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May 25, 1998


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India may not have an H-bomb, says scientist

P Rajendran

Dr B K Subba Rao may not be a familiar name, not quite in the league of Dr P K Iyengar, Dr R Chidambaram and the like. But this scientist, who once worked on an Indian nuclear submarine project and stymied some bad projects backed by the establishment then, is now calling the veracity of the thermonuclear test at Pokhran into question and demands a parliamentary investigation into the possibility of fraud.

Dr Subba Rao -- a former captain in the Indian navy -- does not claim outright that an H-bomb did not explode at Pokhran but just suggests that some hanky panky could be going on, considering only one of the five explosions were registered, even at an station across the border just 437 kms from the blast area.

He points out the unnaturally low seismic values registered across the world. An early Chinese H-bomb explosion had yielded six megatons. Even the 1974 explosion had produced a signal of 5 on the Richter scale, in comparison to the 4.7 registered the current tests by the British Geological Survey and the National Geophysical Research Institute at Hyderabad with some international institutes registering higher values, all of which pointed to values between 15 and 25 kilotons. But the Department of Atomic Energy's own network at Gauribidanur in Karnataka had values suggesting an explosion of 55 kt.

"Simultaneous signals should have reached Indian centres too. How could one Indian centre have such different results," he asked in a telephone interview from Hyderabad.

AEC chairman Dr R Chidambaram had said the low values were due to phase differences -- as happens when waves cancel each other out -- when the three devices were set off together. But, says Dr Subba Rao, Dr Chidambaram had also claimed that the thermonuclear device was located a kilometre away from the two fissile devices (which were in one tube 300 metres apart). That, argues Dr Subba Rao, is insufficient distance for a phase difference to develop and reduce the output of energy, adding that the three explosions would have seemed to have come from one location and actually be magnified.

Dr Subba Rao admits that a small H-bomb of low yield is possible, but is not convinced that a country that has waited so long would have settled for such a weak device.

He says the term "expected values" used by officials to describe the blast output is significant.

"If a 45 kiloton device was exploded, they should have said the output was 45 kiloton. Why say expected values?" he asks.

Dr Subba Rao brushes away claims that India cannot make an H-bomb, claiming it is only the inefficiency of the current bunch of scientists that could have caused the test to fail.

In a statement earlier, he also pointed out that keeping the nuclear programme under wraps, unlike the space programme, meant failures could easily be covered up. He suggested in the statement that the test may have failed and that either the government was not informed or, if it was informed, chose to misinform the public.

Either way, he says, the DAE scientists should put the information before scientists like him and others for impartial review.

"It is necessary that our country be strong, and not be relying on a make-believe situation, a lullaby," he says.

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