Pokharan-II refers to test explosions of fivenuclear devices, three on 11 May and two on 13 May 1998, conducted by India at thePokhran test range. These nuclear tests resulted in a variety of sanctions against India by a number of major states.
On 18 May 1974, India exploded its first nuclear device code named Operation Smiling Buddha. After about a quarter century, on 11 May 1998, Operation Shakti was carried out. Shakti was the codename of a thermonuclear device that was exploded in Pokhran as part of Pokhran-II.
The word Shakti (Hindi:शक्ति) means Strength in Sanskrit. The Operation Shaktiwas the codename of a thermonuclear device that was exploded in Pokhran Test Range in May 11.
Development and test teams
The main technical personnel involved in the operation were:
Project Chief Coordinators
- Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (later, President of India), Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Head of the DRDO.
- Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Atomic energy.
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC)
- Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Director of BARC.
- Dr. Satinder Kumar Sikka, Director; Thermonuclear Weapon Development.
- Dr. M.S. Ramkumar, Director of Nuclear Fuel and Automation Manufacturing Group; Director, Nuclear Component Manufacture.
- Dr. D.D. Sood, Director of Radiochemistry and Isotope Group; Director, Nuclear Materials Acquisition.
- Dr. S.K. Gupta, Solid State Physics and Spectroscopy Group; Director, Device Design & Assessment.
- Dr. G. Govindraj, Associate Director of Electronic and Instrumentation Group; Director, Field Instrumentation.
Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO)
- Dr. K. Santhanam; Director, Test Site Preparations.
- Dr. M.Vasudev; Range Safety Officer.
A total of five nuclear weapons were detonated during Operation Shakti. They were:
A two stage thermonuclear device with a boosted fission primary, its yield was downgraded from 200 kt (theoretical) to 40 kt for test purposes.
A pure fission device using the Plutonium implosion design with a yield of 15 kt. The device tested was an actual nuclear warhead that can be delivered by bombers or fighters and also mounted on a missile. The warhead was an improved, lightweight and miniaturized version of the device tested in 1974. Scientists at BARC had been working to improve the 1974 design for many years. Data from the 1974 test was used to carry out computer simulations using the indigenousPARAM supercomputer to improve the design. The 1998 test was intended to prove the validity of the improved designs.
An experimental boosted fission device that used reactor grade Plutonium for its primary with a yield of 0.3 kt. This test device was used to test only the primary stage. It did not contain any tritium required to boost the fission. This test was designed to study the possibility of using reactor grade plutonium in warheads and also to prove India’s expertise in controlling and damping a nuclear explosion in order to achieve a low (sub-kiloton) yield.
A 0.5 kt experimental device. The test’s only purpose was to collect data about the explosion process and to study the performance of various bomb components.
A 0.2 kt experimental device that used U-233, an isotope of uranium that is not found in nature but is produced in India’s fast breeder reactors that consume Thorium. This device too was used to collect data.
Reactions to the tests
The reactions from abroad started immediately after the tests were advertised. The United Nations issued a statement expressing its disappointment. On June 6, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1172 condemning the test and that of Pakistan’s. The United States issued a strong statement condemning India and promised that sanctions would follow. The American establishment was embarrassed as there had been a serious intelligence failure in detecting the preparations for the test. Canada, which had earlier supplied the CIRUS nuclear reactor to India which was the source of plutonium for the 1974 tests, reassured the world that the CIRUS reactor was not in any way connected to the 1998 tests. China issued a vociferous condemnation calling upon the international community to exert pressure on India to sign the NPT and eliminate its nuclear arsenal. With India joining the group of countries possessing nuclear weapons, a new strategic dimension had emerged in Asia, particularly South Asia.
Support for India
However, other nuclear powers, such as Israel, France and Russia, refrained from condemning India.
Israel issued a statement ‘praising’ India’s tests and declaring that India’s reasons for carrying out nuclear tests were the same as Israel’s.
The most vehement reaction to India’s nuclear test was Pakistan’s. Great ire was raised in Pakistan, which issued a severe statement blaming India for instigating a nuclear arms race in the region. Pakistan Prime Minister Navaz Sharif vowed that his country would give a suitable reply to the Indians. The day after the first tests, Pakistan Minister of Foreign Affairs Captain (retired) Gohar Ayub Khan indicated that Pakistan was ready to conduct a nuclear test of its own. As he said: “[Pakistan] is prepared to match India, we have the capability … We in Pakistan will maintain a balance with India in all fields”, he said in an interview. “We are in a headlong arms race on the subcontinent.”
Prime Minister Navaz Sharif was much more subdued, refusing to say whether a test would be conducted in response: “We are watching the situation and we will take appropriate action with regard to our security“, he said. Sharif sought to mobilize the entire Islamic world in support of Pakistan and criticized India for nuclear proliferation.
Given authorization by Prime minister Navaz Sharif, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) carried out nuclear testing under the codename Chagai-I on May 28, 1998 and Chagai-II on May 30, 1998. These six underground nuclear tests at the Chagai and Kharan test site were conducted just fifteen days after India’s last test. The total yield of the tests were reported to be 40 kt (see codename: Chagai-I).
Pakistan’s subsequent tests invited similar condemnations from multiple nations ranging from Argentina to Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. American president Bill Clinton was quoted as saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right”, criticizing Pakistan’s tests as reactionary to India’s Pokhran-II. The United States, Japan, and a number of other states reacted by imposing economic sanctions on Pakistan.
Pakistan’s leading nuclear physicist and one of the top scientists, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, held India responsible for Pakistan’s nuclear test experiments in Chagai.
May 11 has been officially declared as National Technology Day in India to commemorate the first of the five tests that were carried out on May 11, 1998. The day was officially signed by the then Prime Minister of India. The day is celebrated by giving awards to various individuals and industries in the field of science and industry.