India Muzzles Nuclear Watchdog

The Indian government has stripped its Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of its role in overseeing the safety of the nation's nuclear weapons program, a move that critics fear will aggravate problems at deteriorating weapons facilities. The action, taken in April but revealed last week, will allow the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Mumbai, the nation's leading weapons lab, to create its own safety panel.

The shift leaves weaponeers free to set weak safety standards, critics say. "In one stroke, the safety assurance and regulation of the mostly old and dilapidated BARC facilities have been made the responsibility of those who are managing these installations," A. Gopalakrishnan, the former head of the board, told the Indian press. But R. Chidambaram, chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, says that India is merely following the lead of other nuclear powers in separating regulation of civilian and military plants.

Edwin Lyman of the nonprofit Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, D.C., disputes that claim: "Actually, the trend in the U.S. is in the other direction," with weapons labs coming under increasing scrutiny. He sees the Indian decision as a misstep: "I can only expect things to deteriorate under the new system."