Fast Breeding Reactors Bandwagon is Reinventing the Wheel
Special to South Asia Tribune
India, September 7: The first country in Asia -- much before China,
Korea, or Japan -- to mount an ambitious nuclear program was India,
and this is no mythological braggadocio often resorted to by Indians
about any scientific advancement.
India’s nuclear program was first conceived as early as
in the late 1950s, it was intended for harnessing the power of
the atom exclusively for peaceful applications. Jawaharlal Nehru,
the first Prime Minister who saw projects aimed at bringing prosperity
to downtrodden masses as “modern temples”, dreamt
of creating thousands of Indian technocrats. He visualized they
would help build atomic power stations not just in India but in
several poor countries of Asia and Africa to accelerate their
development. That was indeed a possibility and not just a pipe
Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, architects of India’s nuclear
program, were aggressive peaceniks, and like Nehru, were firmly
opposed to a repeat of Hiroshima or Nagasaki anywhere on the earth.
Sarabhai had formulated the mission of the program as "availability
of abundant quantum of energy that would be too cheap to meter."
enlisted the support of the US to build the first light water
reactor at Tarapur and of Canada to develop the technology for
heavy water reactors. India readily gave a solemn sovereign commitment
to Canada, a country that firmly stands committed to nonproliferation
despite its significant capabilities in nuclear technology, to
never divert fissile material for weapons proliferation.
was well till Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi
was made the Prime Minister of the country by toadies in Nehru’s
Congress Party two years after his death. She had streaks of dictatorial
ambitions and when she was unseated from the Parliament for corrupt
electoral practices by the Allahabad High Court, she declared
a state of emergency and incarcerated thousands of people opposed
to her usurping unbridled powers. The tyrant eventually fell victim
to an assassin’s bullets.
wanted to become a Durga, Hindu goddess of power, in
the eyes of the gullible masses of India by blasting an "Atom
Bomb". Raja Ramanna, who was Atomic Energy Commission Chief
during her tenure, did not have much qualms about hijacking the
program conceived for public good to benefit the individual. He
connived in her plan and conducted a crude nuclear test.
blast in 1974 at Pokhran utilized fissile material illegitimately
diverted from Canada-supplied research reactors. New Delhi mandarins
attempted to explain away the misadventure as "peaceful underground
nuclear implosion", a contradiction of terms. This betrayal
earned Ramanna a junior ministership in Indira’s government,
but cut India off from international cooperation in the field.
For, the country had earned a pariah status as Canada walked out
The atmosphere in Department of
Atomic Energy (DAE) has remained extremely hush hush and secretive
ever since the 1974 blast. Decades of isolationism has erected
a thick veil of mystery around goings on in DAE. The financial
and other affairs of DAE are beyond the scrutiny of statutory
comptrolling and auditing authorities under the constitution,
the judiciary, and even the Parliament.
the Kafkaesque secretiveness of DAE thrives a deadly Mafioso that
siphons off the huge funds to vanishing entities. Rampant nepotism
plagues the establishment, which breeds corrupt bandicoots on
a mass scale. As a result, hundreds of technologists and scientists
attracted to the establishment in the hope of achieving something
great languish as desk-bound babus (clerks). Bright brains
are forced to grope in darkness, sans any meaningful support for
advancing the technology.
Just when the damage done by the
1974 misadventure by Indira Gandhi was about to be condoned by
the world in appreciation of the country’s restraint in
not conducting further nuclear tests, there occurred another setback
1998. Any possibility of meaningful cooperation in the wake of
economic reforms was scuttled by the Mafia, which saw in transparency
and globalization a grave threat to its grip. Another proliferation
misadventure was forced on the tottering coalition government
ruling New Delhi to sabotage any meaningful reform in the sector.
The AEC Chief Dr. R Chidambaram tendered an "advice"
to the government that fresh nuclear tests had become necessary
in strategic security interests.
blast gave the excuse to neighboring Pakistan for conducting a
nuclear test as well, widely believed to be with generous help
from China. This fueled an alarming nuclear arms race in the subcontinent
and nullified the natural advantage of strategic depth that India
possessed in conventional warfare.
also brought back to the center stage the dispute over the territory
of Kashmir, which had been put on the back burner. Kashmir has
been the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan ever
since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and they had fought
three conventional wars. The world became scared over the bitter
feud between two currently nuclear-armed belligerents.
was forced to go back on its contention of Kashmir being “an
integral and inalienable part of India” and to allow free
movement of its citizens to areas under the protection of Pakistan
and vice versa. Most likely, this is to be followed by complete
autonomy to the region and eventual secession.
In 2005, as Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh negotiated with the US the opening up of the nuclear power
industry to international cooperation and competition, the nuclear
Mafia has managed to enlist the support of opportunist politicians
to thwart the PM’s initiative. These include gangs of unscrupulous
elements who run a posse of Communist Parties advocating economic
fundamentalism as proprietary fiefdoms as well as ethnic fundamentalists
who want to turn the clock back and return to be a caste-ridden
prehistoric society practicing apartheid. They get their ammunition
from highly educated and suave scientists of DAE.
conceding that their futile attempts at reinventing wheels with
regard to various types of reactors have turned DAE into a grand
flop show, the mandarins have lately climbed on to the Fast Breeder
brag about being close achieving a breakthrough in developing
reactors capable of utilizing India’s vast reserves of thorium
metal. They want that unlimited budgets be continued and international
vigil be avoided so that they can develop Fast Breeder Reactors
to a retired DAE mandarin, "Since FBRs will be the mainstay
of India's nuclear power program for some time, and since there
is a lot to be established for the first time and improved upon
to achieve a level of maturity required to make it a success,
bringing in safeguards at this stage just because they are civil
nuclear facilities will seriously hamper our efforts and cut into
our freedom to pursue the development of this program."
tragedy with India is that there are any number of takers for
such stupid nonsense among those who fancy themselves to be educated
intellectuals and patriots. Incidentally, no country in the world
has so far succeeded in developing Fast Breeders commercially,
and the only commercial FBR, the Super Phoenix, has been abandoned
by France in the wake of public outcry!
writer is featured in the Directory of Experts in Technology Acquisition
compiled in 1990 by Dept of S&T, New Delhi. He chose to abandon
his flourishing venture specializing in the development of components
for nuclear and aerospace applications protesting against irresponsible
environmental practices and WMD proliferation.