India's Nuclear test a failure? - What do you think!

Sanjay Bharadwaj (
Tue, 19 May 1998 17:25:01 -0700 (PDT)


Wednesday, May 20, 1998
SECTION: National

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Scientist questions DAE claim

Date: 20-05-1998 :: Pg: 11 :: Col: a

Dr. B. K. Subba Rao, a former Indian Navy Captain, who
holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Technology from the I.I.T., has
charged the Department of Atomic Energy, Mumbai with
passing off a thermonuclear device with the yield in
mere kilotonnes as a success while it was in fact a

He says in a statement:

India alone, and not the rest of the world, will be the
Books loser, if Indians are not able to know the true picture
about the nuclear explosions carried out at Pokhran on
May 11 and May 13, 1998. The true picture should include
whether India planned a thermonuclear device (hydrogen
bomb) in the usual order of megaton capacity but failed
to reach that capacity or the Indian nuclear scientists
even after 24 years of their first nuclear explosion on
May 18, 1974, were not confident of reaching megaton
capacity and so had to make a trial and error attempt
with a preposterous thermonuclear device of 45 kilotons.
Claiming miniaturisation at 45 kilotons is meaningless,
because even the submarine launched (from underwater)
compactified Polaris missile has a nuclear warhead of
one megaton (one megaton is 1,000 kilotons).

The success of a nuclear explosion is measured from the
yield which results from the explosion. The yield or
total energy of a thermonuclear device, known in common
parlance as hydrogen bomb, is expressed in megatons (one
megaton is one thousand kilotons and one kiloton is
1,000 tons of equivalent chemical explosive). One of the
early thermonuclear devices exploded by China yielded 6
megatons. Whereas, according to the reliable seismic
data from sensors abroad, the yield from the three
Indian nuclear explosions on May 11 - a fission device,
a low yield device and thermonuclear device - was not
even 30 kilotons. Mr. Gregory E. Van Der Vink, Director
of Planning at the Incorporated Research Institution of
Seismology, who is also the expert advising U.S.
Congress and Clinton administration is reported having
said, ``From Monday's tests (May 11) we have a seismic
signal of about magnitude 5.4. We think this corresponds
roughly to an explosive yield of around 10 to 25
kilotons.'' More or less the same yield was estimated by
the Japanese scientists and British scientists. Thereby
showing that either the Indian thermonuclear device
failed completely, and whatever yield that had been
recorded, was entirely from the boosted fission device.
Alternatively, the thermonuclear device got extinguished
like a Deepavali cracker with initial noise and a bit of
light without burning fully and could not go beyond 50
kilotons yield, the figure claimed by some Indian

The waves of hysteric joy spread in the country by the
ruling Bharatiya Janata Party describing the triple
nuclear explosions a ``spectacular success'' contrasted
with the doubts of international scientific community on
the so called success of India's first thermonuclear
explosion, compelled the Chairman of India's Atomic
Energy Commission (AEC), Dr. R. Chidambaram, to address
a press conference on May 17 at New Delhi. It was a
joint press conference with the participation of the
Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister, Dr. A. P. J.
Abdul Kalam, and others. The entire press conference
looked more like a damage control exercise. Dr.
Chidambaram's attempts, during the press conference, to
dispel the doubts on India's success, gave birth to more
doubts and to many more valid questions.

During the press conference Dr. Chidambaram claimed that
from the three explosions carried out on May 11, the
item by item yield obtained was, from the fission device
15 kilotons, from the low yield device 0.2 kilotons and
from the thermonuclear device which comprised of a
fission trigger and a fusion device, the yield was from
the fission trigger 12 kilotons and the fusion device 45
kilotons. Dr. Chidambaram also stated that the two
sub-kiloton devices exploded on May 13 gave 0.5 kilotons
and 0.3 kilotons respectively.

How far Dr. Chidambaram was able to dispel the doubts?
According to Dr. Chidambaram, the reason for the low
values recorded by the international seismic sensors was
the simultaneous triggering of the three devices - the
fission, the low yield and the thermonuclear device-on
May 11. He meant that the simultaneous explosions caused
interference of shock waves traveling through the earth
and resulted in low value seismic data at the
international seismic centers. If it is true, one can
ask, how the shock waves had no interference at the
Indian seismic centers which recorded values more or
less supporting the figures put out by Dr. Chidambaram
in his press conference. There is yet another angle from
which one can see Dr. Chidambaram's explanation to be
unscientific. During the press conference, he revealed
that the two shafts containing separately the fission
device and the thermonuclear device were at a distance
of only one kilometre. In such close configuration and
simultaneous explosion with fission device giving 15
kilotons and the thermonuclear (fusion device) giving 45
kilotons, the epicenter from which the shock waves
travel will be more like from one location and the
possibility of interference of shock waves is almost
nil. Dr. Chidambaram himself made his position quite
vulnerable. It looks there is a major science and
technology scam in the claim on India's first
thermonuclear explosion.

Dr. Abdul Kalam, who spoke in the same press conference,
appeared to be far from truth when he said that the
nuclear tests conferred on the country ``a capability to
vacate nuclear threats.'' The rave media coverage while
hailing India's capability ``to vacate nuclear
threats'', has in fact vacated the boundary between a
political statement and scientific statement. A
political statement can mean many things, but a
scientific statement has only one meaning. That is the
characteristic of science, which distinguishes it from
other human pursuits. Both Dr. Chidambaram and Dr. Kalam
appear to have ignored this distinguishing feature of

When a launch by the Department of Space fails, the
failure is not hidden from the public. But the
Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), under the veil of
secrecy, is privileged to hide its failure and also to
paint their failures as grand successes. Such a
privilege, it appears, is fully exercised in respect of
India's first thermonuclear explosion.

There are two possibilities: The DAE scientists
correctly informed the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari
Vajpayee, on the true state of the tests but the Prime
Minister chose to hide the failure of the thermonuclear
explosion, or the DAE scientists misled the Prime
Minister to believe that the tests were a total success
and the results were on expected lines. Only a debate in
the Parliament followed by an inquiry by a Joint
Committee of the Parliament can resolve this issue. Such
an inquiry will be in the national interest, because the
expected yield of a thermonuclear device is always in
multiples of megatons.

After the three underground nuclear tests at Pokhran on
May 11, the Prime Minister publicly announced, ``The
tests were conducted with a fission device, a low yield
device and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields
are in line with expected values.'' The camouflage lies
in the words ``expected values''. The people of Indian
can not be faulted, if they believed that for some valid
reasons, the correct yield values were not disclosed by
the Prime Minister.

What will happen to the BJP popularity if the public
comes to know that the thermonuclear explosions are in
the range of megatons and not kilotons and the early
thermonuclear explosion by China had a yield of 6
megatons where as India's first thermonuclear explosion
could not yield even 30 kilotons and so actually was a
failure? Who should be held responsible for the false
propaganda converting the utter failure into a
`spectacular success'? Therefore, it is in public
interest to discuss the distinction between a fission
device and a thermonuclear device which is also known as
fusion device and also to understand where the failure
of Indian nuclear establishment lies.

A hydrogen bomb has vast destructive power. This type of
fusion bomb is capable of devastating about 400
by blast, while its searing heat can extend to beyond
2000 and its radiative fallout even farther. The
first publicised U.S. thermonuclear tests was in 1951,
followed in 1953 by that of USSR and in 1957 by that of
United Kingdom. China exploded hydrogen bomb in the
seventies. The yield of all these thermonuclear devices
was in the order of megatons. Since the perfection in
fission technology has reached a stage going beyond 30
kilotons yield, there is no need to think of
thermonuclear device if it is not in the range of
several megatons. What is the yield of India's first
thermonuclear explosion? It is not even 30 kilotons, if
we are to go by the seismic data gathered by reliable
seismic centres of the world. Thus looking from the
yield angle, India's first thermonuclear explosion is a
failure. The scientists concerned owe an explanation to
the nation for getting it publicised as a `spectacular