India's Nuclear Weapons Programme

The Pokhran test was a bomb, I can tell you now... An explosion is an explosion, a gun is a gun, whether you shoot at someone or shoot at the ground... I just want to make clear that the test was not all that peaceful.
Raj Ramanna, Former Director of India's Nuclear Program, 10 October 1997


Test: Smiling Buddha
Time: 8:05 18 May 1974 (IST)
Location: Pokhran, Rajasthan Desert, India
27.095 deg N, 71.752 E
Test Height and Type: Underground, -107 m
Yield: 12 Kt

The crater produced by this detonation of a plutonium implosion device is 47 meters wide with a crater depth of 10 meters. The shot was fired 1.5 km southwest of the abandoned village of Malka, but was 24.8 km northwest of the town of Pokhran (which is usually given as the test site). Two images of the subsidence crater:

                     Indian Test Crater        Indian Test Crater           Rajasthan test site

For an excellent study on the Rajasthan test site including both the Smiling Buddha test and recent site preparation activity see Vipin Gupta'a paper at Sandia.

That India can build nuclear weapons has been an established fact since 8:05 18 May 1974 (IST), when India exploded a 12 Kt plutonium bomb 107 meters underground in the Rajasthan Desert. This test, code named "Smiling Buddha", was located at 27.095 deg N, 71.752 E, which is usually identified as being "Pokaharan" (or "Pokhran"), the name of a town that is 24.8 km southeast from the test site.

A key motivation for India's nuclear program is undoubtedly its concern about nuclear-armed China, which faces India along much of its northern border. Disputes about this border exist: China currently occupies the Aksai Chin plateau adjacent to Ladakh, Kashmir in Northwest India; India occupies the North-East Frontier Agency claimed by China. In October 1962 China invaded India, an attack that India was powerless to respond to. China eventually withdrew voluntarily later in the year. India has also fought repeatedly with Pakistan since 1947, and holds Kashmir - Muslim territory claimed by Pakistan. Pakistan's own nuclear program now serves as justification for perpetuating India's own program, although Pakistan did not begin acquiring weapon technology until after India's nuclear test. India also has aspirations to being the dominant power in southern Asia, and may view nuclear weapons as a necessary component of acquiring this status.

The center piece of India's nuclear weapons program is the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) near Bombay which is the presumed center for nuclear weapons associated work. Not only was the Smiling Buddha device designed and largely fabricated there, but the plutonium was produced at BARC by irradiating uranium samples in the Canadian-supplied 40 MW CIR (Canadian-Indian Reactor) heavy water research reactor (also called Cirus). This reactor began operating in 1960 and can produce 6.6-10.5 kg of plutonium a year (at a capacity factor of 50-80%). The reactor is not under IAEA safeguards (which not exist when the reactor was sold), although Canada stipulated that it only be used for peaceful purposes. India argues that this allows its use in producing peaceful nuclear explosives (Ramanna's recent comments are an unofficial admission that this agreement was violated).

                                                                                              Bhabha Atomic Research Center (India)

India probably began its development of a nuclear device shortly after China tested its first nuclear weapon in the mid-60s. A design had been developed by 1971, when Indira Gandhi decided to proceed with the manufacture and test of the device. According to Raj Ramanna, the director of BARC at the time, it took another two years to separate, purify, and fabricate the plutonium metal, and to manufacture the implosion lens systems and associated electronics. Most of the work was done at BARC, but the explosive lenses were made by the Defense Research and Development Organization. Apparently the precise implosion electronics gave them considerable trouble. It is rumored that an initial test of the device failed, probably due to a failure of these electronics. The neutron initiator was a Po-210/Be type code-named "Flower", which took a long time to design and assemble. Although the assertion that the test was for peaceful purposes can be dismissed (especially in light of Ramanna's recent admissions), the bomb was almost certainly an experimental test device, not a weapon in deployable form.

Whether India actually maintains an arsenal of assembled weapons is debatable. The US CIA testified before congress in 1993 that it does not believe that India maintains assembled or deployed nuclear weapons, although it believes India is producing weapon components. In 1990 P. K. Iyengar, then head of the Indian Atomic Energy Agency, said "In how much time we make it, will depend on how much time we get." The obvious conclusion is that nuclear weapons are maintained in ready-to-assemble form.

India has developed indigenous plutonium production reactors. On 8 August 1985 the 100 MW Dhruva was commissioned, it is based on the Cirus design and can produce 20-25 kg of plutonium a year. Startup problems plagued Dhruva, but it began operating at one-quarter power in December 1986 and reached full operation in mid-January 1988. It is capable of producing 16-26 kg of plutonium annually (at a capacity factor of 50-80%).

An additional possible source of plutonium are a number of unsafeguarded CANDU power reactors, including Madras Atomic Power Stations (MAPS, known as Madras I and II, or MAPS-I and MAPS-II); the Narora Atomic Power Stations (NAPS, known as NAPS-I and NAPS-II), and the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS). Like CIR and Dhruva, the CANDU reactors are heavy-water moderated natural uranium reactors that can be used effectively for weapon-grade plutonium production. The possible production by MAPS is much larger than CIR and Dhruva combined, although the fuel burnup in power reactors of this type normally produces lower grade plutonium that is less desirable for weapons. Each power station reactor could produce up to 160 kg/yr (at a 60% capacity factor). It is uncertain how practical it is to operate MAPS for weapons grade plutonium production, although even the reactor-grade output has weapons potential. If supergrade plutonium were produced at BARC by short irradiation periods, it could be mixed with MAPS plutonium to extend the plutonium supply. In 1989 India had a total of 8 power reactors operating, producing 1478 MW (electrical), but with 13 more planned or under construction that would boost electrical output by another 5100 MW.

The separated plutonium for the 1974 test was produced at the separation plant in Trombay, near to Bombay, capable of processing 50 tonnes of heavy metal fuel/yr. Construction on the first facility there began in the 1950s, and began operating in 1964. In 1974 it was shut down for repair and expansion and reopened in 1983 or 1984. Trombay handles the fuel from both the Cirus and Dhruva reactors.

India also can separate plutonium in the Power Reactor Fuel Reprocessing (PREFRE) facility. This plutonium separation plant was built at Tarapur, north of Bombay, and began operating in 1979. The plant has encountered operating problems, but India reports having overcome these by 1990. The nominal annual capacity is given as 100-150 tonnes of CANDU fuel. A much larger plant is now under construction at Kalpakkam sufficient to handle all existing reactors.


   1998: Indian  prime  minister  Bajphi
   announce  a  statement  of  successful
   indian  nuclear  tests.


Given its immense thorium resources, India is actively interested in developing the thorium/U-233 fuel cycle. India is known to have produced kilogram quantities of U-233 by irradiating thorium in CIR, Dhruva, and MAPS reactors. Substantial production of U-233 is not practical though with natural uranium fueled reactors. The thorium cycle requires more highly enriched fuel to have an acceptable breeding ratio with the non-fissile thorium blanket. Reactor-grade plutonium from MAPS could serve as start-up fuel for U-233 plants in the future. If available U-233 is as effective a weapon material as plutonium.

India has been developing the capability to produce heavy water domestically to provide the moderator load for future reactors. The heavy water for the existing reactors was imported however. Canada provided the heavy water for CIR. The 110 tonnes of unsafeguarded moderator for Dhruva and Madras I and II were ironically provided by China.

Taken together, India has developed an extensive plutonium production and reprocessing capability. SIPRI has estimated that India had produced 420-450 kg of weapons-grade plutonium through the end of 1995 (70-100 bombs worth). These estimates are based solely on CIR and Dhruva production. About 100 kg of plutonium has been consumed though, principally in fueling two plutonium reactors, leaving 320-350 kg of plutonium available for weapons. Approximately 1000 kg of unsafeguarded reactor-grade plutonium also exists.

India has acquired and developed centrifuge technology and built centrifuge enrichment plants in Trombay and Mysore in the 1980s. The larger Rare Metals Plant (RMP), as it is called, at Mysore has a cascade capable of producing 30% enriched uranium in kilogram quantities, beginning in 1992-93, although reliability has been a problem. These enrichment plants appear to have no role in India's power reactor development plans, so they may be intended to offset the prestige of Pakistan's enrichment capability, or to provide additional standby weapons production capability. India has reported that it plans to build an enriched uranium reactor, and a domestically fueled nuclear submarine.

   Stop  India  Stop: World  Reaction  on  Indian  nuclear  tests.
India  is  terrorist. India  is  killer.

India has developed short and medium-range missiles. These are the Prithvi (range 250 km, payload 500 kg), and the Agni (range 2500 km, payload 1000 kg). Both are capable of carrying light nuclear weapons. India has an active space program which could provide the technology for eve longer range weapons. India reportedly has investigated development of an ICBM-class missile called Suriya.


Agni awaiting launch (17 K) Agni before launch

Agni was successfully launched on 22 May 1989 from the Chandipur test facility about 250 km southwest of Calcutta at Balasore. The two-stage missile impacted 1000 km downrange in the Bay of Bengal. Agni is named after the Hindu god of fire.

Length: 18.4 m
Width 1.3 m
Launch weight 16,000 kg
Propulsion: Two stage. Solid propulsion first stage is based on the Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) used in satellite launches since 1979. Second stage is a shortened version of the liquid fuel motor from the Prithvi.
Developed by the Defense Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) of Hyderabad.


Agni in flight        Agni in flight (18 K)

India denies having produced additional plutonium pits for nuclear weapons. India's interest in light weight weapon design can be surmised from BARC's acquisition in the 1980s of a vacuum hot pressing machine, suitable for forming large high-quality beryllium forgings, as well as large amounts of high purity beryllium metal. India is known to manufacture tritium, and may have developed designs for fusion-boosted weapons.

India is not a signatory to NPT and has opposed the treaty as discriminatory to non-weapons states. India has previously taken the position that a world-wide ban on nuclear testing, and the production of fissionable material for weapons is called for. Except for China, which continues testing, there is now a de facto halt to testing worldwide, as well as the production of weapons grade plutonium and uranium by the US and Russia. India has shown no interest so far in restricting its own activities despite these changes in the world situation. India has also rejected offers at bilateral negotiation with Pakistan, but in December 1988 the two nations signed an agreement prohibiting attacks on each other's nuclear installations and informing each other of their locations (though not their purposes).

During the fall of 1995 India changed its position on the CTBT from supporting to opposing it on the grounds that while the five nuclear states possessed weapons, a ban on nuclear tests was discriminatory. On 15 December 1995, the New York Times reported that India might be preparing for a second nuclear test. The newspaper quoted (unnamed) US government officials as saying spy satellites have recorded activity at the Pokaharan test site in the Rajasthan desert in recent weeks. It said, however, that intelligence experts could not tell whether preparations were being made to explode a nuclear bomb or whether they involved some other experiments connected with India's nuclear weapons program. The Indian government called the New York Times report "highly speculative" but stopped short of an outright denial. Strong domestic support for such a move was shown in an India Today survey of 2000 adults on 5 December 1995 (before the Times story). It showed 62 percent of the respondents would approve if India exploded an atom bomb to develop its nuclear weapons capability. Pakistan indicated that such a move might cause it to conduct its first test.