September 24, 2009 / 6:11 PM / 10 years ago

Pokhran nuclear tests "fully successful", say top govt scientists

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Leading Indian scientists said on Thursday the country’s landmark Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998 were “fully successful”, dispelling doubts the programme had been a dud that left India without a proper nuclear deterrent.

R. Chidambaram, the principal scientific advisor to Government of India, speaks during a news conference to brief about 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests, in Mumbai September 24, 2009. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

The tests in Rajasthan sparked an international outcry and triggered tit-for-tat tests by Pakistan, a year before the two rivals came to the brink of a fourth full-scale war.

The programme was also a show of strength by the rising Asian giant, then led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and seen as a deterrent against nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and China.

But some scientists in recent weeks questioned the accuracy of the test results in terms of the explosion yield.

“The May 1998 tests were fully successful in terms of achieving their scientific objectives and the capability to build fission and thermonuclear weapons with yields (of) upto 200 kt (kilotonnes),” Principal Scientific Adviser R. Chidambaram and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar said in a joint statement.

India spent three decades in nuclear isolation after refusing to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), along with Pakistan and Israel.

But in 2008, former U.S. President George Bush signed a landmark civilian nuclear deal with India set to be worth billions of dollars, in spite of some vocal domestic critics who accused Bush of letting India off the hook.

India’s defence of the tests coincided with a U.N. Security council resolution, chaired by American President Barack Obama, which urged nuclear weapons states to scrap their arsenals and countries outside the NPT to help rid the world of atom bombs.

K. Santhanam, the Indian scientist who led the ground preparations for the 1998 tests said the results of a thermonuclear prototype were much lower than the declared yields of 45 kt.

Chidambaram, who was in overall charge of the tests, countered that the nuclear institute Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) accurately measured the fission explosion yield at 15 kt and thermonuclear yield at 45 kt.

He said that the data from Defence Research Development Organisation, to which Santhanam belonged, had anomalies and was rejected, adding the tests scored a “bullseye hit at 45 kilotonnes” for the thermonuclear device.

(Editing by Matthias Williams)

((ketan.bondre@thomsonreuters.com; +91 22 6636 9027, Reuters

Messaging: ketan.bondre.thomosonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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