Albert Einstein once said “I know not with what weapons World War II will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”. The great scientist was presumably referring to growing nuclearisation of war. Nuclear technology can destroy the entire humanity in no time but at the same time it could be used for civilian purpose which benefit humanity in many ways.
India being a peace loving country promotes civilian use of nuclear technology and has devised a strategy to tap this energy source for developmental purposes. Thus, India’s peaceful ways of using nuclear energy is termed as Indian Civil Nuclear Strategy. Since our Independence our first Prime Minister Pt Nehru took a very vocal stand against nuclear weapons. But nuclear programme is not only about nuclear weapons. Being aware of the utility of nuclear technology in non-weapons field, modernist Nehru asserted for its use in national development.
Nuclear energy is the energy which is derived from any radioactive material. It can be derived through two processes i.e. nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Nuclear fission is a process where the nucleus of a radioactive element breaks down and energy is released and on the other hand nuclear fusion is the process where two elements combine to release energy. The former is a controllable process and is used in civil nuclear energy. The latter is a process which is difficult to control but produces enormous amount of energy. The nuclear fusion process takes place in the Sun and provides continuous energy to it.
After World War II, several governments like USA, UK, France, Germany and the Soviet Union were ready to extend warm hands and hearts to develop nuclear energy just to amass wealth and to generate woe among foes without envisaging that this kind of attitude will ruin their own wisdom. Attitude to dominate others introduced the evil face of nuclear energy to the world. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the very first victims of weaponised nuclear energy. Nuclear weapons has been turned into a sign of prestige and superiority. It even decides the status of a country among world nation.
The term ‘nuclear energy’ became familiar in the streets of India only after 1956. India’s first nuclear reactor was Apsara. It was also the first nuclear reactor in Asia. Apsara went critical at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay on 4th August, 1956. It heralded the arrival of India’s nuclear energy programme. Dr Homi Bhabha, who was better known as Father of India’s Nuclear Programme, conceptualised the design of the reactor. It was an indigenous project being built by the passion, sweat and dedicated work of the Indian scientist in a record time of 15 months. Our former Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru named the reactor Apsara which literally refers to divine and celestial beauty.
Later on, India experienced benefits from various nuclear reactors assisted by world nations, especially Canada, USA and Russia. Besides assistance, agreements which would ensure the usage of nuclear energy for comforting the mankind and not to build coffins were monitored with utmost care. Such agreements are RAPP-1, signed in 1963, and followed by RAPP-2 in 1966. These reactors contained rigid safeguards to ensure that they would not be used for a military programme. The United States and Canada terminated their assistance after the detonation of India’s first nuclear explosion in 1974.
1974 marked a watershed in India’s scientific heights. It is very apt to say that developments and dangers are twins. India is not an exceptional example in this case. Pokhran I coded as “the smiling Buddha”, scripted our nation’s name in the list of nuclear weapon-possessing countries. This was also the first confirmed nuclear test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. A knife can be used to cut vegetables and may serve as a kitchen utensil but it may be used to kill fellow folks. Nuclear energy satisfies the above-mentioned purpose. Officially, Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MoEA) claims this test as peaceful nuclear explosion, but it was also a part of an accelerated nuclear programme and the Federation of American Scientists criticized it.
The soils and sacredness of the Rajasthan once again experienced nuclear test in 1998. It was Pokhran II which earned pride and fear from world nations. It consisted of five detonations, of which the first was a fusion bomb and the remaining four were fission bombs. These nuclear tests resulted in a variety of sanctions against India by a number of major countries, including Japan and the United States.
India has even refused to go in accord with Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This Treaty refers to a network costing one billion dollars, which is more precisely in Indian value ₹ 6,000 crore to monitor the nuclear test all over the world.
Since 1945, about 2,000 nuclear bomb tests have been conducted by the global powers, with India having conducted two sets of nuclear explosions in 1974 and 1998. China has conducted 45 nuclear bomb tests, the USA more than a thousand. Comparing and analysing all these strategies, India’s venture in nuclear weapon test was not a big deal. India has even declared unilateral moratorium regarding nuclear test after 1998 Pokhran II.
Nehruji clearly explained India’s nuclear policy in these words: “We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war-indeed I think, we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purpose. Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way”. Border agitations and terrorist ventures strengthen the above-mentioned policy to a great extent.
Finally, India’s two giant scientific establishments, the Atomic Energy Department and the Defense Research Development Organisation (DRDO) began to synergise their strength. By 1989, India has refined its ability to drop nuclear bombs using combat aircraft. By the time the 1995 tests started, the DRDO and the atomic energy team had made major changes in the bomb. The weight was reduced considerably and the yield was increased. Elaborate safety packages for delivery had been taken care of Missiles were also developed as delivery vehicles.
The first nuclear power plant was installed in 1969 in Tarapur, Maharashtra with two units of 160 MW each. At present there are 21 nuclear power plants operational in India. By 2050 India aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear source.
India’s nuclear power programme was conceived as a three stage cycle as envisaged by Dr Homi Bhabha. The first stage was the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) utilising natural uranium to produce electricity. The spent fuel was Plutonium-239 as a byproduct. The second stage was Fast breeder reactor which used mixed oxide made from byproduct of first stage i.e. Plutonium-239. Fast breeder reactors are the ones which produce more fuel than it consumes. The third stage as envisaged was Thorium based reactor which involved self-sustaining fuel model comprising Thorium-232 and Uranium-233 as fuel. Large deposit of Thorium has been discovered in Malabar coast of India, making it the natural choice of fuel for the third stage.
As India is not a signatory to the Global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty due to its weapons programme, it was excluded from trade in nuclear material and nuclear plant technology. This had hampered its civil nuclear strategy till 2009. Since 2009 our civil nuclear path changed as we signed the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement also called as 123 Agreement. Also, with the support of USA, Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted waiver to India to access nuclear material and nuclear technology. In pursuance of the exemption granted to India, the Parliament passed Nuclear Liability Act, 2010. In 2016, India signed Civil Nuclear Agreements with 14 countries to carry out nuclear commerce to be as used fuel for power generation.
Kudankulam is one among the breaking news in the past 12 years. It has been a keyword for several vibrant social activists. Fukushima disaster added fuel to the fire. It is not fair to deny the hazardous effects of nuclear programme. Several sources and even our former Prime Minister had blamed the American and Scandinavian NGOs for instigating the anti-nuclear strategy among the local inhabitants as the project is a Russian collaboration. ₹ 8,68,000 crore, precisely the sweat and hard work of Indians, are invested in the Kudankulam project. Digging well is not a matter of task, but we should ensure whether it serves to pacify the people’s thirst or it engulfs people and returns them as corpses.
The nuclear policy of India has been full of contrasting steps given its wide-ranging applicability. It has been a mix of aspirational change to be brought about by nuclear technology and the policy of nuclear weapons free world. The reconciliation between the two is a hard bargain, unless world power takes adequate steps by greater participation in Nuclear Security Summits (as it happened in 2016 in USA). However, because of our geopolitics, being surrounded by two nuclear armed states makes it an obvious choice to have nuclear weapons but rapid strides in civil nuclear technology would serve us well in our pursuit of growth and development.