The News

K Santhanam, who was director for 1998 test site preparations in Pokhran test range, has disclosed that the thermonuclear explosions conducted at that time were ‘actually of much below expectations and the tests were perhaps more a fizzle rather than a big bang’.

In an interview with the Times of India, the nuclear scientist said the yield for the thermonuclear test, or hydrogen bomb in popular usage, was much lower than what was claimed and stressed the need to conduct more tests to improve its nuclear weapon programme.

In nuclear parlance, a test is described as a fizzle when it fails to meet the desired yield.India had claimed at time that test yielded 45 kilotons (KT) but this claim was challenged by western experts who said it was not more than 20 KT.

Security expert Bharat Karnad said Santhanam’s admission is remarkable because this is the first time a nuclear scientist and one closely associated with the 1998 tests has disavowed the government line.

“This means the government has to do something. Either you don’t have a thermonuclear deterrent or prove that you have it, if you claim to have it,” said Karnad. Indian scientists had claimed after the test that the thermonuclear device gave a total yield of 45 KT, 15 KT from the fission trigger and 30 KT from the fusion process and that the theoretical yield of the device (200KT) was reduced to 45 KT in order to minimize seismic damage to villages near the test range.

British experts, however, later challenged the claims, saying the actual combined yield for the fission device and thermonuclear bomb was not more than 20 KT.Santhanam’s view was shared by nuclear scientist Subramaniam, who said “there was something wrong with the seismic signals which seemed pretty weak to me then... so I would tend to agree with Santhanam”.

India conducted five nuclear tests at the Pokhran test range. Three of them were conducted on May 11 and two on May 13, 1998.Meanwhile, the Indian Defence Ministry, while rejecting the claim of the nuclear scientist, said India had a meaningful number of nuclear weapons and an effective delivery system to go with it. Brajesh Mishra, National Security Adviser in the Vajpayee government, also rejected the view of the scientist.