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'India needs two more nuclear tests'

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: September 21, 2009 21:37 IST
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K Santhanam, former Defence Research and Development Organisation scientist, who has rubbished the nuclear test at Pokhran in 1998 told journalists that he believed India needed to conduct two more tests to perfect the thermo-nuclear technology required to make a Hydrogen bomb. Santhanam maintained that simulations or computer-based tests were not enough to perfect thermo-nuclear technology. His statements are an antithesis of the Indian governments' position on this issue.

The man who is dubbed as "maverick" by National Security Advisor M K Narayanan was addressing his first press conference on Monday at the Indian Women's Press Corps. Ashok Parthasarathy, former scienctific advisor to Indira Gandhi was also present. Parthasarthy met Leader of the Opposition L K Advani on Monday. Parathasarathy told media-persons that he had briefed the BJP leader about Santhanam allegations on the Pokhran nuclear tests which were carried out when the BJP was in power in 1998.

It was the rare moment, when Santhanam said unambiguously that India's nuclear test was a failure. Santhanam can't be dismissed because he has been in core team of nuclear scienctists for many years.

If  Santhanam's claims are true then it will be an embarrassment not just for India's scientists but also for the nation who had taken huge pride and celebrated the event, diplomatic and security concerns will be altered as well.

Santhanam said the government's rejection of his charge is not surprising. He told media that the government was refusing to conduct a professional inquiry, it's like saying, "I have made up mind. Do not confuse me with facts."

Santhanam spoke fearlessly and did not evade questions but he was excited and tense while facing dozen cameras. He repeated all that he has been saying since the controversy has hit the headlines.

The ageing scientist's dry wit and sarcastic responses made the issue of nuclear science and the politics being played out, more complex to understand.

The government has come out firmly against Santhanam's charge which has multiple impacts on multiple issues. While countering the charge made by Santhanam, NSA M K Narayanan has said that the Atomic Energy Commission was asked to study the data of the 1998 nuclear tests again in the wake of the controversy over the efficacy of the hydrogen bomb. Narayanan has said that the last week, that the AEC had come out with an authoritative statement on the efficacy of the 1998 nuclear tests and no more clarifications were required from the government on this matter.

 Santhanam said that Narayanan has not addressed the main concerns expressed by him in his column in The Hindu.Sathanam added, "Recourse to special pleading is considered fallacy in logic." 

When asked to explain his cryptic position, Santhanam said, "W
hen someone says, The rabbit I caught had three legs. When you question such a claim he will then say 'but the rabbit that I  caught has three legs so believe me!"

The former nuclear scientist said the government's response is suppressing the facts and "suggesting to contrary.' He said in the matter of national security this kind of 'game' was unnecessary.

Santhanam called upon the government to form a panel of independent scientists and people with in-depth knowledge of the subject to verify the data from both sides again, while keeping the results classified.

During the press conference the most repeated question was why did he not speak before about the sensational failure of India's thermo- nuclear testing? Why now?  Santhanam said, "Please note that the tests were conducted in May 1998.The DRDO was in charge of all the field instrumentations to measure acceleration and to record measurements from a variety of instruments and recorders. After the tests were over, we visited in (Pokhran, Rajesthan)  the shafts where the thermo- nuclear device was detonated. We found that shafts by and large remained undamaged. So, we moved on to other shafts where the fission bomb was detonated. The fission bomb was estimated to be 20-25 kilotons. It left behind the large crater which was larger than the crater formed in 1974, when India's first peaceful nuclear test was conducted. I had some reservations about whether the thermo-nuclear device actually worked as per our expectations. I had serious doubts about that. We had to check and double check before we could arrive at the actual yields from the test. It was put in the classified report at the end of 1998."

Sathanam added, "Thereafter DRDO and Bhabha Atomic Research Center's scientists held a meeting. Despite fairly long discussion the two agencies agreed to disagree. Under these circumstances,  the chairman of the meeting said he would discuss the matter with the minister and then decide on the future course of action. The Data was classified and the fact is that we should not have to have it in the public domain until the government chooses to declassify it."

When confronted Santhanam said, "We are not in business of selling peanuts or chocolates. This is a serious issue. In matters of national security, the government has the right to decide what will be classified. Every country that has gone nuclear has followed the same pattern. It takes some time before all the measurements can be digested, analyzed to project a picture."

It is very difficult for a scientist to reveal the nation's best kept secrets on camera. After a hour long press conference Santhanam rushed out to smoke, saying "I am in a tizzy. I don't know if I am going or coming."

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi