Thursday, 12 August 1999

Scientists See End to Nuclear Neglect

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Scientists and defence planners are closely monitoring the stirrings
of change in the Rao governments security policies after the
Brown amendment. The earlier dismay at the systematic neglect
of nuclear research since 1984 has given way to an expectation
that the programme may get back the political backing it enjoyed
during the tenures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
A scientist who had been among the 1974 Pokhran explosion
masterminds said that "six to eight more tests are needed before
the safety and reliability of the Indian deterrent can be assured".
He pointed out that the US had carried out 1,149 tests, Russia
1,100, France 209, Britain 45 and China 43 to India's solitary
nuclear explosion at Pokhran.

A senior defence planner said that ”the Brown amendment
proved that those who were slowing down the Indian nuclear
programme on the grounds that the US would not arm Pakistan
were wrong". According to him, "while Pakistan does not as yet
have the capability of making nuclear weapons, this could
change in less than five years with the help of China. The only
defence against a threat of nuclear blackmail would be to perfect
our own systems". In the view of a scientist associated with the
Indian missile programme, "by giving weapons to Islamabad
despite knowing about its clandestine nuclear programme, the
Clinton administration has signalled that Pakistan has joined
Israel in the list of 'protected states' that can develop nuclear
weapons without fear of US sanctions".

Senior officials in the Department of Atomic Energy, (DAE)
on condition of anonymity, pinpointed two members of the
Atomic Energy Commission who, "routinely block funding for
essential research". According to another official, "it is curious
that these (two officials) parrot in meetings the exact arguments
of persons in Washington who are out to sabotage the Indian
programme. This has had a devastating effect on morale".

While agreeing that funding for the nuclear programme "has
been choked off almost to the point of killing it", a senior
scientist in the DAE said that "the other side is that there has to
be greater financial accountability. Also, safety standards must
be rigorously enforced by making the safety function independent
of the DAE". However, others reiterated that the problem was
not within the DAE as much as it was lack of political will in
backing the nuclear programme.

A scientist active during the Pokhran explosion claimed that
"the DAE has done world-class research despite poor funding.
However, it has not been allowed to license its technologies to
the private sector, nor to tap technical institutes such as the IITs
to help research".

A senior Defence ministry official agreed that "not enough
has been done to generate revenue by licensing technology not
only to Indian private industry, but to friendly countries such as
South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia". A DAE scientist pointed
out that "India is rich in thorium. Thus it makes sense to develop
technologies for power plants that will use thorium-based U-233
fuel. However, for the past 10 years, almost no funds have been
provided for such research". He added that "this is in contrast
to Japan, Germany and France, which have developed nuclear
power substantially". He added that "in case the CTBT is signed
by India, it must be on condition that the present restrictions on
technology and data transfer be removed".

A senior defence policy analyst working in the government
added that "the policy of adjustment to western sensitivities has
given no benefits. Not only has the flow of arms to Pakistan been
resumed, the ban on the sale of even safety-related items to India
has continued. At least now, one hopes the government will
wake up and drive a better bargain".

Defence and DAE officials are unanimous that the Jaswant
Singh committee's recommendations need to be adopted by
policymakers. The committee had observed that "if indigenously
developed (nuclear power) technology is not implemented,
(there will be) grave and irreparable damage (to Indian security).
As fossil fuels are finite, it is essential to harness nuclear power.
The Government must modify its policy and adopt a committed
programme with enhanced funding". 

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