The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal might increase the threat of terrorist attacks against India's nuclear facilities, a science scholar with the US Council of Foreign Relations has warned.
Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Charles Ferguson argues that the threats could grow in one of the three ways: facilitating a substantial expansion of India's plutonium stockpile in the civilian and military sectors and in the hands of terrorists could lead to crude but devastating bombs including what has commonly known as the "dirty bomb".
"The Indo-US nuclear deal can spur expansion of India's civilian nuclear facilities, increasing the number of targets for terrorist or military attacks," the author notes going on to make the third point that the deal brings India into much closer alignment with the US and hence more vulnerability and animosity from terror outfits like al Qaeda.
"Shaken by sectarian strife and terrorism for many decades, India resides in one of the most violence-prone regions of the world. Jihadist groups have caused much of this violence.
"Some of these groups have ties to al Qaeda, which has considered using nuclear and radiological terrorism. Pakistan has sponsored terrorist groups to further its aims in Jammu and Kashmir and could consider using such groups as proxies in a military attack against other regions of India, including those containing nuclear facilities" Ferguson notes.
The technology expert stressed that India and the US should not allow threats by terror outfits to put a hold on the benefits of the nuclear deal but find ways to come to terms with the threats.
"These could include a number of steps such as ensuring that the different modes of a terrorist or military attack are fully considered and continually evaluated in assessing the safety and security of its nuclear facilities; separating more of its civilian nuclear facilities, including breeder reactors, from connections to the military program.
"Others would include working with China and Pakistan toward a fissile-material cap to limit the amount of plutonium potentially available to terrorists; developing cooperative nuclear security by sharing and implementing best practices with the US, the IAEA, and other partners," he said.
He also called for creating a more transparent and self-critical civilian nuclear infrastructure that would empower an independent regulatory agency and would continually be vigilant about insider sabotage or collusion with terrorists.
"As Congress considers the US-India nuclear deal, it should also encourage cooperative nuclear security between the two countries," says Ferguson who along with Michael Levi co-authored a Council of Foreign Relations Special report titled "US-India Nuclear Cooperation: A Strategy for Moving Forward".