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Why BARC beckons the terrorist

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) occupies a well-known place in a terrorist's iconography, reports Manoj Joshi.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2006 02:36 IST

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) occupies a well-known place in a terrorist's iconography.

Back in 1991-92, ISI agent Lal Singh a.k.a Manjit Singh (now serving time in jail) had gathered explosives and material to carry out blasts at Madras Stock Exchange, BARC and two oil refineries near Mumbai.

There are no prizes for guessing why BARC is a key target. Established in 1957, it is India's premier atomic research centre and undoubtedly the jewel in our crown. It is also near Mumbai and an attack on its nuclear reactors could lead to meltdown and the release of dangerous radioactivity affecting a large number of people. Such a scenario is not as far-fetched as some may assume. 

All of India's nuclear weapons activities are centred at BARC. Though BARC has five test reactors, only two are significant-Dhruva and Circus. Given the tough concrete containment systems and rugged construction of reactors, they cannot be damaged by a simple attack. Only a special air-delivered bomb or missile can ravage the reactor.

The big danger could, of course, come from crashing a hijacked aircraft onto the reactor. 9/11 has shown us what a passenger jet loaded with fuel can do. Yet the danger may not be only to reactors, but to spent fuel stored in much less protected areas. Such fuel is more radioactive than the reactor cores. Another area of vulnerability comes from the sea. Like many nuclear stations, BARC is vulnerable to an attack from the sea or a bombardment from a small ship or boat.