The government should set up an independent panel to review the data of India’s 1998 hydrogen bomb test to end the debate over its efficacy, says K Santhanam, ex-deputy director of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
India will need to “carry out two to three tests” to ensure its hydrogen bomb is working and “not rush to sign” the comprehensive test ban treaty, he says.
The panel should include retired “stalwarts in the field”, he suggests. The full report will have to be classified but “a sanitised version of one or two pages” could be made public.
Santhanam triggered the debate in August by saying the hydrogen bomb test’s explosive yield had been only 25 kilotonnes, and not the official 40-50 kilotonnes.
The debate has since split the nuclear establishment. It has been argued that the DRDO, and thus Santhanam, had no access to the test data. However, sources say because of the close relations between the scientists involved, Santhanam was known to have been “made aware of the primary data”.
Critics also say the sceptical assessment was based on partial information. DRDO handled only some of the instruments used to measure the explosion — ground motion and fibre-optic sensors and shockwave accelerometers.
The Department of Atomic Energy, which claims the test was a success, used radiochemical analysis. “My arguments are still solid, ” says Santhanam.
There is no reason to be embarrassed about hydrogen bomb test failure, he says. “No country in the world succeeded in the first try.”
But he believes that India’s nuclear deterrent is not credible with warheads limited to 15 kilotonnes — the yield of a successful fusion bomb test.
Brajesh Mishra, national security adviser during the tests, contests Santhanam’s claim that the issue of the yield was decided by a “voice vote” in a 1998 meeting. “There was no voice vote.” S K Sikka of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre did most of the explaining and he doubted, as Santhanam has claimed, there were any military officers present.
“There are people in the world who still believe the world is flat. What more can I say?”