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20 years ago today, India conducted second nuclear test at Pokhran

WION Delhi, India May 11, 2017, 06.29 AM (IST)

1974

11th May is officially recognised as National Technology Day in India to commemorate the first of the five nuclear tests carried out on 11 May 1998. Let us look at the history of in the preparation and implementation of nuclear weapon testing done by India and whatever followed.

India's very first nuclear testing - Smiling Buddha (Pokhran-I) successfully took place on 18 May 1974. The bomb was detonated at the army base, Pokhran Test Range (PTR), in Rajasthan during the tenure of prime minister Indira Gandhi.


It was also the first nuclear weapons test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. In official reports, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claimed the test to be a "peaceful nuclear explosion", however, it was an accelerated nuclear program.

 

Indira Gandhi authorized the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to manufacture a nuclear device and prepare it for a test which was later codenamed as Smiling Buddha Source: Wikimedia Commons) (Others)

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Smiling Buddha

DATE 18 May 1974 02:34:55.0
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 235 m - 107 m
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground shaft
YIELD 12kt

 

The beginning of nuclear program in India (1944–1960s)

The nuclear program in India kickstarted with the development of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research by physicist Homi J Bhabha in 1944. Physicist Raja Ramanna played an essential role in nuclear weapons technology research.

After gaining independence in 1947, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru authorised the development of nuclear program under the supervision of Homi Bhabha.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1948 focused on peaceful development. India actively participated in the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but ultimately did not to sign it.

In 1954, Bhabha headed the nuclear program in the direction of weapons design and production.

The nuclear program took shape, and by 1960, Nehru made the imperative decision of moving the program into production. Bhabha estimated he would need about a year to accomplish the task.
The nuclear program was still developing in 1962 that too at a slow rate. Design work began in 1965 under Bhabha and proceeded under Raja Ramanna who took over the program after the former's death.

Weapons development, 1967–72

The nuclear program slowed down during prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's tenure. In 1965, because of the Indo-Pak war, Shastri appointed physicist Vikram Sarabhai as the head of the nuclear programme but because of his Gandhian beliefs, Sarabhai directed the programme toward peaceful purposes rather than military development.
 

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was an Indian nuclear physicist, founding director, and professor of physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Source: Wikimedia Commons) (Others)

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In 1967, Indira Gandhi became the prime minister and work on the nuclear program restarted with fresh enthusiasm. Chemical engineer Homi Sethna played an important part in developing weapons-grade plutonium while Ramanna designed and manufactured the whole nuclear device.

The plant's leadership included Iyengar, Ramanna, Homi Sethna, and Sarabhai.

Test preparations in utmost secrecy (1972–74)

On 7 September 1972, Indira Gandhi authorised the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to manufacture a nuclear device. Although Indian Army was not fully aware of the testing, the highest command was kept in the loop.

The device was formally called the "Peaceful Nuclear Explosive", but it was usually referred to as the Smiling Buddha. It was detonated on 18 May 1974, Buddha Jayanti (a festival day in India marking the birth of Gautama Buddha).

Besides Gandhi, only advisers Parmeshwar Haksar and Durga Dhar were kept informed. Scholar Raj Chengappa asserts the Indian Defense Minister Jagjivan Ram was not provided with any knowledge of this test and came to learn of it only after it was conducted. Swaran Singh, the Minister of External Affairs, was given 48 hours advance notice. The Indira Gandhi administration employed only 75 civilian scientists while General G. G. Bewoor, Indian army chief, and the commander of Indian Western Command were the only military commanders kept informed.

Development teams and sites

The head of this entire nuclear bomb project was the director of the BARC, Dr. Raja Ramanna.
The overall project was supervised by chemical engineer Dr. Homi Sethna, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India. 
The device was of the implosion-type design and had a close resemblance to the American nuclear bomb called the Fat Man. The implosion system was assembled at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) of the DRDO in Chandigarh. The detonation system was developed at the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) of the DRDO in Pune, Maharashtra State. The 6 kg of plutonium came from the CIRUS reactor at BARC. The neutron initiator was the polonium–beryllium type and code-named Flower. The complete nuclear bomb was engineered and finally assembled by Indian engineers at Trombay before transportation to the test site.

Nuclear weapon design

The fully assembled device had a hexagonal cross section, 1.25 metres in diameter, and weighed 1400 kg. The device was mounted on a hexagonal metal tripod and was transported to the shaft on rails which the army kept covered with sand. The device was detonated when Dastidar pushed the firing button at 8.05 a.m.; it was in a shaft 107 m under the army Pokhran test range in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan.

Controversy regarding the yield

The nuclear yield of this test still remains controversial, with unclear data provided by Indian sources. The official yield was initially set at 12 kt; post-Operation Shakti claims have raised it to 13 kt. Independent seismic data from outside and analysis of the crater features indicate a lower figure. Analysts usually estimate the yield at 4 to 6 kt, using conventional seismic magnitude-to-yield conversion formulas. In recent years, both Homi Sethna and P. K. Iyengar have conceded the official yield to be an exaggeration.

 

 

 

Indira Gandhi visiting the nuclear testing site (Source: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org) (Others)

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Response

While India continued to state that the test was for peaceful purposes, it encountered opposition from many quarters. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was formed in reaction to the Indian tests to check international nuclear proliferation.The NSG decided in 1992 to require full-scope IAEA safeguards for any new nuclear export deals, which effectively ruled out nuclear exports to India, but in 2008 it waived this restriction on nuclear trade with India as part of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement.

Pakistan

Pakistan did not view the test as a "peaceful nuclear explosion", and cancelled talks scheduled for 10 June on normalization of relations. Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto vowed in June 1974 that he would never succumb to "nuclear blackmail" or accept "Indian hegemony or domination over the subcontinent".The chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Munir Ahmed Khan, said that the test would force Pakistan to test its own nuclear bomb. Pakistan's leading nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy, stated in 2011 that he believed the test "pushed Pakistan further into the nuclear arena"

1998

'Pokhran-II' was the series of five test nuclear bomb explosions by India at Pokhran Test Range in May 1998.

Pokhran-II consisted of five detonations, of which the first was a fusion bomb and the remaining four were fission bombs.

On 11 May 1998, Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II) was initiated with the detonation of one fusion and two fission bombs. On 13 May 1998, two additional fission devices were detonated, and the Indian government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shortly convened a press conference to declare India a full-fledged nuclear state.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee authorised the nuclear tests of May 1998. (Zee News Network)

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Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who later became President of India, was the designated Scientific Adviser to the prime minister and Head of the DRDO.

The testing took place in the Indian state of Rajasthan where the nuclear site, the Pokhran Test Range, is located.

The test sites was organised into two government groups and were fired separately, with all devices in a group fired at the same time.

The first group consisted of the thermonuclear device (Shakti I), the fission device (Shakti II), and a sub-kiloton device (Shakti III). The second group consisted of the remaining two sub-kiloton devices Shakti IV and V. The thermonuclear device was placed in a shaft code named 'White House', which was over 200 m deep, the fission bomb was placed in a 150 m deep shaft code named 'Taj Mahal', and the first sub-kiloton device in 'Kumbhkaran'. The first three devices were placed in their respective shafts on 10 May, and the first device to be placed was the sub-kiloton device in the 'Kumbhkaran' shaft, which was sealed by the army engineers by 8:30 pm. The thermonuclear device was lowered and sealed into the 'White House' shaft by 4 am, and the fission device being placed in the 'Taj Mahal' shaft was sealed at 7:30 am, which was 90 minutes before the planned test time. The shafts were L-shaped, with a horizontal chamber for the test device

One fusion and four fission nuclear bombs were tested at Pokhran under Kalam's guidance. (DNA)

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Smiling Buddha (MEA designation: Pokhran-I) was the assigned code name of India's first successful nuclear bomb test on 18 May 1974.(Souce: Wikimedia commons/Representational Image) (Others)

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Shakti 1 (1)

DATE 11 May 1998, 10:13:41.8
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: White House 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m - 200 m
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground shaft
YIELD 43-45kt

 

Shakti 1 (2)

DATE 11 May 1998 10:13:41.8
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Taj Mahal 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m - 150 m
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground shaft
YIELD 12kt

 

Shakti 1 (3)

DATE 11 May 1998 10:13:41.8
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Kumbhkaran 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m +
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD 200t

 

Shakti 2 (2)

DATE 13 May 1998 06:51
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Navtala 2 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m +
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD 300t

 

Shakti 2(3)

 

DATE 13 May 1998 06:51
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Navtala 3 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m +
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD unknown yield

 

There was strong criticism drawn from other countries including United States, Canada, Japan and China.
The most vehement and strong reaction to India's nuclear explosion was from a neighbouring country, Pakistan. Great ire was raised in Pakistan, which issued a severe statement blaming India for instigating a nuclear arms race in the region. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that his country would give a suitable reply to India. The day after the first tests, Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan indicated that Pakistan was ready to conduct a nuclear test.

The United States issued a strong statement condemning India and promised that sanctions would follow. The American intelligence community was embarrassed as there had been "a serious intelligence failure of the decade" in detecting the preparations for the test.

In keeping with its preferred approach to foreign policy in recent decades, and in compliance with the 1994 anti-proliferation law, the United States imposed economic sanctions on India. The sanctions on India consisted of cutting off all assistance to India except humanitarian aid, banning the export of certain defence material and technologies, ending American credit and credit guarantees to India, and requiring the US to oppose lending by international financial institutions to India.

From 1998–99, the United States held series of bilateral talks with India over the issue of India becoming the party of the CTBT and NPT. In addition, the United States also made an unsuccessful attempt of holding talks regarding the rollback of India's nuclear program. India took a firm stand against the CTBT and refusing to be the signatory party of it despite under pressure by the US President Bill Clinton, and noted the treaty as it was not consistent with India's national security interest.

The reactions from abroad started immediately after the tests were advertised. On 6 June, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1172 condemning the test and that of Pakistan's.


On the contrary, news of the tests was greeted with jubilation and large-scale approval by society in India. APJ Abdul Kalam gained huge popularity and later became the eleventh president of India. 

 

While delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong, Kalam collapsed and died from an apparent cardiac arrest on 27 July 2015, aged 83 (Image: Youtube, Ganesh Balagam) (Others)

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1998

abc

1998

Shakti 1 (3)

DATE 11 May 1998 10:13:41.8
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Kumbhkaran 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m +
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD 200t

1998

Shakti 2 (1)

DATE 13 May 1998 06:51
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Navtala 1 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m - 20 m
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD 500t

1998

Shakti 2 (2)

DATE 13 May 1998 06:51
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Navtala 2 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m +
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD 300t

1998

Shakti 2 (3)

DATE 13 May 1998 06:51
TIME 5.5 hrs IST
LOCATION Pokhran, India: Navtala 3 
ELEVATION+HEIGHT 226 m +
DELIVERY, PURPOSE Underground
YIELD unknown yield

 

 

While delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong, Kalam collapsed and died from an apparent cardiac arrest on 27 July 2015, aged 83 (Image: Youtube, Ganesh Balagam) (Others)

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