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Pak Tea House » Pakistan » Report on Safety and Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program

Report on Safety and Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program

1.1  Introduction

A. The threat of nuclear terrorism, especially after 9/11, and past nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima Nuclear Plant, has profoundly changed the discourse of global regime for nuclear safety and security. After Fukushima power plant disaster, the world leaders sensed the urgency to discuss safety and security of nuclear weapons. In this regards, the second Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in 2012 was held in Seoul. With the participation from more than 53 heads of state and different international organizations, the agenda of summit was set to discuss three main issues. This include (1) Cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, (2) Protection of Nuclear material and related facilities and (3) Prevention of Illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.[i] The basic purpose of arranging this summit was to give strength to the international efforts to prevent nuclear materials from being misused for any kind of malicious activity. President Obama in his Prague’s speech in 2009 highlighted the serious threat of nuclear terrorism. Above and beyond, he expressed his will to create ‘World free of nuclear weapons.’ Pakistan also participated in the summit, which shows Pakistan’s commitment and motivation to strengthen international cooperation to prevent non-state actors to misuse nuclear materials for nuclear terrorism.

B. After the events of 9/11 in United States, the Western world is now quiet apprehensive about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Western media, think tanks, newspapers and their official reports painted a dark picture of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, falling in the hands of radicals, extremists, and fundamentalists Jihadi networks, working in connection with Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban. Scenarios were developed about the possible theft of nuclear materials or gaining access to nuclear weapons by the extremist groups, might be facilitated by some of the insiders as well outsiders, favorably inclined towards Al-Qeada and Taliban’ political and radical thoughts. On top of that, the most discouraging scenario was developed, portraying the fear of “radical Islamic movements destabilize Pakistan,” and possibly transforms “Pakistan into the first radical Islamic country possessing nuclear weapons.”[ii]

C. The global security threats or risks to nuclear materials or nuclear installations/facilities described by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in “Nuclear Security Recommendation on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities;” are (a) the risk of unauthorized removal of nuclear material with an intention to engage in acts of nuclear terrorism, e.g. Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD)  (b) risk of physical attack or sabotage of nuclear installations; (c) risk of unauthorized removal of nuclear material for making Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD); and (d) theft or illegal transfer of nuclear material or radioactive materials—illicit trafficking.[iii]

1.2 Safety and Security Issues of Pakistan Nuclear Program.

a. The international propaganda campaign against the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal after the terrorist attacks on Army General Head Quarters (GHQ) in 2009, PNS Mehran attack in 2011, and KAMRA Air Base attack in 2012, has gained velocity.[iv] Over and above, the increased number of terrorist activities in the country, the political instability, and the pace at which Pakistan is developing its nuclear weapons, has also increased the challenges to its nuclear safety and security apparatus.[v] Terrorist attack on Kamra Air Base in 2012—the mostly deadly attack in recent years—rejuvenates the global discourse regarding the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.[vi] As the result of 2012 Kamra Air Base attacks, new questions are stirrer in the international media about terrorist networks taking over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

b. In order to meet the security challenges, Pakistan has introduced an effective and robust command and control structure in 200. However, with the passage of time, the global concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear safety and security were continue to grow and scenarios were formulated about the possibilities of terrorists getting nuclear materials from nuclear facilities to make nuclear explosion devices and RDD. Pakistan’s nuclear program, for the last one and half decade, has got much attention and negatives publicity from across the globe. During all this propaganda campaign there was not a single credible day left when Pakistan did not defend its nuclear program. The global propaganda campaign coupled with deliberate piercing by some “Pakistani nuclear pessimists,” has got pace.[vii] In an interview with DAWN, Pervaiz Hoodboy hoisted concerns about “Jihadi Networks,” taking over key nuclear installations to fulfill their political objectives.[viii] He deliberately neglected Pakistan’s efforts to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear arsenal.  However, the question arises; can terrorist’s networks take over Pakistan Nuclear weapons? Is this a reality or it’s just a mere myth?

1.3 Security System of Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Materials, and Facilities:

I. In February 2000, Pakistan National Security Council (NSC) established the National Command Authority (NCA), the apex civilian led authority to supervise the employment, deployment, research and development, and command and control structure of Pakistan nuclear program.[ix] After its establishment, the NCA has took measures for the safety and security of the nuclear arsenals, materials, and facilities, which include the formalization of the nuclear safety procedures, security of nuclear arsenals, physical protection, control, accounting and creation of vital infrastructure and legislation. As Zafar Nawaz Jaspal articulated, since the establishment of Pakistan Nuclear Program, “it has institutionalized highly-secured system, which has been improved gradually to thwart internal and external security challenges,” posed to its nuclear program.[x]

    II.  Security Division: The Security Division is one the most important organs of the Strategic Planning Division (SPD), responsible for the security and protection of Pakistan nuclear arsenal, facilities and the entire strategic organizations. Today, the Security Division comprises more than 20,000 highly trained and skillful security personnel to guard the arsenals. Having said so, these personnel are capable of protecting both nuclear weapons and high sensitive strategic facilities from any terrorist attack. They are trained to counter the terrorist attempt of sabotage as well as any foreign power raid on the nuclear facilities. This security division is headed by a two Star General, who has his ‘eyes and ears’ inside the strategic organizations.[xi]

 III. Personal Reliability Program (PRP): “The security clearance and screening processes of all individuals for employment in the strategic organizations has been further consolidated through the enhancement of PRP. SPD has overall approval of key personnel and also retains information on all retired personnel.”[xii] Besides PRP for military personnel, SPD has also introduced Human Reliability Program (HRP) for civilian.[xiii] All these efforts are made to break the insiders’ link with any terrorist organizations or groups. Any individual dispensed a strategic task goes through multiple intelligence agencies security clearances, which is very much similar to the Unites States Safety and Security System.

 IV. Physical Protection of Nuclear Facilities: Security Division is solely responsible for the physical protection of all civilian and military nuclear installations. Today, it is fully established and operating a multilayered security perimeter to protect the nuclear installations. The first layer encompasses of security personnel from the respective organization; however, it works in coordination with the SPD. Prior to that the providing security to the installations was the sole responsibility of the respective organization. In the Inner Perimeter, the specially trained forces operate on a permanent basis. In the Outer Perimeter, additional fencing is being reinforced by installing closed circuit cameras and electronic sensors. Besides inner and outer security arrangements, an Air Defense System around the particular nuclear facility is also installed. The sensitivity of the nuclear installations is protected by Air Defense elements, and is designated as no-fly zones. The last tier of the Physical Protection System consists of counter-intelligence teams, who are tasked to indentify the external threats to facilities and provide covert security.

    V. Transportation Security:  While transporting the nuclear materials—the nuclear waste, and radioactive materials—can become a potential target for the terrorists. “The security and protection of materials, such as Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) and highly radioactive sources is more difficult especially during transit.”[xiv] Pakistan has approved the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) in 2000, and worked to ensure that it meets all the guidelines included in the convection. In 2005, an amendment was introduced in the convection; however, “officials are also considering accession to July 2005 amendments that are intended to strengthen the CPPNM.”[xv] Above all, “specialist vehicles and tamper-proof containers are provided for the transportations of nuclear materials that are escorted by military personnel.”[xvi]

 VI. Fissile Material Protection, Control and Accounting:   The A.Q Khan Proliferation saga has forced Pakistan to introduce strict measures for protection of fissile material. Prior A.Q Khan Chapter, there were no “formal reporting channel of the apparatus” that could check the account for shipments and personal travels. In fact, no formal procedures existed for the physical protection and accounting (MPC&A).[xvii] Today, the SPD has adopted strict measures to conduct external audits on the nuclear inventories, and implementing regular and surprise inspections at all facilities.

  1. VII. Export Control Regimes: In 2001, Pakistan established a Strategic Export Control Division (SEDIV) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[xviii] The SEDIV comprises of personnel form Customs, Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Commerce, Defence, Federal board of Revenue. In addition, the personnel from PEAC, PNRA, and SPD also work in coordination with the rest of the personnel.  SEDIV operates independently so that personnel will not face any conflict of interest. To oversee SEDIV, a board is also formulated, headed by the Foreign Secretary and other high-level officials to implement of the act.[xix]
  2. VIII. International Agreements to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism: Pakistan has joined the US led Container Security Initiative (CSI) in 2006 and Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) in 2007. Pakistan has also cooperated with Secure Freight Initiative (SFI). Pakistan for the last one decade is actively participating in all these agreements to prevent the nuclear or radiological terrorism.[xx]

 IX. Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA): In 1994, Pakistan signed Convection of Nuclear Safety (CNS). In order to fulfill the obligation under CNS, each member state has to establish an independent regulatory body. In this regards, Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Body has came into being under Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). “To further this process of having independent regulatory infrastructure,” Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) was established “after the promulgation of PNRA Ordinance 2001.”[xxi] PRNA is an independent organization responsible for regulating all the aspects of radiation and nuclear energy. It issues licensed for export control of radiological materials. Furthermore, it regulates, and supervises all the matters relating to nuclear safety and radiation protection. PNRA being a multilateral coordinating agency is responsible for interacting with domestic and foreign entities. “PNRA in coordination with IAEA evaluates and submits reports in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls for national measures to prevent non-state actors from obtaining highly dangerous weapons.”

    X. Radiological Source Security: The PNRA is tasked to protect workers in the facilities, public, and the environment against accidental or malicious acts involving nuclear materials and facilities. It continuously reviews and updates safety and security measures according to recommendations and guidance received from the IAEA. Pakistan has signed the CSI, which provided radiation detectors at Karachi port. Pakistan also participates in the IAEA Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB), to share information on incidents involving theft, loss, or pilferage of radiological materials. Pakistan is working to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Energy on export and border control programs.[xxii]

 XI. Nuclear Security Summit (NSS): Pakistan has participated in two NSS in 2010 and 2012.[xxiii] During his address in Seoul NSS Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said, “Pakistan has taken effective measures which are the most important part of its efforts to enhance nuclear security.”[xxiv] He also said, “As we meet here, we break new ground on the evolving global nuclear security architecture, the role of the IAEA, and protection of nuclear materials and radioactive sources.”[xxv] Pakistan offered her support to the international community in establishing Nuclear Security Training and Support Centers. Besides, Pakistan also agreed to deploy Portal Monitors to detect smuggling of nuclear materials in order to prevent the illicit trafficking.[xxvi]

  1. XII. Nuclear Plant Stress Test: After the Fukushima power plant disaster, the debate about safety of the nuclear power plants gained new pace. Scores of concerns were raised in the world about the safety of the nuclear plants. After Fukushima, Pakistan immediately carried out IAEA recommended ‘stress tests’ on its civilian nuclear power plants, which were very successful.[xxvii]
  2. XIII. International Cooperation: Pakistan has signed number of agreements with the IAEA demonstrating its firm commitments, and strong level of cooperation with the IAEA. The most important agreement in this regard is the Technical Cooperation (TC). In addition, “Pakistan is currently one of the top three recipient countries in terms of TC assistance and receives around $ 2-3 million worth of Assistance annually.”[xxviii] “Pakistan was among the first countries that submitted four reports to the UN to fulfill its obligations under the UNSCR 1540.”[xxix] More to the point, Pakistan has also applied Facility Specific Safeguards (INFCIRC/66). “Pakistan has also made political commitment to apply the non-binding IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and also participates in the IAEA Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB).”[xxx]

In October 2001, Pakistan also initiated a bilateral dialogue with U.S to improve its nuclear security. U.S officials have repeatedly expressed their satisfaction over nuclear safety and security apparatus of Pakistan. On September 22, 2008, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen described U.S. concerns that,

to the best of my ability to understand it—and that is with some ability—the weapons there are secure. And, that even in the change of government, the controls of those weapons haven’t changed. Certainly at a worst-case scenario with respect to Pakistan, I worry a great deal about those weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and either being proliferated or potentially used. And so, control of those, stability, stable control of those weapons is a key concern. And I think certainly the Pakistani leadership that I’ve spoken with on both the military and civilian side understands that.[xxxi]

After the terrorist attack on the Minhas Air Base in 2012, the State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that “We do talk about these issues and support Pakistani efforts to keep them secure — we have for quite a long, long time. And we don’t have any reason to be concerned at this moment.”[xxxii] During the Foreign Ministry weekly press briefing, spokesperson Moazzam Ali Khan said, “Pakistan’s strategic assets are safe and sound and we have a robust command and control in place, so nobody should worry about the safety and security of our nuclear assets.”[xxxiii]

1.4 Conclusion

The terrorist attack on twin towers and Fukushima power plant disaster has changed the whole global discourse of safety and security of nuclear weapons. Prior to Fukushima, not much attention has been paid to the safety of the nuclear power plants. On the other hand, a lot of debate has been carried out on the issue of security of the nuclear arsenal. Despite the political turmoil and the country facing both kinetic and non-kinetic threats, its nuclear weapons are still the jewels of her crown. In conclusion, Pakistan has unearthed all the stones to make its nuclear safety and security apparatus stringent. Therefore, it must be understand that Pakistan nuclear weapons are in safe hands. Its security mechanism is so much extensive and deliberates that it can preempt as well as prevent any terrorist attack in future.


[i] “Overview,” thenuclearsecuritysummit.org, accessed on March 10, 2013, http://www.thenuclearsecuritysummit.org/eng_info/overview.jsp.

[ii] Maurizio Martellini, “Nuclear Safety, nuclear stability and nuclear strategy in Pakistan: A concise report of a visit by Landau Network-Centro Volta,” Pugwash Online, February 9-13, 2008, accessed on February 25, 2013, http://www.pugwash.org/september11/pakistan-nuclear.htm.

[iii] “Nuclear Security Recommendation on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities,” International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA Nuclear Security Series no.13, accessed on February 25, 2013, http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1481_web.pdf, 3.

[iv] Naeem Salik and Kenneth N. Luongo, “Challenges for Pakistan’s Nuclear Security,” Arms Control Association, March 2013, accessed on March 20, 2013, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2013_03/Challenges-for-Pakistans-Nuclear-Security.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Many Western experts believe that at Kamra 100 nuclear warheads were stored, and terrorists aimed to attack the nuclear arsenals. However, according to Pakistani official report is not credible and lacks does not depicts the true picture of Pakistan nuclear security apparatus. See Declan Walsh, “Militants attack Pakistani Air Base,” The New York Times, August 16, 2012, accessed on March 10, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/17/world/asia/pakistani-air-force-base-with-nuclear-ties-is-attacked.html?_r=0.; Salik and Luongo, “Challenges to Pakistan Nuclear Security.”

[vii] Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security,” The Nation, February 23, 2013, accessed on February 28, 2013, http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/columns/23-Feb-2013/pakistan-s-nuclear-weapons-safety-and-security.

[viii] Pervaiz Hoodboy, interview to DAWN, DAWN, February 20, 2013, accessed on February 28, 2013, http://dawn.com/2013/02/20/pervez-hoodbhoy-the-bomb-is-immoral/.

[ix] “Pakistan establishes Nuclear Control Body,” Arms Control Today, March 2000, accessed on February 26, 2013, http://www.armscontrol.org/node/2899.

[x] Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security,” The Nation, February 23, 2013, accessed on February 26, 2013, http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/columns/23-Feb-2013/pakistan-s-nuclear-weapons-safety-and-security; and also see “Pakistan’s Nuclear Safety and Security: A Critical Analysis,” Weekly Pulse, March 06, 2013, accessed on March 10, 2013, http://weeklypulse.org/details.aspx?contentID=3368&storylist=1.

[xi] “Passing out of soldiers of Strategic Plans Division held,” Pakistan Today, April 19, 2012, accessed on February 27, 2013, http://paksoldiers.com/ispr-press-releases/passing-out-of-soldiers-of-strategic-plans-division-held/.

[xii] Kenneth N. Luongo and Naeem Salik, “Building Confidence in Pakistan’s Nuclear Security,” Arms Control Today, December 1, 2007.

[xiii] Jaspal, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security.”

[xiv] Abdul Manan, “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Sabotage of  Spent Fuel Cask or a Commercial Irradiation Source in Transportation,” in Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War,  ed. Henry Sokolski (United States: Institute of Strategic Studies Army War College, 2008), 235.

[xv] Luongo and Salik, “Building Confidence in Pakistan’s Nuclear Security.”

[xvi] Jaspal, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security.”

[xvii] Peter Levoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture: Its Premises and Implementation,” in Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War,  ed. Henry Sokolski (United States: Institute of Strategic Studies Army War College, 2008), 152.

[xviii] “Strategic Export Control Division,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan, accessed on February 27, 2013, http://www.mofa.gov.pk/mfa/pages/article.aspx?id=25&type=4.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Philip E. Coyle and Victoria Samson, “The Proliferation Security Initiative: Background, history and Prospects for the Future,” International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, 10.

[xxi] Noreen Iftakhar, “Safety and Security of Pakistan’s Civilian Nuclear Industry,” South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, Research Paper no.31, 4.

[xxii] Luongo and Salik, “Building Confidence in Pakistan’s Nuclear Security.” And also See “Safe Port Act Reauthorization: Securing our Nation’s Critical infrastructure,” United State Senate, Hearing before Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, July 21, 2010, 29, accessed on March 1, 2013, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-111shrg67271/html/CHRG-111shrg67271.htm.

[xxiii] “Seoul Nuclear Security Summit,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China, March 28, 2012, accessed on March 2, 2013, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjdt/2649/t920452.shtml.

[xxiv] “Seoul Summit: ‘Responsible’ Pakistan seeks civil nuclear tech,” The Express Tribune, March 27, 2012, accessed on March 2, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/355715/seoul-summit-responsible-pakistan-seeks-civil-nuclear-tech/.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Pakistan pledged to establish Nuclear Security Training and Support Center within the region and outside the region in collaboration with 22 countries. See Salik and Luongo, “Challenges for Pakistan’s Nuclear Security.”

[xxvii] In an interview, Pakistan Ambassador to China Masood Khan, who was also the chief negotiator on Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), told about the ‘stress tests’ conducted by Pakistan on its nuclear power plants. See “Pakistan nuclear plants undergo stress tests,” The Nation, March 25, 2012, accessed on March 2, 2013, http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/international/25-Mar-2012/pak-nuclear-plants-undergo-stress-tests.

[xxviii] Iftakhar, “Safety and Security of Pakistan’s Civilian Nuclear Industry,” 14.

[xxix] Amb Masood Khan, “Pakistan and Nuclear Security,” The Nation, July 10, 2013; Jaspal, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security.” And also see “Pakistan nuclear plants undergo stress tests,” The Nation, March 25, 2012, accessed on March 2, 2013, http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/international/25-Mar-2012/pak-nuclear-plants-undergo-stress-tests.

[xxx] Iftakhar, “Safety and Security of Pakistan’s Civilian Nuclear Industry,” 12.

[xxxi] Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues,” Congressional Research Services, February 13, 2013, accessed March 25, 2013, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34248.pdf, 1; Malik Qasim Mustafa, “Are Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Safe,” Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, accessed on March 25, 2013, http://www.issi.org.pk/publication-files/1299650081_87535106.pdf, 4.

[xxxii] “US confident of Pakistan nuclear security,” The Express Tribune, August 17, 2012, accessed on March 25, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/423242/us-confident-of-pakistan-nuclear-security/.

[xxxiii] “Pakistan reiterates nuclear assets are safe,” The Express Tribune, August 16, 2012, accessed on March 25, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/422953/pakistan-reiterates-nuclear-assets-are-safe/.

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