … Until those gaps are closed, terrorists will seek to exploit them. Leaders must commit to a path forward when they meet this spring. The consequences of inaction in the face of new and evolving threats are simply too great.” Rohlfing’s statement too reflects the desire to continue the NSS process beyond the 2016 NSS Summit.

It is pertinent to mention here that even though nuclear security is solely the sovereign right of a state, many countries should take the collective and mutually agreed steps to guarantee safety and security against the existing global threats. By and large, the NSS outcomes cannot be expected as a binding legal instrument and its operating mechanism are political in nature unless the states have signed the conventions. This situation creates an imperative to continue the NSS process beyond 2016 Washington DC summit .

Spotting Pakistan

Although Pakistan is one rank ahead of India in the NTI 2016 rankings, it still falls in the bottom of ranking for theft of nuclear weapon use-able material. The current NTI Index admits that Pakistan passed new cyber security regulations but it argues that the process of progress was too diminutive to upgrade its score. This is of course a subjective assessment that ignores their own statistics as given in the table.  Pakistan is taking steps to update its nuclear security regulations and to implement nuclear security best practices.

The NTI Report mentions that Pakistan’s improvement is primarily due to an “increased score for on-site physical protection resulting from new laws and regulations requiring licensees to provide physical protection to nuclear sites and on-site reviews of security.” Regarding the on-site physical protection the report mentions that “Pakistan, improved its score by three points compared with 2012, and demonstrated the largest improvement by any nuclear-armed state.” It is also pertinent to mention here that Pakistan has well-designed, skilled and committed nuclear security force approx 30,000 in number, which is geared to provide security, control and physical protection of its nuclear facilities and materials during transportation.

Despite deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan not a single event of nuclear facility or radiological material’s theft has been reported so far which is commendable indeed. However, there is always a room for improvement and Pakistan needs to be vigilant to take measures to further improve the safety and security of its sensitive facilities to further improve its ranking in future.

About the Author

Beenish Altaf works for the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. She is currently pursuing projects related to the strategic issues of south Asia, South Asian quest for the export control group’s membership and Pakistan-India nuclear equation. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, Washington DC. Her work has appeared in The National Interest, South Asian Voices, international blogs and various dailies. She can be reached at beenishaltaf7[at]gmail[dot]com

PLA Rocket Force: Adding fuel to the Dragon’s ‘Fire’?

ISSSP Reflections No. 37, February 22, 2016

Author: Mrunalini Deshpande
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Source: Xinhua/Li Gang

Recently China announced the upgradation of the PLA’s Second Artillery Force to PLA Rocket Force (PRF). Will the inclusion of nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles under the control of PRF make China lethal in terms of new warfare strategies? Is the Chinese End game aimed at keeping US on the edge? Will the PRF and Strategic Support Force be a game changer in terms of modernization of military forces?

The New Rocket Force: Making China’s strategy lethal

The new Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force was announced in December 2015 by Xi Jinping, as part of the restructuring of the Chinese military. According to the Chinese reports, the PLA Rocket Force’s main mission, like that of the Second Artillery Force, will provide strategic deterrence with nuclear and conventional missiles under its control. Whereas, the Strategic Support Force is expected to provide proper electronic and cyber intelligence back up for the precision missiles strikes during war.

The new Rocket Force, is expected to deploy its nuclear assets on land, sea and air. It is believed to be incorporating the Navy’s strategic nuclear submarine and the Air Force’s strategic bomber. This will make the Force, the world’s first independent service with land, sea and air nuclear components, more integrated than any other country. The formation of PRF serves as a major indicator of China’s ambition to up the ante with respect to strategic and nuclear defence by establishing the world’s most complete missile strike system.

The PLA Rocket Force has been given a status equal to that of PLA, PLA Navy and PLA Air Force. Along with the nuclear missiles, the Rocket Force would also be in charge of the conventional missiles. This is an indication of the continuation of China’s “dual deterrence” policy which seems to have been intricately woven into the “active defence” policy. Active defence through offensive strategic policies is China’s signature approach towards national security. Also, the formation of the Strategic Support Force is considered as a reflection of how much importance the PLA is granting the new and rapidly growing domain of cyber and space. The Strategic Support Force is said to constitute of an aerospace army, an internet army and electronic warfare troops. Network attacks against satellites and ground based facilities that control the satellites would be China’s modus operandi during a conflict.

Keeping US on the edge

So what is the larger Chinese endgame? Unlike the US and Russia, China is not constrained by any agreements that would cut down their missile production or limit the range of their missiles. This has helped China in establishing a complete ballistic missile strike system with their high precision, medium range missiles being the highlight of their missile system. China’s ambition to establish a military balance with respect to US and Russia is obvious through its serious attempts to establish an army that would be ready to win wars of the information age.

The possible inclusion of submarine launched ballistic missiles into the Rocket Force, is a clear indication of China’s attempts to enhance its sea based nuclear deterrent and second strike capabilities. The enhanced sea based nuclear capabilities could be the Chinese way of gaining an upper hand in the geopolitical tensions with US in the Pacific Ocean region. The Strategic Support Force will aid the military during cyber and space warfare, which only further asserts China’s determination in having an upper hand in all domains of future conflicts.

In November 2015, China conducted the sixth, successful test of its hypersonic maneuvering strike vehicle, DF-ZF (previously referred to as WU-14). The hypersonic glide vehicle is capable of radically changing its trajectory to avoid missile defences. The ability to fly at low, radar- evading altitudes makes them less vulnerable than existing missiles to the strong US missile defence systems. These warheads are capable of performing non- nuclear as well as nuclear precision strikes. China may use this warhead on a future generation of an Anti- Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM).  This has set US on the edge as they try and build a defence that is essentially centered on counterbalancing China. Having been an undeterred nation for a long time, the steady rise of China’s military might is sure to ring alarm bells for the US.

China’s space weapons are proving to be another threat to the US satellites. With its new Strategic Support Force, China is all set to enhance its space weapon capabilities. The congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned in its most recent annual report that “China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counter space capabilities, which includes direct ascent antisatellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons”. While the US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) is in charge of their nuclear, space, cyberspace and electronic warfare operations, it is not in charge of the conventional weapons. The PRF is in charge of China’s conventional as well as nuclear weapons. This added control of conventional weapons gives PRF a slight upper edge over the USSTRATCOM.

Changing the game

As per the military reform guidelines released by the Central Military Commission of China, the overall administration of the PLA, the Chinese People’s Armed Police and the militia and reserve forces will fall under the charge of CMC. The concentration of control of the armed forces with the CMC is a characteristic of this military reform. The current year would witness enhanced military systems, civilian-military integration, improved combat personnel and reform of military academies and armed police forces. The formation of the Rocket Force is seen as a clear departure of the Chinese leadership’s focus on the PLA. As part of the new reform, China is said to be reducing its troops from 2.3 million to 2 million, with special emphasis on the phasing out of outdated armaments and development of new weapon systems. Hence with the PLA Rocket Force being accorded the status of the fourth wing of defence, the navy and the air force will also find themselves being treated at par with the other three Services.

From the Air Force to Navy, Cyber to Space, the Chinese seem to be thoughtfully revamping their military structure to meet their future ambitions. Having realized the importance of space systems, China is developing capabilities that would deny access to these space systems during conflict. This can be viewed as an extension of their access-denial campaign. With its high precision ballistic missile system and an efficiently integrated defence system, China seems to be steadily moving towards its goal of building a modernized military.

The PLA Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force will play a major role in contributing towards this goal. While the PRF and the Strategic Support Force are aimed at setting US on the edge, this new strategy will also have major implications for India and leading Asia Pacific countries. As China moves towards modernizing and reforming its military, the notion of counterbalancing this strategy could result in stronger defence alliances in South Asia. Thus, China, with its robust military and rapidly developing space capabilities has reset the geopolitical game in its favour.

About the Author

Ms Mrunalini Deshpande is Junior Research Fellow, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She can be reached at mrunaldeshpande19[at]gmail[dot]com

Nepal: Why are the Madhesis not willing to compromise?

ISSSP Reflections No. 36, February 18, 2016

Author: Sanjal Shastri 
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Rameshwor Raya Yadav, a Madhesi leader, responded to the recent Constitutional Amendment Bill endorsed by the Parliament as “positive to some extent” but still “it does not address the demands made by the agitating Madhesi parties in their entirety.” By terming the two amendments as incomplete, the Madhesis are closing the door on any possible compromise. Why are the Madhesi groups not willing to compromise on any of their demands? Aren’t bargaining and compromising not the key processes in any negotiation? What forms the basis of the Madhesi stand?

The commentary looks into the uncompromising stand as a product of historical, geographic and geo political factors, which have greatly enhanced the bargaining power of Madhesi groups.

Source: AP Photo/Ram Sarraf

Being an ethnic minority the Madhesis have always been a marginalized group. The Terai region of Nepal has some of the highest poverty density figures in the country. Due to legal reasons, a large section of the Madhesi population does not have a Nepali citizenship. Forming nearly 40% of the population, Madhesi representation in the Nepali civil service is very low. Taking into account the historical factors, the Madhesis see this as a perfect opportunity to ensure their representation in the political structure. Seeing a golden opportunity, the Madhesis would want to ensure that the new constitution protects them from any form of discrimination that can come up in the future.

Geographical division of proposed provinces forms another crucial aspect of the Madhesi stand. The current provincial structure would mean that the Madhesi population is scattered across seven provinces where they would be reduced to a small minority. This would make it very difficult for Madhesi members to get elected into the parliament. They are demanding a revision to the provincial division structure, which would enable them to send more representatives to the parliament. Judging from the reaction to the constitutional amendments, this point seems to be something that none of the Madhesi groups are willing to compromise on. By agreeing to the current provincial division plan, demographic structures would ensure that fewer Madhesis get elected to the national parliament. Ethnic based provincial divisions would mean that the various ethnic groups would find their place in the political process.

India factor seems to be the third factor behind the Madhesi stance. Though India has denied any role in the agitation, Madhesi leaders recently travelled to Bihar to meet Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. The official Indian response to the amendments addressed it as a ‘positive development’ but added, “We hope that other outstanding issues are similarly addressed in a constructive spirit”. The Indian government does have significant control over the Madhesi leaders. India’s indirect support for the movement gives the crucial confidence for the Madhesi agitators to block the vital supply routes, which is causing a severe fuel shortage across the country. The agitators have understood Nepal’s dependence on this land route and the importance of India as a trading partner. Using their connections to India and Nepali government’s economic dependence on it, the Madhesi agitators have significantly enhanced their bargaining power in the parliament.  

Historical and geographical factors have pushed the Madhesis to demand for greater concessions. The support they receive from India greatly amplifies their bargaining power. Having had a history of discrimination, the constitution provides the Madhesis with a great opportunity to ensure their integration into the political mainstream. This is an opportunity that the Madhesis are not willing to miss out on. At the heart of their demands is the reorganization of the provinces. The proposed division of provinces means it would be difficult for the Madhesis to secure greater political representation.  By not addressing this issue, the constitutional amendments failed to break the deadlock.

The constitutional amendments are definitely a positive sign and a step in the right direction. Given the political, historical and geographical factors, more compromises will have to be made if the deadlock has to be broken. The growing shortage of fuel and essential supplies means that there is an increased urgency to put an end to the blockade. From the constitutional amendments to the growing urgency to end the blockade the signs are that a solution would be found soon.

About the Author

Mr. Sanjal Shastri is Research Intern at the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He can be reached at <sshastri93[at]gmail[dot]com>


Tracing HEU used for peaceful purposes

ISSSP Reflections No. 35, December 31, 2015

Author: LV Krishnan
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HEUraniumCMention of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) conjures up vision of a nuclear weapon. Uranium is called as HEU if the enrichment level is higher than 20% and Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) if it is lower. Natural uranium has an enrichment level of 0.7%.At the borderline enrichment level of 20%, it takes over a tonne of HEU to make a bomb, but at 90% it requires less than twenty kg.

Appreciable amounts of HEU have been used in many countries for civilian applications, mainly to fuel research and test reactors. Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) helped set up the reactors in other countries and also supplied the HEU fuel. In recent years, with international assistance, many of these reactors have been redesigned to run on LEU fuel.

Some of the HEU earlier supplied to countries is still present in a few of them. There is preference in some cases to continue to use HEU in the reactors for reasons of compactness and to obtain higher intensity of neutrons for experimental purposes.

The most recent compilation of data on worldwide civil HEU stocks can be found in the report published in October by David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), USA titled Tracking Inventories of Civil Highly Enriched Uranium. Their task was not easy since official information on transfer of HEU to countries and its return is scarce. They have had to rely on open information for the most part.

Current HEU Holdings

The ISIS report says 136.8 Te of the material (upper estimate) is believed to be held by various countries in the world. The enrichment levels vary in these stocks and details are not available.

A country is said to be free of HEU if it is holding less than one kilogram of it after either returning most of the material to the Supplier State or blending it with natural uranium to lower the enrichment. The Report lists altogether 27 countries in this category.

Some years ago as many as sixty countries were found to be holding more than one kilogram each. Now the number is down to twenty-six countries due to efforts made by the supplier countries to get the material returned.

Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS) together hold 16.8 Te (upper estimate) of which Kazakhstan has 10 Te. The combined stock of eleven other NNWS amounts to 6.7 Te (upper estimate). The balance is distributed among the rest fourteen States.

It comes as no surprise that among the five NWS, US alone holds 93 Te, followed by Russia with an estimated 20 Te. France comes next with 4.65 Te. England has 1.4 Te and China has one tonne. The weapon-related HEU stock is not included in these.

Inter-country HEU Transfer

There is a long history of HEU transfer between countries mainly for use as fuel in reactors meant for research, testing, isotope production and power generation. The US and Russia have been the major suppliers of HEU to other nations. As minor suppliers, UK, France and China have provided kilogram quantities of HEU to a few countries.

United States as HEU supplier

US had provided about 6 Te to sixteen NNWS of which Canada, Germany and Japan received in excess of one tonne each. Belgium, Netherlands and South Africa received in excess of half a tonne. Soviet Union made available a little over 10 Te to seven countries including China. Kazakhstan alone received 10 Te from Russia for use in a power reactor. China in turn has provided 1 kg weapon grade HEU to each of five countries for setting up neutron source reactors.

A report from US Department of Energy tells us more on US HEU supplies. Between 1957 and 1994, under the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy programme, the US had supplied about 25.6 Te of HEU to 31 countries. The enrichment level varied from 20% to a little above 90%. France received about 7.7 Te.  Germany was provided 11.3 Te while Canada and Japan each got about 2 Te.

Russia as HEU supplier

Russia is the other major supplier of HEU fuel for research reactors and there is little information on its transactions. But, it is known that Russia provided uranium fuel in three enrichment levels (17, 21 and 26%) for the fast breeder reactor BN-350 in Kazakhstan that began operation in 1972. The reactor was permanently shut down after 27 years of operation.  According to one estimate, the fully loaded core had 6.4 Te HEU and during its operating life the reactor used about 32 Te of 17% LEU, 17 Te of21 % HEU and 50 Te of 26 % HEU (Pavel Podvig: History of Highly Enriched Uranium Production in Russia, Science & Global Security, 19:1,  Note No. 10 and 11, pg. 61, 62). Most of the spent fuel from the reactor was sent back to Russia for reprocessing. When the reactor was permanently shut down, about 10 Te of the highly radioactive spent fuel remained and has been consigned to storage at a safe site in Kazakhstan with US assistance.

Russia is reported to have provided no higher than 80% HEU to other countries. After the International Programme for Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) was introduced in 1978, Russia began limiting HEU supply to enrichment levels no higher than 36%.

More recently, Russia provided 240 kg of 64.4% HEU for the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) according to the ISIS report. The reactor was commissioned in 2010.

HEU supplies for Research and Test Reactors

The IAEA is also a good source of information on HEU used in research and reactors. It has published data on the range of enrichment levels used (Figure 1) and on the number of fuel assemblies stored in various countries with information on the provenance of the HEU in these (Table 1). Although the enrichment levels vary with the reactor, each fuel assembly could have a few hundred grams of HEU. The core of a reactor could hold a few kilograms.  The total in storage works out to about 5 Te.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Range of enrichment level in HEU used in Research and Test Reactor Fuel Assemblies

The radioactivity content of these used HEU fuel assemblies drops to low enough levels after a few months to allow easier handling. The enrichment level in spent fuel gets reduced as uranium is used up in the reactor.  Large numbers of used Fuel Assemblies would be required to recover and purify enough HEU for one device.

Table 1. Number of Spent Fuel Assemblies in Storage

Region US HEU Russian HEU
Africa and the Middle East 189 0
Asia 1029 470
Eastern Europe 11  10616
Latin America 67  0
North America 1614  0
Pacific 0  0
Western Europe 2033  2112
Total 4943  13198

Recovery of supplied HEU

In recent times, citing security concerns, supplier countries are making efforts to recover the HEU they had provided earlier.

A total of 7.7 Te had been returned to US by 1994. About 60% of the US origin HEU still remaining abroad is highly radioactive having been used in a reactor. The unused stuff is in the form of metal, compounds, scrap, and waste and as such is less secure. About 6.7 Te of US HEU remaining in other countries has been either converted to LEU by mixing with natural uranium or consumed by fission in the reactors.

According to data shared by the US’s NNSA officials (pg. 40) cited in a more recent report by the Belfer Center, United States exported 26.1 tons of HEU over the years, approximately 15 tons of which has either been returned or blended down. About 11 tons may still be present in various countries, or their status not confirmed. The US makes the best efforts among countries, yet it is believed that efforts to fully account for the amount of HEU supplied by US and that received back have not been quite successful. Figures 2&3 (pg. 18) trace the export by the US of HEU for use in research and test reactors and its recovery in the period 1957-2012 (Source of Figures: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Report to Congress on the Current Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium Exports Used as Fuel or Targets in Nuclear Research or Test Reactors, p.18 available at


Figure 2Figure 2: Exports of US HEU (1957-2012)



Figure 3

Figure 3: Imports of US HEU (1957-2012)

Misinformation on the Indian scene

The Authors of the ISIS report have made an egregious error in including India in the list of recipients of 5 kg of Russian origin HEU. They correctly point out that India received 5 kg of HEU as fuel for the Apsara research reactor, twice from UK and once from France. While the used HEU fuel was returned to UK, the French supplied stock is presently being kept in monitored storage under safeguards. The reactor is being redesigned to function with LEU.

The ISIS report also refers to discussions India had with France in 1970s for supply of HEU for the Fast Breeder Test Reactor built with French assistance. However, it disregards the subsequent fact –acclaimed by India in various fora – that the reactor was actually commissioned and is being run with indigenously produced plutonium-based fuel for the reactor. The explicit statement in the report that “there remains some uncertainty whether France supplied this HEU, which would have amounted to tens of kilograms of HEU” can only be considered mischievous.

About the Author

LV Krishnan retired as Director of Safety Research and Health Physics Programmes at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam in 1997. He is Adjunct Faculty, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies. He can be contacted at krishnan97[at]gmail[dot]com


The Iranian nuclear fatwa that never was

ISSSP Reflections No. 34, December 11, 2015

Author: Arun Vishwanathan
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In the past, whenever doubts arose about the intentions of Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian regime has been quick to point to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei’s fatwa (pg. 121) (decree) as a guarantee of Iran’s resolve not to pursue nuclear weapons. Many Iranian leaders like former head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Amoli Larijani have quoted the Supreme Leader’s fatwa to reiterate any lack of interest in pursuing nuclear weapons. In an interview with Gareth Porter of Foreign Policy, former IRGC minister and head of the Supreme Leaders’ security detail, Mohsen Rafighdoost, stated that the Supreme Leader had described nuclear weapons as haram and proscribed building nuclear or chemical weapons even in face of attacks on Iranian cities with chemical weapons. In fact Iran’s then foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi had suggested (pg 40) that Iran could made the fatwa ‘a legally binding official document in the UN.’ However, nothing much came out of it.

Despite these strident claims from the Iranian side, there have been doubts – much to Iran’s chargin – about the fatwa and the role it will play in reining in the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapons program. One of the reasons for these persistent doubts is that the fatwa has never been actually published. In addition, as Ariane Tabatabai writes, “The scope of this prohibition remains unclear, as some of his statements point at a more comprehensive ban, including on the “production, stockpiling, and use” of such weapons, while others merely encompass their “use.”

The skepticism about Iran’s nuclear pursuits and their purely peaceful nature also emanate from the drivers of a possible Iranian nuclear program. For instance, why would Iran not pursue a weapons program in light of security challenges like knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear weapons pursuits, chemical weapons attacks by Iraq; linkages that the Iranian regime draws between the nuclear program and nationalism; and the primacy that the Iranian leaders place on science, technology and self-reliance. On the other hand, Iranian leaders – like the current Iranian President Hassan Rowhani – have argued against building nuclear weapons as they seem to realize that a nuclear Iran would worsen the regional security situation, forcing many states in the region in to the US alliance and would be inimical to Iranian interests.

What is a fatwa?

It is therefore crucial to understand the what the fatwa means and its place in the Iranian polity. Iranian officials have argued that fatwa is a “juridical ruling that is religiously binding on the officials of the Islamic Republic.” However, as Dr. Ali Ansari writes:

Fatwas as a rule, are understood to be religious opinions, or judgements that are meant to be binding on the followers of a particular jurist. Although fatwas are issued throughout the Muslim world, they are much more prominent and part of the theological structure of the Shia Muslim community, with its hierarchy of clerics, expert in the finer aspects of Shia jurisprudence.

Given the role and position of the Supreme Leader, in the Iranian political system, his fatwas are of course importance and carry due weight. However, given the dynamic and fluid world of Iranian politics, all such pronouncements – including that of the Supreme Leader – have been open to interpretation and do not hold sway all the time. Further Ansari notes, “not clear that they (fatwas) amount to an unqualified religious binding”.

Fatwa and the IAEA PMD December 2015 Report

In light of the above, the December 2, 2015 report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which deals with past unresolved issues or what is popularly termed as Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) is very significant. The report was a requirement that flows out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed between Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, 2015. Under the JCPOA, Iran had agreed to work with the IAEA to resolve these outstanding issues and concerns about its past weaponisation efforts. The IAEA in turn was required to submit a report to the IAEA Board of Governors by December 15, 2015.

The December 2015 report states in unambiguous terms that Iran was pursuing various activities related to a nuclear weapons program in a coordinated fashion till 2003. Following this, till 2009, some independent though uncoordinated efforts related to nuclear weapons continued. However, it also states that the IAEA has “found no credible evidence of the diversion of nuclear material in connection with possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.” Though much richer in detail, the timeline mentioned in IAEA’s report is similar to that of the American 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which had also stated “with a high degree of confidence that Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapons effort post 2003”.

Thus it is clear beyond doubt – especially in light of the recent December 2015 IAEA report – that the Iranian regime continued its nuclear weapons efforts despite the Supreme Leader’s fatwa. However, it is likely that in light of the latest IAEA’s report, the countries will agree to close the section of Iran’s nuclear file relating to its past weaponisation activities and decide to move ahead in the spirit of the July 2015 nuclear agreement.  

About the Author

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He can be reached at arun_summerhill[at] He tweets at @ArunVish_

Conducting Academic and Policy Research related to National and International Security Issues
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