India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR- IN- CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

The havoc wreaked by fre­quent at­tacks in dif­fer­ent parts of the world has made ter­ror­ism the great­est global threat of our times. All these at­tacks— from Paris to Brus­sels and from Mum­bai to Pathankot—are aimed at gain­ing mass at­ten­tion in the most das­tardly of fash­ions, with no con­cern for hu­man life. One small mercy is that ter­ror groups have been un­able to det­o­nate a nu­clear de­vice so far. But even this sce­nario is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly real. The Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton, from March 31 to April 1, in which 50 na­tions, in­clud­ing In­dia, par­tic­i­pated at the in­vi­ta­tion of US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, has raised an alarm that the pos­si­bil­ity of ter­ror­ists det­o­nat­ing a nu­clear de­vice is no longer il­lu­sory.

There is ev­i­dence that ISIS is try­ing to ac­quire nu­clear weapons, nu­clear ma­te­rial to make weapons, and ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial that can be det­o­nated in dirty bombs. Of the three, while the threat of loose nukes from the erst­while Soviet Union seems un­der con­trol now, and weapons-grade nu­clear ma­te­rial is still hard to come by, the threat of dirty bombs is start­ing to loom large.

These bombs are dif­fer­ent from con­ven­tional ones be­cause they have ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial at their core. Even if these ma­te­ri­als are not of the na­ture or pu­rity re­quired to man­u­fac­ture large-scale nu­clear weapons, the ef­fects of det­o­nat­ing a dirty bomb could be dis­as­trous. The im­me­di­ate death toll may not be much higher than con­ven­tional bombs, but ra­di­a­tion could lead to wide­spread eco­log­i­cal dam­age and make the area un­live­able. If det­o­nated in the heart of a city, en­tire sec­tions may have to be cor­doned off and aban­doned. And if it’s at a com­mer­cial cen­tre, the loss of in­no­cent lives is bound to be cou­pled with wide­spread panic and crip­pling eco­nomic costs.

The chances of ter­ror­ists get­ting their hands on ra­dioac­tive sub­stances for use in dirty bombs is greater be­cause nu­clear tech­nol­ogy is used in mul­ti­ple sec­tors—in hos­pi­tals for screen­ing and can­cer treat­ment, in in­dus­try for ra­di­og­ra­phy, and in power gen­er­a­tion, to name just a few. Ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als for these civil­ian uses are spread in vast ar­eas that are dif­fi­cult to mon­i­tor. This has been proven by the ra­di­a­tion ac­ci­dents in dif­fer­ent parts of the world over the years. In­dia was shown to be par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble af­ter a ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial, Cobalt60, was found dumped in a scrap­yard in Maya­puri, New Delhi, in 2010, lead­ing to at least eight peo­ple suf­fer­ing high ra­di­a­tion doses.

Though pro­ce­dures have been strength­ened in re­cent times, ur­gent steps are needed to com­bat this new threat. There is a need for a closer mon­i­tor­ing of re­sources, for the train­ing of forces that guard such ma­te­ri­als, for in­creased se­cu­rity at In­dia’s 21 nu­clear power plants, and for en­sur­ing in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion so that no other na­tion can be­come a hot­bed for ac­quir­ing ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als that can be used against another coun­try.

For this week’s cover story, Group Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor (Pub­lish­ing) Raj Chengappa trav­elled to Wash­ing­ton. Chengappa, who has been cov­er­ing In­dia’s nu­clear jour­ney for over two decades now and is the au­thor of Weapons of

Peace: Se­cret Story of In­dia’s Quest to Be a Nu­clear Power, ex­am­ines the re­al­ity of the nu­clear threat and how to com­bat it.

Nukes in the hands of ter­ror­ists is a sto­ry­line Hol­ly­wood has been ob­sessed with for decades. This fan­tas­ti­cal threat be­com­ing a re­al­ity is a deadly re­minder of the world we now in­habit. This is an is­sue that can’t be taken lightly. There can be no lax­ity in the face of un­yield­ing ter­ror. We live in a very dan­ger­ous world of un­known, un­seen en­e­mies.


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