Albright not Alright

The non-proliferation ayatollahs are at it again.

With the US-India nuclear cooperation under scrutiny in the US Congress what better time than now to produce revelations that India’s record on nuclear non-proliferation is not that squeaky clean after all. David Albright and his colleagues at the Institute for Science and International Security have published a satellite image of a site near Rattehalli, near Mysore, which they claim where India is running some gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. They’ve also used existing facts to contend that India’s nuclear activities could, perhaps, potentially, arguably, debatably, hypothetically, within the limits of imagination led to international nuclear smugglers getting hold of Indian centrifuge designs. (via Arms Control Wonk)

The existence of the Rattehalli plant has been known for over a decade. It has been variously been described as a site to produce fuel components for India’s civilian nuclear power stations at Tarapore, and also as a site that is designated to produce fuel for the nuclear submarines that India is working on. Clearly, the Rattehalli site is part of India’s nuclear programme. But Albright and team have no facts to prove that this is linked to nuclear proliferation, intentional or accidental.

Ironically, Albright turns India’s public and transparent process to procure parts for its nuclear programme as evidence to suggest its culpability in international nuclear proliferation. The main thrust of Albright’s accusations, paraphrased by Jeffrey Lewis, the Arms Control Wonk is:

In theory, India might have fed some centrifuge design information back into the network in developing specifications for feed and piping systems. [Albright via ACW]

Translated into plain English, this means that international smugglers may have obtained insights on how to develop better centrifuges and other components based on the items India was ordering. That’s like learning how to make a perfect biryani by looking at the khansama’s shopping list — ‘say, what do they use the bananas for’?

Given that nuclear technology and fuel is denied to India due to the nuclear weapons states insistence that India sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, it is hardly surprising that India is using available avenues to procure such technology or develop its own. This may create opportunities for some ‘intermediaries’ to benefit. Even if a case can be made that these intermediaries end up strengthening the proliferation supply chain, the way to deal with the situation is to bring India into the fold, as the Bush administration has correctly realised. India too has tightened its legislative framework to prevent sensitive technology from falling into the wrong hands.

And as for how clean India’s record on non-proliferation is, surely that can only be assessed relative to those of others. An inventory of the cupboards of the official nuclear weapons states is likely to throw up their own uncomfortable skeletons. They may not even need leaps of logic to prove that they too had a hand in creating the monster that nuclear proliferation has become.

Tailpiece: Albright alleges that one of A Q Khan’s associates may have sold centrifuge designs to India. That will do a lot of good to The Centrifugist’s image in Pakistan.

Related Link: Sunil at Bharat-Rakshak Forum responds to Albright.

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