Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fight over the results of Pokhran N-tests continues

Dr Anil Kakodkar

How credible is India’s thermo-nuclear deterrent? That is the key issue Karan Thapar discussed in the CNN-IBN’s "Devil’s Advocate" programme, broadcast on Sunday, with the former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Anil Kakodkar. He speaks comprehensively, authoritatively and powerfully to clear all the doubts raised by Dr Santhanam and three other leading scientists about the credibility and success of India’s thermo-nuclear tests of 1998. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Question: Dr Kakodkar, four leading scientists —- Dr Santhanam, Dr Iyengar, Dr Sethna and Dr Prasad —- have raised serious doubts about India’s thermo-nuclear tests of 1998. Dr Santhanam says, "we have hard evidence on a purely factual basis that not only was the yield of the thermo-nuclear device far below the design prediction, but that it actually failed". Do you have a problem on your hands?

Answer: No, I think this is a totally erroneous conclusion. The yield of thermo-nuclear tests was verified, not by one method but several redundant methods based on different principles, done by different groups. These have been reviewed in detail and, in fact, I had described the tests in 1998 as perfect and I stand by that.

Q: I am glad that you began by talking about the yield because both Dr Santhanam and Dr Iyenger have questioned the yield of the thermo-nuclear tests. Dr Santhanam says that the DRDO seismic instruments measured the yield as something between 20-25 kilotonnes which is hugely different from the claim put out by the Atomic Energy Commission that it was 45 kilotonnes. How confident are you of the 45 kilotonne yield?

A: Well, let me first of all say that that the DAE and the DRDO both work together as a team. The DRDO did deploy some instruments for measurements but the fact is that the seismic instruments did not work. I myself had reviewed all the results immediately after the tests and we concluded that the instruments did not work.

Q: Dr Santhanam says that the Bhabha Atomic Energy Centre accepted the DRDO’s instruments and their estimation for the yield of their fission bomb but not for the fusion or the thermo-nuclear. He says how can it be that the instruments worked in one case and not the other.

A: Well that’s not true because the instrument measure the ground motion at the place where the instrument is located. We had to separate out the information which was coming out from the thermo-nuclear and which was coming from the fission test. So the point that I am making is that the seismic instruments did not work. So there is no question of the yield of the fission test being right and the thermo-nuclear test being wrong because no conclusion can be drawn from those instruments either way.

Q: But do you have proof that the yield of the thermo-nuclear test was 45 kilotonnes?

A: Yes. In fact, we have. Within limits of what can be said and I must make it clear here that no country has given so much scientific details on their tests as we have given and this we have published with the maximum clarity which could be done.

Q: The problem is that even in 1998, foreign monitors questioned the yield of the thermo-nuclear tests. At that time, Indian doubts were only expressed in private. Now, Indian doubts have burst out into the open and they are being heard in public. Does it not worry you that these doubts continue —- now both abroad and at home —- and that they have continued for 11 years?

A: Well, it’s unfortunate but it doesn’t worry me because facts are facts and there is no question of getting worried about this. The point is that the measurements which have been done, they have been done — as I mentioned earlier — by different groups. People who carry out the measurements on seismic instruments are a different group. People who carry out the measurements on radiochemical instruments are a different group. There are other methods that you can use — for example, the simulation of ground motion. That’s another group. And all these groups have come to their own conclusions, which match with each other.

Q: And all these five or six different ways of measuring the yield have come to the conclusion that the yield was 45 kilotonnes for the thermo-nuclear device?

A: That’s right.

Q: So in your mind there is no doubt about it whatsoever?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Now, Dr Santhanam, in addition to disputing the yield has other reasons to believe that the thermo-nuclear device failed. He says that given that the fission device, which produced a yield of around 25 kilotonnes, created a crater of 25 meters in diameter, then if the fusion bomb had been successful and produced a yield of 45 kilotonnes it should have created a crater of around 70 meters in diameter. He says that that didn’t happen and there was, in fact, no crater at all.

A: That’s a layman way of looking at it. The fact of the matter is the fission device yield was 15 kilotonnes, not 25 kilotonnes.

Q: So he’s wrong in saying that it was 25 kilotonnes?

A: That’s right and secondly although the two devices were about 1.5 kilometers apart, the geology within that distance changed quite a bit, partly because of the layers that exist and their slopes but more importantly because their depths have been different. So the placement of the device of the fission kind is in one kind of medium and the placement of the device of the thermo-nuclear kind is in another medium.

Q: So, in fact, what you are saying is that Dr Santhanam is making two mistakes and possibly making them deliberately. First of all, he’s exaggerating the yield of the fission device and secondly he is completely ignoring the fact that the geology of the placement of the fusion was very different.

A: That’s right.

Q: And both of those have led him to an erroneous conclusion?

A: Yes. And, in fact, we have gone through detailed simulation. For example, in simulation you can locate the thermo-nuclear device where the fission device was placed and you can locate the fission device where the thermo-nuclear device was placed. And you get a much bigger crater now because the yield is higher.

Q: This is a very important point that you are making.

A: Yes. And the fission device, which is now placed in the thermo-nuclear position, produces much less ground displacement.

Q: So if in simulation you place the thermo-nuclear device where the fission device was placed, you would get a much bigger crater —- much closer to the 70 metres in diameter that Dr Santhanam would like to see?

A: Well, I don’t remember how much it was but this is actually true. This has been verified by calculations.

Q: Dr Santhanam has yet one more reason for believing that the thermo-nuclear device failed. He says if it had succeeded, both the shaft and the a-frame would have been totally destroyed. Instead, writing in The Hindu, he says, the shaft "remained totally undamaged" and as for the a-frame, he says, it "remained completely intact".

A: Well, I think you must understand the phenomena of ground motion when a nuclear test takes place. Depending on the depth of burial and of course the medium in which it is buried, you could get several manifestations on the surface. You could get a crater and there are different kinds of craters that one could see. You can just get a mound —- the ground rises and remains there. And on the other extreme it can vent out. So in case of the thermo-nuclear device, the placement was in hard rock —- granite —- and with the depth and the yield for 45 kilotonnes, one expects only a mound to rise, which is what happened.

Q: And not a crater?

A: And not a crater.

Q: Clearly you are dismissive of Dr Santhanam’s doubts. Now let me quote to you what one of your predecessors —- former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr P K Iyenger —- said in a statement he issued on September 24, 2009. He says: "The recent revelations by Dr Santhanam are the clincher. He was one of the four leaders associated with Pokhran II, the team leader from the DRDO side, and he must certainly have known many of the details, particularly with regard to the seismic measurements. If he says that the yield was much lower than projected, that there was virtually no crater formed, then there is considerable justification for reasonable doubt regarding the credibility of the thermo-nuclear test." Does it worry you that your predecessors seem to disagree with you but agree with Dr Santhanam?

A: Well, first of all I respect everybody. I respect Dr Iyenger, I respect Dr Santhanam, but the fact is that Dr Iyenger was nowhere involved in the 1998 tests. He was, of course, a key figure in the 1974 tests. Also, the fact is that before the 1998 tests, all work was done under cover —- we were not in the open —- and we required a lot of logistical support and that all was being provided by the DRDO. But things were still being done on a need-to-know basis. So, to assume that Dr Santhanam knew everything is not true.

Q: You are making two important points. One you are saying that the DRDO and Dr Santhanam did not know everything —- the fact that he was the DRDO team leader does not mean that he knew everything that was happening.

A: He knew everything within his realm of responsibility.

Q: You are also saying that Dr Iyenger isn’t fully in the picture and, therefore, his opinion is not necessarily valid.

A: He is not in the picture as far as the 1998 tests are concerned.

Q: So, he doesn’t really know about the 1998 tests.

A: Well, he knows only as much as has been published and nothing more.

Q: Let’s pursue the credibility and the doubts surrounding India’s thermo-nuclear deterrent in a somewhat different way. Dr Santhanam says that these doubts were formally raised by the DRDO with the tovernment as far back as 1998 itself. And in a meeting arranged by the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, they were brushed aside in a manner which Dr Santhanam compares to a sort of frivolous voice vote.

A: Immediately after the tests, we carried out a review with both teams present —- BARC team as well as the DRDO team. We looked at the measurements done by the BARC team and we looked at the measurements done by the DRDO team and I told you the conclusions and on the basis of that review it was clear what instruments we could go by and what conclusions we could draw. Now, the question is that if the instruments didn’t work, where is the question of going by any assertions, which are based on (that). What is the basis of any assertions?

Q: In an article that Dr Santhanam has written recently (on November 15, 2009) for The Tribune, he says: The Department of Atomic Energy —- the department to which you were ex-officio secretary —- has, in fact, been hiding facts from successive Indian governments, from Parliament and from Indian people. How do you respond to that accusation?

A: Well, as I said earlier, we are perhaps unique in giving out the maximum information and that too very promptly —- immediately after the tests.

Q: There is no hiding?

A: There is no hiding.

Q: Let me put to you two or three critical issues. Given the fact that although you have concluded several reviews —- including one recently after the doubts were raised —- the doubts continue. And given that these are doubts about India’s one and only thermo-nuclear test, do we need more tests?

A: Well, I would say no because the important point to note is that the thermo-nuclear test, the fission test and the sub-kilotonne test all worked as designed.

Q: You are saying that India doesn’t need more thermo-nuclear tests but the truth is that all the established thermo-nuclear powers needed more than one test. Can India be the exception?

A: Well, if you go by "Dil Maange More", that’s another story.

Q: I want to pick up on that last point that you have just made. Given that doubts continue and given that there are going to be no further tests and you are not saying that there is any need for further tests, can you say India has a credible thermo-nuclear bomb?

A: Of course.

Q: We have a credible thermo-nuclear bomb?

A: Why are you using singular? Make that plural.

H-Bomb controversy and nuclear deterrence

Santhanam says it again: Pokhran-II a fizzle

Playing Poker with Pokhran

Does India really need the H-Bomb?

Army affected by Pokhran-II doubts, need reassurance from scientists: Malik

More Indian scientists question 1998 nuclear tests

Pokhran II not fully successful: Senior DRDO Scientist K Santhanam

Why K Santhanam said Pokharan II was not a success


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