Recently DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organisation), India successfully tested the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle which led India to the list of select few nations with such cutting-edge technology. Upholding sovereignty and maintaining peace has always been of foremost importance to India. The nation is truly proud and appreciative of DRDO and other such organisations that work towards taking it to the International level in every other field.
India is also one of the few nations to possess nuclear weapons but the journey of developing them was definitely not an easy one. The first nuclear test was conducted on 18th May 1974, and the mission was code-named “Smiling Buddha”. This big step helped India to become the sixth country in the world to test a nuclear detonation. We are fairly fortunate to learn about this remarkable event through a lucid narrative by a BITian itself. Here goes:
“It was the evening of 18th May ’74, when I was listening to the transistor. The college was closed sine die. Students of Bihar were also agitating for the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly.
At 9 P.M. the exciting news of an underground nuclear explosion by India came to us all of a sudden. Everyone was astonished at the news. In the whole world there were six-nuclear-power countries now, India being the sixth. The explosion was underground and was made at 8:05 AM in the underground bunkers of Rajasthan near Jaisalmer, the golden city near the Indo-Pak border. Though the news had come to us all of a sudden, it was not unexpected, as two years ago a Japanese agency from Tokyo broke this news already by announcing that India is thinking of detonating a nuclear blast in the Rajasthan desert and it may be used to mine low-grade copper and uranium ore and for other peaceful purposes. Our Government, Dr. H.N. Sethna (Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission) and Dr. R Ramanna (Director, BARC) are to be praised for this achievement. However, the actual credit goes to “Pt. Nehru” and “Homi Bhabha” who formulated the nuclear plan nearly 7 months before the test.
And this brought India to the elite list of nuclear powers, the first being U.S.A (exploded its first bomb in 1945 Second World War), second – U.S.S.R. (1949), third – U.K. (1957), fourth – France (1960), fifth – China (1964) and thereafter a number of tests were conducted by them. They achieved their goal after 7 to 10 years. And in this respect, India had taken the minimum time for its achievement – exactly 3 years. Our underground test though costly (10 to 30 lakh of Rs.), caused least hazard to the environment. In fact our explosion had caused very little Radioactive fall out in the atmosphere. Dr. H. N. Sethna announced that the soil-sample from the site of the explosion showed absolutely no radioactivity which was minutely examined both at the site and at the Bombay Laboratories. And this puzzled the Scientists throughout the world even more.
Dr. Sethna claimed that the device had explosive power equivalent to 10 to 15 thousand tons of TNT which implied, the explosion contained more force than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which eventually killed about one lakh people in Hiroshima and fifty thousand in Nagasaki leaving them inhospitable for decades.
How does a Nuclear Explosion work?
There are three known fissile materials that can be harnessed to produce a nuclear explosion. The first is Uranium-235, the second is Uranium-233 and the third is Plutonium. India has no known Uranium-235 source yet. Plutonium is produced in the nuclear reactors that burn Uranium. Uranium comes in two varieties- one produces nuclear energy, the other does not. This useless Uranium-238 however converts into Plutonium in the “inferno” of the reactor core. India primarily gets its plutonium from the 50 Megawatt research reactor in Trombay, which has a capacity of producing 10 kg of plutonium per year.
The minimum quantity of plutonium needed for a critical size atomic device is 8kg and the critical size is 8 cms. The explosion goes on with a chain reaction of particles called “neutrons”. These neutrons travel 8 cm or so to encounter with a plutonium atom. Hence a nuclear ball of less than 8 cm diameter cannot explode. In a nuclear device, two or more chunks of Plutonium are kept apart using spacers. A chunk itself is less than the critical size, but when all the chunks are brought together, by means of implosion, the overall size becomes greater than critical size and the result is an explosion. The main risk in the explosion of a nuclear device is radio-activity which was completely absent in the Indian test.
Reactions of Other Countries
- PAKISTAN – President Z.A. Bhutto of Pakistan, soon after the explosion suspended the walks on communication and called off the official talks ( though it was again brought to light later on). He raised the problem of the safety of his country in the U.N. and C.E.N.T.O, although he could not succeed to enlist support. A practise of “air raid” at night was carried out by the “air force” of Pakistan. With the collaboration of Canada, a nuclear reactor was set-up there.
- CHINA – China borrowed the western propaganda line to propagate what it called India’s difficult economic situation with steadily increasing military expenditure.
- CANADA – Canada announced the suspension of all nuclear aid to India. Foreign secretary, Mitchell Sharp said that the Canadian Government is suspending all shipments of nuclear equipment and material, ending all exchanges with the Asian Country on nuclear technology. He added the restrictions on other industrial commodities too, except food.
- U.S.A. – The U.S.A. had no direct comment but had the same version as that of China.
U.S.S.R, Bangladesh, Nepal, Britain, Latin American Countries (Argentina, Brazil, Peru & Colombia) and a few other countries welcomed our nuclear test.
Mrs. Indira Gandhi declared that India is not a “nuclear weapon country” but a “nuclear country”, there is a difference. Mrs. Gandhi reiterated her assurance to everybody, especially to our neighbours that India’s neighbours need not fear. India intended to use this power for peaceful purposes. We are today using it for agricultural purposes, for power generation and also in medicine, to name a few.
The Atomic Energy Department is currently working on a thermo-nuclear explosive device (Hydrogen based) as a follow-up of the May 18, 1974 underground nuclear explosion. Sources have pointed out that if current programmes proceed according to schedule, India may achieve a more spectacular feat in the near future by testing a hydrogen based thermo-nuclear device. A device, which will enable fusion of hydrogen atoms at very high temperature (of more than one million degrees centigrade), requires uranium or plutonium explosive device to trigger it off.
Dr. Ramanna suggested at a meeting of scientists in Calcutta, in June 74, that another exciting event that may thrill the nation even more than the Smiling Buddha test, is in the offing.
A hydrogen based thermonuclear explosion device requires a very strong casing, inside which an ordinary atomic explosive device (either plutonium or uranium) and a vessel containing “Deuterium” and “Tritium” are kept.
The atomic explosion inside the casing creates the conditions necessary for the development of a thermonuclear reaction in the surrounding hydrogen, thus enabling them to fuse and release enormous amount of energy.
Attainable – As India has already achieved plutonium explosion, thermonuclear explosion is considered attainable by experts. China, which tested its first atomic bomb in 1964, tested a hydrogen bomb in 1966. We also hope the same.”
Hopes and aspirations when combined with hard work and dedication do come true. Today, the mighty Indian military is one of the top military powers in the world. The credit for the development of the ability to defend our nation and to wield such power goes to Organisations who fearlessly choose service over self. We must honour their commitment and express our gratitude to them from the depths of our being.
Shambhu Prasad Sir
Civil Engineering (Batch of 1974)