Nuclear energy: India

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India and the world, Country-wise nuclear and other radioactive material lost or stolen (2013-15). India was the safest nuclear-energy consuming country in this period; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, June 27, 2016
The ten top countries where uranium is found; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, June 8, 2016
The Missile Technology Control Regime; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, June 8, 2016

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


India's initial reluctance to go nuclear

1960s: Nehru declined US offer to detonate nuclear device

The Times of India, Jun 14 2016

`India would've been in N-club in '60s had Nehru said yes to US'  India need not have had to make desperate efforts now to get membership of the NSG had first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru accepted then US President John F Kennedy's offer of helping the country detonate a nuclear device much before China did in 1964, according to former foreign secretary Maharajakrishna Rasgotra. He also said that if Nehru had accepted the offer, not only would India have tested the nuclear device first in Asia, before China, but it also “would have deterred China from launching its war of 1962 and even imparted a note of caution to (Pakistan's) Field Marshal Ayub Khan's plans for war in 1965,“ according to an Observer Research Foundation (ORF) release. Rasgotra was speaking at the release of his new book `A Life in Diplomacy' at ORF.

“Kennedy, who was an admirer of India's democracy and held its leader Jawaharlal Nehru in very high esteem, felt that democratic India, not Communist China, should be the first Asian country to conduct a nuclear test,“ Rasgotra said.

Kennedy's handwritten letter was accompanied by a technical note from the chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, setting out the assistance his organisation would provide to Indian atomic scientists to detonate an American device from atop a tower in Rajasthan, the releasesaid.

In the letter, Kennedy had said he and the American establishment were aware of Nehru's strong views against nuclear tests and nuclear weapons, but emphasised the political and security threat China's test would spell for Nehru's government and India's security , it said, adding that the American leader's letter emphasised that “nothing is more important than national security“.

1964: India could have gone nuclear-CIA

The Times of India, May 20, 2016

India could have gone nuclear as early as 1964: US intelligence

As early as 1964, the US intelligence community had concluded that India was in a position to develop nuclear weapons, a declassified State Department report said, citing frequent change of the fuel core of the Canada-supplied reactor at Trombay.

"The Indians are now in a position to begin nuclear weapons development if they chose to do so. We have no evidence, however, of a weapon research and development programme and would expect to see some if the programme existed," the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) said in a report on May 14, 1964.

The report along with several others was published by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project.

Noting that the fuel core of the Canadian-Indian Reactor (CIR) at Trombay was being changed every six months, the US intelligence report had raised questions about India's nuclear objectives.

It said a six-month period was quite short for "normal research reactor operations," but it was the optimum time for using the CIR's spent fuel for producing weapons grade plutonium.

The report said the Canadians had not established specific safeguards when they made the reactor available to India thus giving the Indians a free hand in using the newly-built Phoenix plutonium separation plant to produce the fissile material. According to the State Department report, "India's leadership might have had nationalistic motives for building the Phoenix plant but if it wanted a nuclear weapons capability it would seek such a capability".

All these facts just prove a point that Congress was in alliance with some external forces to downgrade India right after Independence. Hope after eliminating Cong India will be a super power soon.

According to INR, India had taken the "first deliberate decision in the series leading to a nuclear weapon," which was to have "available, on demand, unsafeguarded weapons-grade plutonium or, at the least, the capacity to produce it."

The report said that a scholar characterised this as India's "proliferation drift, the slow but sure moves towards the development of nuclear weapons."

1968: USA rattled

Srinivas Laxman, Dec 11, 2022: The Times of India

MUMBAI: Canadian nuclear inspectors visiting the Canada-India Reactor (CIR) at Trombay in Mumbai in June 1968 were “unsettled” by data suggesting that India was heading towards the “development of a nuclear device”, triggering strong US reaction and fears of an arms race.

As per declassified documents in Washington, the Canadians later told US diplomats that the reactor fuel had been irradiated at a level low enough to produce “weapons grade plutonium” and that, if India was seeking to produce plutonium, the reactor could generate up to 12kg a year.

The documents obtained by the US National Security Archive shed light on US policy in the early years of India’s nuclear programme, before its first nuclear test in May 1974. These secret papers said India’s top nuclear officials posed a significant challenge to US non-proliferation policy when they insisted that they could freely use plutonium produced in their reactors for a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE).

Accordingly, a November 1970 US demarche to the Indian government said the “use of plutonium produced pursuant to US-Indian civil agreements for the manufacture of…PNE devices would be incompatible with such agreements and … we would object most strongly to such use.” In reply, Indian officials declared that they did not intend to develop nuclear weapons, but they had wide scope to use nuclear technology “for any peaceful purposes and to undertake whatever development is required for this”.

The documents said: “A recently declassified June 1974 Interagency Intelligence Memorandum acknowledged that Washington had no evidence of Indian nuclear decision-making. But estimated that Indian policymakers had several major choices before them.”

“One was continuing nuclear development for peaceful uses, with no military purposes. If India made such a choice, technology developed for PNE would be eminently suited for application to nuclear weapons developments should the decision be made.”

The scientists

Bhabha, Ramanna, Sethna ¬India's nuclear trio

The Times of India, Jun 27 2016

Who controls the world's nuclear energy resources?

Unlike other minerals, uranium, the main fuel for nuclear reactors, is not freely traded. The technology of building nuclear reactors is closely guarded by a voluntary association of 46 countries called the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which follows certain guidelines for supplying uranium as well as the technology to make nuclear reactors. Its policies are determined mainly by the industrialised countries and many in the developing world criticise it for not letting them have access to an energy source that can help them meet their growing energy demand.

Since when is India trying to harness nuclear energy?

After completing his PhD in nuclear physics from Cambridge University, Homi Jehangir Bhabha returned to India in 1939 when the Second World War started. He became instrumental in convincing Jawaharlal Nehru to start India's own nuclear energy programme. Under Bhabha, the Department of Atomic Energy was formed in the 1950s and was later joined by Raja Ramanna and Homi Sethna. The trio is credited with spearheading India's nuclear energy programme.

What was the Atom for Peace programme?

Apart from the fear of proliferation of nuclear weapons, there was also a huge commercial interest in nuclear energy . Experts say that under pressure from the industry , the American government started its Atom for Peace programme and enacted the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which provided American industries wider access to the government's nuclear technology . The programme is often seen as an American attempt to dominate the world nuclear market. Following the Act, there was a UN conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy presided over by Bhabha. Under this programme, the US agreed to sell India heavy water for a reactor that was to be provided by Canada with the stipulation that it would be only for peaceful use.

Why didn't India sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty when it was getting technology for peaceful use of nuclear power?

In the midst of the Atom for Peace programme, when some countries were provided nuclear reactors, many countries including the UK, France and China were testing atom bombs.

Following the French test in 1961, an Irish resolution for international agree ment to refrain from trans fer or acquisition of nuclear weapons was unanimously passed by the UN. The negotia ions started in 1965 and later a clause was included that only those states that had exploded a nuclear device prior to January 1, 1967 would be recognised as nuclear weapons states. This meant China's inclusion and India's exclusion. Signing a treaty against nuclear tests without the complete disarmament of other nuclear powers was rejected by India and many other countries.

What became the trigger for the formation of NSG?

After India's defeat in the war with China, public opinion started building for India to conduct its nuclear test as a deterrent for China's future aggression. In 1964, China too joined the elite club of nuclear states by testing an atom bomb and Bhabha started aggressive lobbying for Indian nuclear weapons, giving radio speeches and so on. Bhabha died in a plane crash in 1966 and the programme was taken forward by Ramanna and Sethna. On May 18, 1974, India carried out an underground nuclear explosion in Pokhran in Rajasthan. A research reactor, CIRUS, which was supplied by Canada, was used as the source of plutonium.This incident became the trigger for the formation of the NSG.This is seen as the first incident when a weapon was manufactured by using material diverted from a civilian nuclear programme, but it wasn't the first example of intentional or unintentional help of a nuclear state to a non-nuclear country in making the weapon. It is alleged that the US aided UK's weapon programme, the Soviets helped the Chinese and Israel was helped by the French. India never acknowledged that the 1974 tests were for a nuclear bomb and the peaceful use cause was violated. It was said that the test was done to check the possible use of nuclear explosives in mining and earth moving operations.

Why didn't India sign the NPT after the 1998 nuclear test?

After the 1998 tests, when India acknowledged testing nuclear bombs and was followed by Pakistan, the UN Security council offered both India and Pakistan the option of becoming stateparties to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. This was not accepted. Experts believe a possible solution could be giving the status of nuclear weapon state to India to pit it at par with China, which is not possible under the present act. China and other countries recently blocked India's bid to join the NSG on the ground of it being a non-signatory of NPT.

Ballistic Missiles

Hague Code of Conduct against proliferation signed: 2016

The Times of India, Jun 03 2016

India inks Hague missile code, says won't impact national security

India announced it has joined the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC), adding that the decision would not in any way compromise its national security interests. The foreign ministry said it had notified the HCoC Central Contact in Vienna through diplomatic channels.

Established in 2002, the HCoC is a voluntary , legally non-binding international confidence building and transparency measure that seeks to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

The decision to join HCoC comes just ahead of PM Narendra Modi's visit to the US and also the plenary session of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) this month where India's application for membership will come up for consideration. There are several nations in NSG who believe India joining the group, which controls nuclear commerce, could weaken the international non proliferation regime as India has not signed the Non-Pro liferation Treaty(NPT).

“India's joining the Code signals our readiness to further strengthen global non-proliferation objectives,“ said the government in a press release.

Close to 140 nations have joined HCoC. China and Pakistan though are not among these. When asked if India's joining HCoC will effectively mean that the country has to shelve its Agni missile programme, foreign ministry spokesperson said, “Our national security interest will not be impacted in any manner, whatsoever, by joining HCoC“.

Swarup also said that Indi a's bid to enter the Missile Technology Control Regime was “on track“ and the process to grant the membership was expected to be completed soon.

As part of his upcoming five-nation tour, PM Modi will also visit Switzerland and Mexico, both members of NSG. Modi will try and enlist support from these countries ahead of the NSG plenary . The NSG operates on the basis of consensus and it is important for India to ensure their support and help New Delhi isolate China which has opposed India's bid on the ground that India hasn't signed NPT.

Switzerland has always been extremely committed to strengthening all non proliferation regimes, particularly NPT. It had reservations about NSG giving India a “clean waiver“ in 2008 to carry out nuclear commerce but finally supported India.

Nuclear power

2013-17, capacities of nuclear power plants in India

The Times of India, December 15, 2016

See graphic

Nuclear plant plants in India, and supply of uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan and Canada to India, 2013-17; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, December 15, 2016

2016: Capacity 6,000MW; Kudankulam II operational

The Times of India, Sep 01 2016

Sivakumar B

India powers past 6,000MW mark in nuclear energy

With synchronisation of the second unit of the Kudankulam power plant, India's civil nuclear programme has reached a couple of landmarks: the Kudankulam project turned a page on protests and a legal challenge over its safety parameters in the Supreme Court, and India crossed the 6,000MW mark in nuclear power. Once the output of Unit II is scaled up to a full 1,000MW in two months, India's 22 nuclear power reactors will be able to generate 6,780MW of power and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) expects four more reactors to be commissioned in a year. Unit II is functioning smoothly as scientists seem to have incorporated the right lessons from hitches that marred Unit I's functioning after attaining criticality in 2013.

The two 1,000MW nuclear units built with Russian assistance have made Tamil Nadu the highest consumer of nuclear power on a daily basis.Kudankulam I and II are also the last nuclear units in India built with foreign collaboration that will not attract the liability clause legislated after the India-US nuclear deal.

NPCIL engineers learnt bitter lessons while commissioning Unit I. The reactor has been in continuous operation only since February 2016. Protests in 2011-12 by anti-nuclear activists delayed the project by months when it was over 90% ready , but not much is known of the pro blems it faced later. The Unit I has been operating continuously for 189 days since February 22 and has generated 11,269 million units of electricity since October 2013.

But NPCIL did its homework and made changes to Unit II. “We carried out all changes effected to Unit I on Unit II. This made the commissioning of the second unit easier,“ Kudankulam project site director R S Sundar told TOI. In the near future -around six months to a year -two indigenous reactors each in Rajasthan and Kakrapar in Gujarat should be ready . “Beyond Kudankulam, Nuclear Power Corporation is hopeful of commissioning the four reactors in a year. These reactors are built by NPCIL engineers and each has a capacity of 700MW,“ Sundar said.

Not all of India's 22 nuclear reactors are functioning to full capacity . “A total of 14 reactors are under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Only these reactors are eligible to use imported nuclear fuel and are currently operational. The plant load factor (PLF) of these reactors is around 90%,“ a former Atomic Energy Commission chief said.

The PLF of reactors using indigenous fuel is less.For example, the PLF of two units of 220MW capacity in Kalpakkam is around 6570% as there is a shortage of nuclear fuel in the country .

“As we synchronised Unit-2 with the grid on August 29, the total nuclear power generation in the country on that day was 5100MW.This is a new high for nuclear power generation. As on date, Unit-2 is generating 270MW and we will be scaling up the generation in the coming days,“ said Sundar.

Rising dependence (from a low base)

See graphic.

Nuclear energy as % of total electricity, 2016; Annual increase, 2005-16; The Times of India, June 9, 2017

Kalpakkam Plant

India , Waste not, want not “India Today” 15/12/2016

Nuclear power is a complicated science. It's an even harder discipline in practice, not least because of how difficult it is to obtain and refine nuclear fuels. This difficulty is so great that often 'spent' nuclear fuel-that is, radioactive material such as uranium, which is no longer suitable for use in power plants-is 'reprocessed' so that it can be used in related activities (for example, in constructing a nuclear weapon). With that in mind, Kalpakkam, about 80 km south of Chennai, is home to a comprehensive nuclear power plant, including facilities for power production and waste treatment-and in 1998, a fuel reprocessing Plant was commissioned at that site. Currently, the Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing Plant is one of three major nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities in the country. With a 100 tonne per annum capacity, the plant uses spent fuel from two pressurised heavy water reactors at the Madras Atomic Power Station, as well as from the fast breeder test reactor on site. The plant makes use of a plutonium-uranium extraction process known as PUREX, and is also capable of processing laboratory-scale amounts of plutonium-uranium carbide fuel. The plutonium that is reprocessed is then used either in India's other atomic facilities, or in constructing nuclear weapons.

Indigenous 700 Mwe plant/ 2023

Surendra Singh, Sep 1, 2023: The Times of India

New Delhi : In a boost to India’s civil nuclear power production, India’s first indigenously developed 700 MWe nuclear power reactor at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project in Gujarat has started operations at full capacity.

Hailing the project, PM Narendra Modi through the social media platform X, stated, “India achieves another milestone. The largest indigenous 700 MWe Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant Unit-3 in Gujarat starts operations at full capacity. Congratulations to our scientists and engineers.”
 The reactor at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP) had started commercial operations on June 30 but was operating at 90% of its capacity till now.

Public sector undertaking Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited is building two 700 MW pressurised heavy water reactors at Kakrapar, which is also home to two 220 MW power plants. Various commissioning activities were under way at KAPP 4, which had achieved 97.56% progress by July, according toofficials.

Nuclear triad

First indigenous nuclear submarine: INS Arihant

Rajat Pandit, N-sub completes patrol, country’s N-triad operational, November 7, 2018: The Times of India

Nuclear triad- India;
India's first indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, had just successfully completed its “first deterrence patrol”- 2018
From: Rajat Pandit, N-sub completes patrol, country’s N-triad operational, November 7, 2018: The Times of India

India’s longawaited nuclear triad, or the capability to fire nuclear weapons from land, air and sea, is now finally operational almost five decades after it was first conceived for credible strategic deterrence and 20 years after the Pokhran-II tests.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the country’s first indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, had just successfully completed its “first deterrence patrol”, which signifies the underwater predator has undertaken its maiden long-range mission with “live” nuclear-tipped missiles.

“In an era such as this, a credible nuclear deterrence is the need of the hour. The success of INS Arihant gives a fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail,” the PM tweeted in a fairly unambiguous message to arch-rival Pakistan.

INS Arighat, 2nd N-sub, to become operational by 2020

The over a month-long patrol by INS Arihant (which means annihilator of enemies), armed with the 750-km range K-15 missiles, incidentally, comes at a time when a Chinese submarine is once again prowling around in the IOR. China has deployed at least eight submarines, alternating between nuclear and conventional diesel-electric boats, in the IOR under the guise of anti-piracy patrols since 2013.

While INS Arihant’s missiles are dwarfed by the well over 5,000-km range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) present with the US, Russia and China, PM Modi had Pakistan in mind when he said the nuclear submarine is a counter to nuclear blackmail. India for long has had the land-based Agni missiles, with the over 5,000-km Agni-V ICBM now in the process of being inducted, and fighter jets jury-rigged to deliver nukes. But INS Arihant gives it much more nuclear teeth. The triad’s underwater leg in the shape of nuclear-powered submarines armed with ballistic missiles, called SSBNs in naval parlance, is considered to be the most secure, survivable and potent platform for retaliatory strikes.

This is especially required for a country like India with a declared “no first-use” nuclear policy. SSBNs can remain undetected in deep seas for months. INS Arighat, the second SSBN under-construction at the ship-building centre at Vizag, was “launched” last year and is slated to become operational by 2020. It will be followed by the launch of two 7,000-tonne submarines codenamed S-4 and S-4*, which will be armed with six missiles each, by 2020-2022.


1956: Apsara

Srinivas Laxman, TNN, August 7, 2023: The Times of India

The Apsara reactor became critical on August 4, 1956, ushering in the nuclear era for not only India, but Asia as well
From: Srinivas Laxman, TNN, August 7, 2023: The Times of India

Mumbai : Globally, it could be the first of its kind — a nuclear reactor being converted into a museum for the public.

The reactor is Apsara at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay, which became critical 67 years ago at 3.45pm on August 4, 1956, ushering in the nuclear era for not only India, but Asia as well. It was dedicated to the nation by Jawaharlal Nehru on January 20, 1957. The one megawatt reactor was shut down in 2009 for refurbishment and restarted on September 10, 2018, as Apsara U. Scientists used it for basic research in the fields of nuclear physics, medical application, material science and radiation shielding.

Apsara U was decommissioned a few years later. The museum project has been on the cards for quite some time.

In India vis-à-vis the world


Operational nuclear Reactors in Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Russia, S. Korea, the UK, Ukraine and the USA, as in 2021
From: Oct 6, 2021: The Times of India

See graphic:

Operational nuclear Reactors in Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Russia, S. Korea, the UK, Ukraine and the USA, as in 2021.

Threats, attacks

2019: North Korean hackers attack Kudankulam and more

Anam Ajmal & Surendra Singh, Nov 5, 2019: The Times of India

A non-profit intelligence organisation in South Korea has shared “evidence” online claiming that the malware attack on the administrative network of Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) was done from North Korea.

Issue Makers Lab (IML) also claimed that the North Korean hackers targeted several top Indian nuclear scientists, including former Atomic Energy Commission chairman and ex-BARC director Anil Kakodkar and former chief of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board S A Bhardwaj through “malware-laced’ emails. “Through them, hackers can contact anyone in India’s nuclear energy sector with trusted relationship,” the Seoulbased group said.

The group also said that “one of the hackers is using a North Korean self-branded computer produced and used only in the North Korea. And the IP used by one of the hackers was from Pyongyang.,” it wrote. IML seems to suggest that the purpose of the malware attack was “espionage”. “North Korea has been interested in the thorium-based nuclear power, (sic) which to replace the uranium nuclear power. India is a leader in thorium nuclear power technology. Since last year, North Korean hackers have continuously attempted to attack to obtain that information,” IML tweeted.

“Considering the sensitivity of the matter, we will first check the veracity of such tweets and will then respond,” Department of Atomic Energy spokesperson Ravi Shankar told TOI.

IML founder Simon Choi told TOI that they will talk about the findings soon at a security conference. “We have been monitoring North Korean hackers since 2008. We were watching the hacker that made the attack,” he said.

North Korea’s Kimsuky Group attempted to steal information on the latest design of advanced heavy water reactor, an Indian design for a next-generation nuclear reactor that burns thorium into the fuel core, IML had tweeted in April. Given India’s vast resources of thorium, a successful development of AHWR technology could significantly alter the potential of civil nuclear power in India. Union minister for atomic energy Jitendra Singh had earlier told Lok Sabha that AHWR technology will be functional by the 2020s.

The intelligence group has been making revelations about the North Korean hackers through a series of tweets since October 31, just a day after the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) confirmed “the identification of malware in NPCIL system is correct”. NPCIL, in an official statement issued October 30, said the matter was investigated by the DAE.

“There are generally two networks in such facilities, one for regular use and one for nuclear equipment. These two networks are completely segregated. It appears like the administrative IT network or the domain controller was compromised. It does not mean that the reactor is impacted,” said cybersecurity expert Pukhraj Singh, one of the first to raise concern about the cyber attack at KNPP.

According to IML, their analysis reveals that there were multiple hackers, including “hacker group B”, which uses a 16-digit password – dkwero38oerA^t@# – to compress a list of files on an infected PC. They have used the same password for multiple attacks since 2007, it wrote. One of the attackers also included a group that infiltrated the South Korean military’s internal network in 2016 and stole classified information, it added.

Singh told TOI that the purpose of the malware appeared to be information theft, but the same modus operandi could have been used to deploy a destructive wiper, the purpose of which, he added, is to wipe out the content of a hard drive it infects.

“THIS IS IT. The espionage toolchain linked to a destructive wiper. The intrusions weren’t destructive because the actor decided against it. We were at its mercy. It’s not about airgaps or how awesomely safe reactors are, it’s about the complete absence of a deterrence strategy,” he wrote on Twitter, while quoting a tweet from IML that analyses the malware used to make the attack on KNPP.

See also

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and India

Wassenar Arrangement and India

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