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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

On Thermonuclear Weapon Capability and its Implications for Credible Minimum Deterrence

Statement by Deeply Concerned Senior Scientists

Saturday 26 December 2009

Soon after the Pokhran-II tests on May 11 1998, the scientists of the two organisations concerned, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), had jointly evaluated the success of the two tests—the fission device (A-bomb) and the fusion device (H-bomb). While the former device performed perfectly including creating a crater of the expected size, the fusion device failed on many counts—very low yield, no crater etc. International monitoring centres also recorded low intensity of shock waves, resulting in low yield estimates—estimates that were more in consonance with the DRDO numbers. This was discussed among the BARC and DRDO scientists involved—and resulted in a dispute between them. A detailed report submitted by DRDO to the government fully corroborated its original assessment viz. that, while the fission device worked successfully as expected, the fusion device did not. The recent revealation by Dr K. Santhanam, who was in charge of all of DRDO’s activities at the site, testify to this. By all accounts—geological, radio-chemical as well as seismic—it is now quite clear that the fusion device yielded a very low value of explosive power. The articles by K. Santhanam and Prof Ashok Parthasarathi in The Hindu (September 17, 2009) and P.K. Iyenger in Outlook (October 26, 2009) go into considerable technical detail and present a credible case, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the H-bomb tested on May 11, 1998 failed.

These findings are extremely serious for the security of the nation, particularly in the context of our pronouncement of being a nuclear weapon power, along with our enunciated doctrine of ‘no first use’ and our ‘unilateral voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing’. They strike at the root of our weaponisation capability and compromise our strategy of Credible Minimum Nuclear Deterrence.

Soon after the Pokhran-II Tests, the then government almost succumbed to Western pressure to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) backing off only at the last moment due to an outcry in the country against doing so. The refusal of the US Senate to ratify the CTBT then released the pressure on the government. The renewed pressure from President Obama on us in recent months to sign the CTBT is causing the issue of our signing the CTBT to be raised again. We strongly urge the present government to remain firm in its opposition to our doing so, as the Prime Minister has publicly assured the nation more than once in recent months.

Obama has actually gone further than trying to secure universal adherence to the CTBT, and secured a UN Security Council Resolution urging such adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) also. Not signing the highly discriminatory NPT has been an article of faith of all our governments—irrespective of hues—since the Treaty was drawn up in 1968. The present government, we strongly urge again, should continue that policy steadfastly, despite whatever threats and blandish-ments are applied to it. Even the slightest succumbing would convert our ‘voluntary moratorium’ into an involuntary, permanent cessation of nuclear weapon testing and so forever deny us our legitimate place in the great powers’ league.

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The international political and diplomatic aspects as set out in the previous para apart, the grave situation we are in regarding our Thermonuclear (H-bomb) capability, it demands resolute, speedy and comprehensive corrective action. We are well aware of the nature, sources and scales of nuclear threats the nation faces. To meet that threat effectively, an in-depth analysis of our real capabilities in terms of: Command and Control Systems, Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems and the types, character and numbers of nuclear weapons needing to constitute our nuclear arsenal and the keeping of that arsenal up-to-date, is essential—indeed acutely pressing. To address these issues and take well informed, competent and speedy decisions instead of depending entirely on the existing bureaucracy, administrative, military and scientific, it is essential to have the involvement, on a continuing basis, of a wide variety of opinions and assessments from scientists, strategic analysts and defence and diplomatic personnel with a deep understanding of the many complex issues involved, including the technologies needed to be developed, and the minimum time-scale in which this can be achieved. While secrecy is crucial, an open mind and willingness to learn are equally important.

We, therefore, strongly urge the government to immediately set up a High Level, Independent, Broad-Based Panel of Experts to define and monitor the implementation, on a continuing basis, of an effective course of action, in the realm of thermo-nuclear weapons, so central to our national security. All of us have worked on different aspects of this problem with a sound understanding of the harsh ground realities and the immense magnitude of what is at stake. It is now for the government to Take the Call—and without losing a minute more—as its counterparts in our adversaries have and are continuing to do so.

Signatories to the Statement

1. Dr P.K. Iyengar, former Chairman Atomic Energy Commission, Director BARC and a key architect of the Pokhran-I nuclear test of May 18, 1974 and internationally acknowledged as India’s top nuclear weapons expert; (2) Prof Ashok Parthasarathi, former Science Adviser to Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for many years and Secretary of many major Scientific Departments of Government of India; (3) Dr A.N. Prasad, former Director, BARC and Member (R&D) of the Atomic Energy Commission, a former Senior Adviser to the IAEA, Vienna for many years on nuclear safeguards, and a key member of India’s orginal weapons grade plutonium exrtraction technology development since inception in 1960 and a former Commissioner of UN MOVIC (UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) for disarming Iraq of Weapons of Mass Destruction; (4) K. Santhanam, Chief Adviser (Technologies), DRDO and Project Coordinator of Pokhran-II Series of Nuclear Weapon Tests; (5) Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, one of the key Technology Directors of our Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) project for several years, which developed the indiogenous nuclear submarine Arihant and former Chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Boad; (6) Dr C.K. Mathews, former Head, Radio Chemistry Division, BARC and Director Chemistry Group, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam; (7) Dr Jaipal Mittal, Raja Ramana Fellow and former Director, Chemistry Group, BARC; (8) Dr A.D. Damodaran, former Director, Special Materials Plant, Nuclear Fuel Complex and former Director, Regional Research Laboratory, Thiruvananthapuram; (9) Dr S.R. Valluri, former Director, National Aerospace Laboratory and first Director General of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the organisation specially set up to design and develop the Light Combat Aircraft—Tejas; (10) Rear Admiral J.J. Baxi, former Director, Weapons and Electronics Systems Organisation, Ministry of Defence and Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Electronics Ltd.; (11) Dr K.S. Jayaraman, formerly Nuclear Physics Division, BARC, Science Correspondent of the PTI for many years, Science Correspondent for South Asia for the leading international journal Nature and President, Indian Science Writers’ Association.

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