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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 54, February 2001

India Tests Ballistic Missile, Receives Uranium from Russia

On January 17, India announced a successful test-firing of the Agni II nuclear-capable ballistic missile. The missile - first tested in April 1999 - is believed to have a range of 1,250 miles and to be powered by a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket. A Defence Ministry statement gave the following details: "The second test flight of [the] Agni II surface-to-surface missile was conducted today...from the interim test range [at] Chandipur, Orissa, in its final operational configuration. The flight was monitored with shore-and-ship instrumentation facilities which were networked in real time. The programme director, Mr. R.N. Agarwal, said the flight test results have indicated that mission objectives were met satisfactorily."

On January 25, V.K. Aatre, chief scientific adviser to the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, told reporters: "The operational configuration of Agni II has been proven. It will be inducted sometime this year..." Asked if the missile would be armed with a nuclear warhead. Aatre was quoted in the Times of India as answering: "Obviously."

On January 21, the tests were condemned in a statement from the Movement Against Nuclear Weapons in India. The statement noted: "It has been officially given out that the Agni II is now the centrepiece of the land-based part of a triad of land-, air- and sea-based nuclear delivery systems to provide a minimum nuclear deterrent for India as envisaged under the draft nuclear doctrine." The same day, retired Admiral L. Ramdas, former Navy chief of staff, pointed out the significance of the solid-fuel rocket: "For the first time, India has used solid fuel in the secondary stage of the missile, and this is a step ahead of even China, whose ICBMs are believed to be of liquid-fuel propulsion only. As far as the other nuclear-weapon states are concerned, they too were using liquid fuels which cannot be kept on 'hairline trigger' alert, but have now been using solid-fuel technology for quite some time."

On January 23, Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley issued a statement condemning the Agni II tests, which he said ran "counter to international efforts to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation" and were "contrary to a number of United Nations resolutions".

On February 5, Nuclear Fuel reported that members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) had sent diplomatic representations to Moscow criticising Russian shipments of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to India. According to the report, Russia has been supplying India with LEU since China - which is not a member of the Group - suspended its shipments following the May 1998 nuclear tests by New Delhi. The fuel is being delivered to two controversial, 35-year old reactors at Tarapur. Nuclear Fuel quoted a diplomat from an unnamed, Western member of the NSG saying: "This is a flagrant violation [of our guidelines]... If the reactors are unsafe, then they shouldn't operate. Russia's uranium, or anybody else's, isn't a factor in whether the reactors are safe." Russian diplomats are apparently arguing that since India, by virtue of the May 1998 tests, has become a de facto nuclear-weapon state, looser controls should be applied over the nuclear exports it is deemed by the Group to be entitled to receive. On February 16, the US State Department issued the following condemnation of the Russian shipments:

"We deeply regret that the Russian Federation has shipped nuclear fuel to the Tarapur power reactors in India in violation of Russia's non-proliferation commitments. As a member of the 39-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, Russia is committed not to engage in nuclear cooperation with any country that does not have comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all its nuclear facilities. Although India's Tarapur reactors are under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, India does not have such safeguards on all of its facilities and is indeed pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. At a December 2000 meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the overwhelming majority of the members expressed their strong concerns about Russia's planned shipment of nuclear fuel to India, which they regarded as inconsistent with Russia's commitments. We join other nuclear suppliers in calling on Russia to cancel this supply arrangement and live up to its non-proliferation commitments. Russia's disregard of its Nuclear Supplier Group commitments, together with its sensitive nuclear assistance to Iran, raises serious questions about Russia's support for the goal of preventing nuclear proliferation. Russia's provision of sensitive technologies to other countries will be an important item on the US-Russian agenda of the Bush administration."

Notes: on January 16, a report detailing the likely consequences of accidents involving nuclear weapons in or around cities in India and Pakistan was released by scientists at Princeton University's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies. The study was conducted by one Pakistani expert, Zia Mian, and two Indian experts, M.V. Ramana and R. Rajaraman. According to Ramana: "A typical weapon may have 5 kilograms of plutonium and in the accidental scenario we have considered in our study, probably a very conservative 20% of it, or 1 kg, will get dispersed into air and aerosols or small particles. When people breathe this, the chief health hazard is increased possibility of lung, bone or liver cancers... Employing a model used by the International Commission for Radiological Protection, we found that on a very conservative estimate...around 5,000 people would die of cancers if [an accident] happens near a typical city like Delhi or Karachi. On the higher side, the deaths could be as high as 20,000..." The report concludes: "If India and Pakistan deploy their nuclear weapons, they...shall face the risk of accidents involving nuclear weapons. The risk is very real. ... Prudence, if nothing else, dictates that India and Pakistan not deploy nuclear weapons."

Reports: Indian nuclear capable missile successfully tested, BBC News Online, January 17; India tests nuclear-capable missile, Associated Press, January 17; India tests nuclear-capable Agni-II missile, Reuters, January 17; Asian nuclear accidents could kill thousands - study, Reuters, January 16; Peace lobby protests Agni missile tests, India Abroad News Service, January 21; Canada expresses regret over India's missile tests, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade News Release 11-01, January 23; India to introduce nuclear-capable missile soon, Reuters, January 25; Agni to be introduced into Indian Air Force soon, Times of India, January 26; NSG objects again after Russia says LEU exports to India are proceeding, Nuclear Fuel, Vol. 26, No. 3, February 5; Text - US deeply regrets Russian shipment of uranium fuel to India, US State Department (Washington File), February 16.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.