Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pokhran II: Nailing the lie

Since this is an archival blog of my writings in the newspaper I am working for, I don't normally post articles from elsewhere. But since so much controversy was generated over the article on the failure of the thermonuclear bomb that I am posting this article by K. Santhanam and Ashok Parthasarthy that appeared in The Hindu today. Santhanam was, of course, the field director of the Pokhran tests. He is a nuclear scientist who began his career at the BARC and was then sent to work in a secret organisation to track Pakistan's nuclear activities. Thereafter he surfaced in DRDO from where he coordinated India's nuclear programme from the early 1980s till Pokhran II.
Several inaccuracies in the claims made by BARC and in the articles published in the press, including The Hindu, on Pokhran-II need to be corrected. We have hard evidence on a purely factual basis, to inform the nation that not only was the yield of the second fusion (H-bomb) stage of the thermonuclear (TN) device tested in May 1998 was not only far below the design prediction made by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), but that it actually failed. Read the article


Anonymous said...

But this wont shut people up. Santhanams detractors are now going to town saying that Santhanma should be tried under OSA. talk about sorelosers...

manoj joshi said...

Santhanam is a clever man. Nothing he has said is liable to get him under OSA.

maverick said...

Dear Manoj,

I doubt the OSA will be used against Sri. Santhanam.

Firstly - there is no new information in the paper by Sri. Santhanam and Sri. Parthasarthy. A number of 25 +- 2 kT has presented for the seismic estimate. The exact source of this is not mentioned. It is left to the reader to assume that this information is from DRDO's close in measurements. The lack of a shaft collapse and the "A-frame" not falling is unverifiable. There is no A-frame in the photo you have posted. Also the tower used to lower stuff into the fission only device shaft appears to be intact in the available photos so clearly the nature of surface disturbance caused right above the shaft isn't trivially correlated to the yeild.

No data is presented at all in the article. An unsupported aspersion is cast on the radiochemical analysis from BARC for the 1974 explosion and then that allegation is used tar the radiochemical analysis from the 1998 tests.

The article itself makes claims that are incorrect like globally the geology doesn't change between two points that are that closely spaced. The inaccurate nature of this sweeping claim can be evidenced by a simple interview with someone in the oil drilling industry.

In general - neither Dr. Santhanam nor Sri. Parthasarthy are career seismologists - so neither can offer insight into the *accuracy* of such measurments. I also find the claim of a 10% error bar on the 25kT estimate of the yeild very curious.

The article however represents a cogent and direct attack on the DAE leadership specifically Dr. Chidambaram.

The authors make no viable prescription to protect sensitive design information in their verification scheme. Neither do the shed light on how any verification scheme will succeed if the scientists themselves are not to be trusted.

The authors use their inaccessible personal service records in Kao-era RAW operations to bolster their claims which frankly is not very scientific.

Forgive me - but - all this ends up looking like is a very badly run smear operation.

Dr N K Srinivasan said...

Dear Manoj,
It is clear that the instrumentation/seismic studies have not been carefully conducted for the quick work of Pokhran II....It is not easy to develop instruemtns to measure the nuclear blasts at close distances of a few kilometers.How much data on radioactive measuremtns of debris Santhanam has seen or had access to ,I do not know...These measurements are better and more accurate method of measuring or estimate yield than seismic or instrumentation...this is my considered view...Most probably Santhanam is jumping to conclusion on limited data...How did he arrive at 25kT estimate?.....If it was 25kT, why no crater according to him!
In any case, Santhanam should not go public on these but discuss with def minster/PM only..