India to Join Three ‘Gift Baskets’ at Final Nuclear Security Summit

India is looking to become part of the informal ‘contact group’, ‘countering nuclear smuggling’ and ‘training and support centre’ circles.

The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. Credit: Voice of America

The 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. Credit: Voice of America

New Delhi: At the last ever Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) from March 31-April 2, India will join three ‘gift baskets’ to disrupt transnational nuclear smuggling networks, as well as to set up an informal structure to sustain the momentum after the NSS process ends.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the two-day NSS in Washington, which will begin with a dinner hosted at the White House for 53 world leaders and heads of four international organisations on the evening of March 31.

‘Gift basket’ diplomacy was devised at the Seoul 2010 summit as a way around the need for universal consensus for any deliverable to be finalised on a multilateral platform. So far, India had refrained from joining any of the fifteen-odd informal groups or ‘gift baskets’ formed over a specific theme. But, at this last summit, New Delhi is ready to take the plunge.

The three informal groups

Given India’s long term plan to expand nuclear power exponentially, there will also be a consequent expansion in nuclear fuel cycle facilities – and therefore, a heightened concern for securing material and technology at all stages is evident.

The eagerness to be more active in the emerging international nuclear security architecture is also part of India’s projection as a responsible nuclear power, especially as it seeks entry to exclusive export control clubs and nuclear trading regimes.

Sources said India had expressed its willingness to join a ‘contact group’ – a smaller subset of the 53 participating countries – that will be instrumental in monitoring the implementation of the various outcomes from the summit. The group, which will meet in Vienna at official level, will also decide if there was any requirement for another summit of the political leadership.

While the contact group will be a new mechanism, India will also join two other ‘gift baskets’ that have been in place for the last four years.

Around 20 countries, including the US and UK, are part of the “countering nuclear smuggling” circle, which aims to stop the illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials through an exchange of information, as well as aggressive prosecution through effective domestic legislation.

At the first NSS in 2010, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised to set up the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP). Therefore, the third ‘bloc’ that India intends to join – for Nuclear Security Training and Support Centres and Centres of Excellence (CoE) – is a natural fit.

The CoEs, numbering over a dozen, have been described as the most tangible outcome of the NSS process. Last year in June, Laura Holgate, the US sherpa for the summit, described COEs as a “major component of the effort to carry forward the Summit momentum”.

While several of the CoEs are completed and operational, others are a work in progress – India’s GCNEP is in the latter category.

The Centre has been conducting off-campus short programs and workshops at the national and regional level since 2011, but campus operations at Bahadurgarh, Haryana, are set to begin from April 2017.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US, Russia, France and the UK have signed pacts to help in the development of and provide technical assistance for modules in GCNEP’s five schools. In the first phase, the School of Nuclear Studies and a guest house are apparently in the advanced stage of construction.

“While short term courses have been organised, there had been some proposals for masters program. But, since sustainability is a concern, we are not contemplating a masters program,” said a senior official from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

With the help of the IAEA, the network of centres aim to promote activities to provide for the “exchange of information and best practice that would strengthen capacity building and nuclear security culture, and maintain a well-trained cadre of technical experts in States” – according to the 2014 joint statement submitted by Italy on behalf of 30 countries.

NSS achievements

Another major achievement touted from the NSS has been the removal of 3.2 metric of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the civilian space in 14 countries, thereby reducing the risk of misuse of the nuclear material.

In its 2014 progress report, India had noted that the enriched uranium based fuel in the Apsara reactor was in a safeguarded facility since 2010. “No research reactor is now using HEU,” asserted a DAE official.

At the same time, the demand for isotopes, earlier produced from HEU, is rising for application in various fields, from health to agriculture. “We are working to set up facilities to produce Molybdenum 99 by irradiating low enriched uranium targets in India’s research reactor,” the DAE official said.

While the latest national progress report will be circulated at the summit, Modi will also “intervene to show some of the important measures that we have taken to strengthen nuclear security” in the first plenary session on April 1, the official said.

The main development during the inter-summit years, which Modi will certainly highlight, has been ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in July 2014, which commits India to mandatory reporting of exports to non-nuclear weapon states.

During the working lunch at the summit, discussions will be around institutional actions.

The unique outcome of the 2016 summit will be five separate action plans for the IAEA, UN, Interpol, Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the G-7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (Global Partnership).

“In this regard, India places importance on the IAEA’s central role in international cooperation and technical guidance in the nuclear security. India has made significant contribution to the IAEA, both in terms of human resources and financial resources,” said Amandeep Singh Gill, joint secretary (disarmament and internal security), Ministry of External Affairs, at a briefing on Monday.

He added that India expected the NSS to “help bolster legal institutional and enforcement measures to strengthen security of nuclear material, radioactive material and technology”.

The last session of the day will be a scenario-based discussion for leaders to get a taste of the technical complexity on the subject. “This is not a role-play. Basically, a scenario about nuclear security will be put to the leaders and they will be asked to give their views in an interactive way. This has been a useful way to get the political leadership to appreciate the complications, which they sometimes don’t apprehend,” said a senior Indian official.