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From Fission to Fusion

The development of almost all national atomic or nuclear energy projects has been marked by a common factor

books Updated: Feb 06, 2003 12:18 IST

The Story of India’s Atomic Programme
MR Srinivasan
Non-fiction
Penguin Books
New Delhi, 2002
Price Rs 495 (Hardcover)

The development of almost all national atomic or nuclear energy projects has been marked by a common factor - lack of adequate international support. Not just have the initial powers resisted the spread (NPT is testimony to that), but also major obstructions have been put in place.

The story of India’s nuclear power is something very similar. Right from its inception, international cooperation has been halting, and post-1974, negligible. Looking at the flip side however, it has given Indian scientists the opportunity to prove that the technologies could be developed within India and the sense of achievement has been that much more.

Srinivasan, one of those involved in the journey almost from its inception to chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, worked with almost all the legendary names in the field, is perhaps in a unique position to do justice to the subject.

Srinivasan tells his tale chronologically, and for most of the part, lucidly. From the genesis in Apsara, the first research reactor to reach to attain criticality in 1956, to talk of the nuclear weapon, which Srinivasan says "mankind should do all it can to eliminate … from the face of the Earth", he terms it a remarkable journey. This he stresses on the elimination of nuclear weapons saying it would be prayaschita for "destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for the threat of similar nuclear holocausts elsewhere".

Srinivasan’s story the vast amount of teamwork involved in the process. Modest but visionary beginnings were made under Homi Bhabha at Trombay. With contributions from Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Sethna and many others, now Indian has six locations across the nation. The setting up each has been a challenge and Srinivasan relives the story behind each.

The politics, international to within the organisations, the overcoming of obstacles, from procuring the required materials to getting them to their final destinations, the overcoming of bureaucratic hurdles, the idiosyncrasies of the ruling parties at the centre, and many other factors go into making this an involving story, even for a reader not conversant with the subject.

Srinivasan also does not shy away from tackling the ethical issues involved in the development of atomic power. Understandably, as someone part of team that built up the atomic programme, his sympathies seem to suggest that the programme was vital for India’s development.

The book is divided into six parts, each further subdivided into chapters. The initial section deal with the establishing of the units, while later sections take up questions like safety and regulation of atomic power, heavy water, future energy source, nuclear weapons etc. The book has a comprehensive index, and has a list of abbreviations (strangely on both sides of the Contents page), which are very useful, especially to those unfamiliar to the territory.

First Published: Aug 10, 2002 11:20 IST