Pokhran Story | May 1998 | India became Full Fledged Nuclear State
Pokhran II was the series of five nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range in May 1998. It was the second Indian nuclear test; the first test, code-named Smiling Buddha, was conducted in May 1974.
Pokhran II consisted of Five Detonations, of which the first was a fusion bomb and the remaining four were fission bombs. These nuclear tests resulted in a variety of sanctions ( penalties ) against India by a number of major states, including Japan and the United States.
On 11 May 1998, Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II) was initiated with the detonation of one fusion and two fission bombs. The word “Shakti” means “power” in Sanskrit.
On 13 May 1998, two additional fission devices were detonated, and the Indian government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shortly convened a press conference to declare India a full-fledged nuclear state.
What actually happened :-
- The BJP, came to power in 1998 general elections with an exclusive public mandate.
- Consultation began between Prime Minister Vajpayee, Dr.Abdul Kalam, R. Chidambaram and officials of the Indian DAE on nuclear options.
- R.Chidambaram briefed Prime Minister Vajpayee extensively on the nuclear program, Abdul Kalam presented the status of the missile program.
- On 28 March 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee asked the scientists to make preparations in the shortest time possible, and preparations were hastily made.
- The Indian intelligence had been aware of United States spy satellites and the American CIA had been detecting Indian test preparations since 1995, therefore, the tests required complete secrecy in India and also needed to avoid detection by other countries.
- The 58th Engineer Regiment of Indian Army’s Corps of Engineers was commissioned to prepare the test sites without being probed by the United States spy satellites.
- Extensive planning was done by a very small group of scientists, senior military officers and senior politicians to ensure that the test preparations would remain secret, and even senior members of the Indian government didn’t know what was going on.
- The chief scientific adviser and the director of DRDO, Dr.Abdul Kalam, and Dr. R. Chidambaram, the director of the DAE, were the chief coordinators of this test planning.
- A very small group of senior scientists were involved in the detonation process, all scientists were required to wear army uniforms to preserve the secrecy of the tests. Since 1995, the 58th Engineer Regiment had learned to avoid US satellite detection.
- Work was mostly done during night, and equipment was returned to the original place to give the impression that it was never moved.
- Bomb shafts were dug under camouflage netting and the dug-out sand was shaped like shaped dunes. Cables for sensors were covered with sand and concealed using native vegetation.
- Scientists would not depart for Pokhran in groups of two or three.They traveled to destinations other than Pokhran under pseudonyms, and were then transported by the army. Technical staff at the test range wore military uniform, to prevent detection in satellite images.
Development and Test Teams
The main technical personnel involved in the operation were:-
Project Chief Coordinator
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (later, President of India), Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Head of the DRDO.
Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Atomic energy.
Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO)
- Dr. K. Santhanam Director, Test Site Preparations.
Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research
- Dr. G. R. Dikshitulu, Senior Research Scientist B.S.O.I Group, Nuclear Materials Acquisition
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC)
- Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Director of BARC.
- Dr. Satinder Kumar Sikka, Director; Thermonuclear Weapon Development.
- Dr. M. S. Ramakumar, Director of Nuclear Fuel and Automation Manufacturing Group; Director, Nuclear Component Manufacture.
- Dr. D.D. Sood, Director of Radiochemistry and Isotope Group; Director, Nuclear Materials Acquisition.
- Dr. S.K. Gupta, Solid State Physics and Spectroscopy Group; Director, Device Design & Assessment.
- Dr. G. Govindraj, Associate Director of Electronic and Instrumentation Group; Director, Field Instrumentation.
Three laboratories of the DRDO were involved in designing, testing and producing components for the bombs, including the advanced detonators, the implosion and high-voltage trigger systems. These were also responsible for weaponizing, systems engineering, aerodynamics, safety interlocks and flight trials.
Nuclear bombs and detonations
Five nuclear devices were detonated during Operation Shakti. All devices were weapon-grade plutonium and they were:-
- Shakti I – A thermonuclear device yielding 45 kt, but designed for up to 200 kt.
- Shakti II – A plutonium implosion design yielding 15 kt and intended as a warhead that could be delivered by bomber or missile. It was an improvement of the device detonated in the 1974 Smiling Buddha (Pokhran-I) test of 1974, developed using simulations on the PARAM supercomputer.
- Shakti III – An experimental linear implosion design that used “non-weapon grade” plutonium, but which likely omitted the material required for fusion, yielding 0.3 kt.
- Shakti IV- A 0.5 kt experimental device.
- Shakti V – A 0.2 kt experimental device.
An additional, sixth device (Shakti VI) is suspected to have been present but not detonated.
At 3:43 pm IST; three nuclear bombs (specifically, the Shakti I, II and III) were detonated simultaneously, as measured by international seismic monitors. On 13 May, at 12.21 p.m.IST 6:51 UTC, two sub-kiloton devices (Shakti IV and V) were detonated. Due to their very low yield, these explosions were not detected by any seismic station.
Reactions in India
Following the Pokhran-II tests, India became the sixth country to join the nuclear club. Shortly after the tests, a press meet was convened at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared before the press corps and made the following short statement:-
Today, at 15:45 hours, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran range. The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields are in line with expected values. Measurements have also confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. These were contained explosions like the experiment conducted in May 1974. I warmly congratulate the scientists and engineers who have carried out these successful tests.
- News of the tests were greeted with jubilation and large-scale approval by society in India.
- The Bombay Stock Exchange registered significant gains.
- Newspapers and television channels praised the government for its bold decision; editorials were full of praise for the country’s leadership and advocated the development of an operational nuclear arsenal for the country’s armed forces.
- The Indian opposition, led by Congress Party criticized the Vajpayee administration for carrying out the series of nuclear tests. What else can be expected from Congress.
The Indian government has officially declared the 11 May as National Technology Day in India to commemorate the first of the five nuclear tests that were carried out on 11 May 1998.
It was officially signed by then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 and the day is celebrated by giving awards to various individuals and industries in the field of science and technology.