Tag Archive for 'Nuclear test'

Homi Sethna, the nuclear scientist behind “Project Smiling Buddha,” is dead

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with K.C. Pant and Homi Sethna at Pokhran, the site of India's first nuclear test, in December 1974. The project was codenamed "Smiling Buddha."

C. Raja Mohan in The Indian Express:

Sethna’s career in atomic energy began in the late 1940s, when young Indians dared to dream about “big science” and “complex engineering.”

It was a time when only a few rich and powerful nations could think of building nuclear energy and space programmes.

With little experience and limited resources, Sethna and his band of atomic scientists showed, armed only with commitment and imagination, that India could catch up with the big powers in the mastery of frontier technologies.

Young Sethna was in charge of two crucial building blocks of India’s nuclear programme. One was the Canada India Reactor (CIRUS), built during the late 1950s and the other was India’s first reprocessing plant completed in the mid 1960s.

CIRUS provided the technological basis for the first stage of India’s nuclear power programme based on natural uranium reactors. The second gave India the capacity to produce plutonium, without which there would be no nuclear weapons programme in India. More:

A nuclear interaction

K. Subrahmanyam in The Indian Express:

Homi Sethna

When I think of Homi Sethna, my mind goes back 31 years to the day in early April 1979 when I flew down to Mumbai to hand over to him a sealed cover containing the handwritten minutes of the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) signed by the cabinet secretary, Nirmal Mukarji. It was in my handwriting and had one sentence: “The Cabinet, having considered the issue, gave appropriate directions to the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission.”

Two days earlier the CCPA under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Morarji Desai considered the report of the Joint Intelligence Committee, of which I was the chairman, setting out its assessment that Pakistan was on its way to produce a nuclear weapon with enriched uranium obtained through the centrifuge process. Though I was the additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat and the official minutes writer, I was not present in that highly hush-hush meeting. Apart from the five cabinet ministers, the prime minister, Foreign Minister Vajpayee, Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram, Home Minister H.M. Patel and the Finance Minister Charan Singh, only three officials were present. Mukarji, V. Shankar, secretary to the PM, and Sethna, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). After the meeting, Mukarji dictated the minutes to me to be put on file to get approved by the PM. Though Morarji Desai, according to Mukarji, was against initiating any action and he was supported by Vajpayee, the other three ministers wanted the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to commence research for a weapon. After Morarji Desai approved the minutes, Mukarji instructed me to deliver the handwritten minutes personally to Sethna in Mumbai. More:

Previously in Asian WindowThe story behind India’s first nuclear test

India’s nuclear fizzle

Pervez Hoodbhoy at Chowk:

By generating a pro-test environment, India’s nuclear hawks hope to make life difficult for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s moderate government whenever India’s signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) comes up for discussion. Santanam’s revelation has been spurred by the fear that if President Obama succeeds in his initiative to revive the CTBT – which had essentially been shot dead by the US Senate in 1999 – the doors on nuclear testing could be shut world-wide. A race against the clock is on.

There are not the only ominous developments. India has begun sea trials of its 7000-ton nuclear-powered submarine with underwater ballistic missile launch capability, the first in a planned fleet of five. India became the world’s 10th-highest military spender in 2008 but now plans to head even further upwards. In July 2009, Indian defence minister, A.K. Antony announced that for 2009-2010 India plans to raise its military budget by 50% to a staggering $40 billion, about six times that of Pakistan.

On the Pakistani side, the desire to maintain nuclear parity with India has caused it to push down the pedal as hard as it can. Although the numbers of Pakistani warheads and delivery vehicles is a closely held secret, a former top official of the CIA recently noted in a report released this month that: “It took them roughly 10 years to double the number of nuclear weapons from roughly 50 to 100.”

This is bad news for those Pakistanis, like myself, who have long opposed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. More:

India’s nuclear fizzle

Why blow the whistle 11 years later? Think President Obama’s initiative to revive the CTBT. By rubbishing the Pokhran II tests as a failure, India’s nuclear hawks hope to make the case for more nuclear tests. Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, in Outlook:

Suspicion has now turned into confirmed fact: India’s hydrogen bomb test of May 1998 was not the fantastic success it was claimed to be. Last week’s dramatic revelation by K. Santhanam, a senior DRDO official with important responsibilities at the 1998 Pokhran test site, has essentially confirmed conclusions known from seismic analysis after the explosion.

Instead of 45 kilotons of destructive energy, the explosion had produced only 15 to 20. The bomb had not worked as designed.

Why blow the whistle 11 years later? An irresistible urge to tell the truth or moral unease is scarcely the reason. Santhanam’s ‘coming clean’ has the stamp of approval of the most hawkish of Indian nuclear hawks. Among them are P.K. Iyengar, A.N. Prasad, Bharat Karnad and Brahma Chellaney.

By rubbishing the earlier test as a failure, they hope to make the case for more nuclear tests. This would enable India to develop a full-scale thermonuclear arsenal.

As is well known, a thermonuclear (or hydrogen) bomb is far more complex than the relatively simple fission weapon first tested by India in 1974 and by Pakistan in 1998. Advanced weapons needs fine-tuning to achieve their full destructiveness – France had to test 22 times to achieve perfection. More: