An anonymous tip-off has helped the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Intelligence Bureau and Rajasthan Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) join hands to bust a mineral smuggling racket that involved exports of beryl — an atomic mineral ore of Beryllium — to China.
About 31 tonnes of beryl is learnt to have been recovered after the smuggling plan was subverted by the DAE, which received information on the illegal export of beryl through the anonymous letter early in January. Following this, the IB was alerted.
The inputs were verified by the intelligence agency and passed on to Rajasthan Police’s ATS, which gathered further information and arrested six persons in end-January, resulting in the recovery of the atomic mineral.
China is one among a handful of countries — the US, Canada, Russia and Brazil being the others — that extracts beryllium from the mineral ore for use in atomic power plants, space technology and scanning equipment.
“An FIR under Section 14/24 of Atomic Energy Act, 1962 was registered by the Superintendent of Police, ATS, Rajasthan Police, Jaipur on the written complaint of Regional Director, Western Region, AMD, Jaipur. Six persons were caught,” said a government official involved in the exercise. Chargesheets against the six arrested were filed in the court of the District Judge, Jaipur, on February 27.
In October, prior to the latest operation, a 20-tonne consignment of beryl is learnt to have possibly been smuggled to Hong Kong from Kandla Port in Gujarat. Rajasthan accounts for about 10 per cent of the country’s output of beryl, one of the “prescribed substances” notified by the DAE under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962.
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 names beryl among the “atomic minerals” listed in Part B of the first schedule. Beryl is the most common ore of Beryllium, the lightest member of the alkaline earth metals family that is known to have six radioactive isotopes. Beryl also attracts the export control regulations under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act.
Incidentally, the investigative powers of the country’s nuclear administrators were beefed up just three months ago through a gazette notification – 428(E), dated December 15, 2015 — wherein the Centre had authorised the director and other officers of the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) to exercise the powers of entry and inspection under Section 8 of the Atomic Energy Act 1962.
The latest operation assumes importance as India, as a party to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 Amendment, is duty-bound to prevent the smuggling of atomic minerals of all kinds.
This also comes in the backdrop of a 2014 report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-Governmental group based in Washington, that pegged India’s “nuclear security practices” at a low 23rd rank among 25 countries known to possess at least a bomb’s-worth of fissile materials. Only Iran and North Korea fared worse in the analysis, which noted that India exhibited “weaknesses… in the areas of transport security, material control, and accounting, and measures to protect against the insider threat, such as personnel vetting and mandatory reporting of suspicious behaviour”.
Officially, the Government has said that it does not recognise the report released by the Nuclear Threat Initiative as it is a non-Governmental organisation and that it participates in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Interpol — the international institutions dealing with nuclear smuggling. “India has taken the necessary measures to tackle nuclear smuggling… The existing Acts and Rules are sufficient to stop and fight the threat of nuclear assets being drained out from the country,” said an official.
Officials said India’s national implementation of physical protection measures for nuclear materials and facilities takes into account the guidance contained in IAEA’s Nuclear Security Series document. The country’s nuclear regulator — the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board — has developed a number of guideline documents for the regulation of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities and the radiation sources and radiation facilities.