20 years of Pokhran: The story of India’s nuclear statehood

NEW DELHI: On May 11 and 13, 1998, India conducted five nuclear tests at the Pokhran range in Rajasthan. The first three detonations were pulled off simultaneously at 3:45 pm on May 11. These included a 45 kT thermonuclear device, a 15kt fission device and a 0.2 kt sub-kiloton (which is less than a kiloton) device. The two nuclear devices, belonging to the sub-kiloton range, 0.5 kT and 0.3 kT, went off simultaneously on May 13.

Since it was an unprecedented taste of power, this test created multiple problems for India later. The test was carried out in secrecy after the then-foreign secretary K Raghunath told the US that India didn’t have any intention of testing a nuclear device but later, carried out five nuclear tests. It ended up as one of the biggest challenge Indian foreign policy faced in a long time.

India wanted to bridge the trust gap with the US after this act as the US immediately suspended foreign secretary-level talks with India and put more than 200 Indian entities under the sanctions list. The list included not only the facilities of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and entities of Department of Space, but also a clutch of private sector firms that had worked for them.

The west viewed the tests as India illegally trying to get itself into the nuclear club which they took as a hint of South Asia trying to become a nuclear flashpoint. Post the nuclear deal, pursual on part of the Indian government got India a seat at the nuclear high table. India did not even have to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The tests also lead India getting a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group which is a group of countries that deals with trade in nuclear technology and fissile materials. India finally got an NSG waiver on September 2008. This tests lifted an over three-decade, US-led world embargo on civilian nuclear cooperation with India, earning India the right to trade for civilian nuclear fuel and technology.

The right to trade for civilian nuclear fuel and technology was expected to give a boost to nuclear power in India. During that time, India’s 22 nuclear plants were operating at under 40% capacity. However, India subsequently started signing deals with foreign countries to start nuclear parks in the country. It signed agreements with Russia, France and the US. Except with the Russians, the other plans ran into a host of issues ranging from land acquisition to liability.

“The share of nuclear power in the total electricity generated in the country in the year 2016-17 was a mere 3.05%. According to the data from Department of Atomic Energy, the present installed nuclear capacity is 6780 MW and it will reach 13480 MW by the year 2024 with the completion of projects under construction,” Hindustan Times mentions in its report.

In June 2017, the Government gave administrative approval and financial sanction for 12 more reactors with a total capacity of 9000 MW that. The reactors are scheduled to be completed progressively by 2031.  The total nuclear power capacity is expected to reach 22480 MW by the year 2031.

Ankita Desai
About Ankita Desai (107 Articles)
A budding researcher, Ankita is a Maitreyi College alumna with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. Socio-political aspects of the society hold her special interest, apart from the events happening all across the globe. Whether it’s politics, economy or women’s issues, Ankita is adept at expressing her views in an unapologetic manner. When she’s not busy with voicing her opinion, she loves traveling and capturing memories through her camera.

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