Friday, October 2, 2009

Santhanam says it again: Pokhran-II a fizzle

The ongoing debate over Pokhran II intensified today with former DRDO scientist K Santhanam reiterating that the May 1998 nuclear tests had not worked in accordance with ‘design expectations’ and suggesting more tests to refine the country’s thermonuclear capability.

At a press meet here, Santhanam said the government could set up an independent panel, comprising scientists and nuclear experts, to probe the success of the Pokhran tests as also to suggest if there was need for India to conduct more tests since national security was of paramount importance.

Observing that pressure was likely to mount on the government in the coming days from the Obama administration to sign the CTBT, he wondered why the ‘window of opportunity’ available at this stage could not be utilised to conduct a few more tests.

Hitting back at National Security Advisor (NSA) MK Narayanan for the latter’s comment in a television interview that Santhanam had personal motives in questioning the efficacy of the Pokhran tests, he said Narayanan was ‘barking up the wrong tree’.

Referring to the NSA’s assertion that nobody could contest what was proven by the data about the nuclear tests, Santhanam said “the trouble lies in what data was included in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) analysis; and; what was not. There is a wealth of seismic and other data which reveal that the thermonuclear device under performed.”

He also ridiculed Narayanan’s suggestion that Santhanam had not been privy to the test measurements and information. “This is a false assertion. I was…we are not in the business of selling chocolates.”

Santhanam alleged that Narayanan was making ‘misleading statements’ as he was not even the NSA when Pokhran tests were conducted. “There is a large body of evidence in seismology circles around the world, and India, which raised doubts about the yield, almost immediately after the tests.”

Santhanam also released to the media pictures of the test crater site, pointing out that there was no crater there. The thermonuclear device had a yield of 20-25 kilotons and not 45 kilotons as claimed by the NSA. He wondered if Agni III missile, which has a reach of 4,000 km, was required just for a 20-kilotone bomb.

Asked why it took him 11 long years to say that the 1998 tests were a ‘fizzle’, he said reservations about the efficacy of the tests had been recorded in a classified report sent to the government. “It is not that we kept quiet about it.” Asked if the Vajpayee government had committed a fraud on the people by terming the tests as successful, he said “that’s a loaded question…I will only go on the scientific path.”

The government of the day had conducted the tests in view of the increasing nuclear capability of Pakistan. On reports that India was not conducting some critical tests which could be done despite the CTBT being there, he said the technology needed for such tests was quite advanced and he was not aware if that technology was there with India since he was not in the government now.

On whether he had ever thought of the consequences for India of any further tests, Santhanam said, “This kind of concern, especially from the economy lobby, is well known.”

Rounding up the press meet, he said, “My remarks are in the interest of national security…to attribute them the overtones of jingoism is not fair.”

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