Thursday, December 15, 2011

India's Nuclear Weapons Program: Present Capabilities

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's statment in the wake of Operation Shakti, the five shot nuclear test series held on 11 and 13 May 1998, dispels any reasonable doubt or ambiguity regarding the reality of India's nuclear arsenal and its ongoing weapons programs. A considerable quantity of information, once closely held, has come out since those tests that not only confirms these capabilities but recounts their development in some detail (see the various historical pages accessible through the "previous" button in the header of this web page).

Historical Summary of Arsenal Development

Although India first tested a nuclear explosive in 1974 (euphemistically called the PNE, for "peaceful nuclear explosive") it did not become a nuclear weapons state - in the sense of having the ability to deliver nuclear weapons until 1986-88 when, according to Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj author of The Armageddon Factor, a rudimentary delivery system was in place [Indian Express, 18 June 2000]. This presumably refers to a developmental delivery system based on the Mirage 2000 that began development in 1986, after an attempt to integrate a DRDO developed nuclear bomb with the Jaguar fighter-bomber failed. This system provided India with a usable but limited nuclear weapons capability, but the weapon system did not actually enter service until it passed a full field drop test in May 1994 at Balasore, though most observers thought that this milestone had been passed years before.
The US CIA testified before congress in 1993 that it did not believe that India maintains assembled or deployed nuclear weapons, although it believed India was producing weapon components. The CIA's HUMINT (human intelligence, as opposed to electronic intelligence) reggarding India's nuclear program is famously poor however (witness the U.S. intelligence communities surprise about the 1998 tests) so it cannot be accorded great weight; nonetheless it could be true that in 1993 India still had not taken the step of maintaining weapons in a ready-to-use state. There is a vague report though [Chengappa 2000; pg. 418] of "a few" weapons existing as early as the early 1980s. Chengappa relates that hardened concrete bunkers were built in the early 1980s at Mumbai to house India's weapons plutonium stocks, a few weapons. Gen Sundarji was shown these weapons in the mid-80s, an unusual step since the military chiefs of staff had not been briefed on India's nuclear capability even as late as 1990. These weapons may not have been kept fully assembled, but there is little doubt that India could have made them ready in a matter of hours (or days at the most).
India has several aircraft that are nominally considered "nuclear capable", the Mirage 2000, Mig-27, and the Jaguar. Due to the cost of integrating and qualifying an aircraft for nuclear delivery, and maintaining a cadre of specially trained pilots, it is unlikely that India would choose to deploy nuclear weapons on more than one or two aircraft types. Only the Mirage 2000 is known to have been qualified as a nuclear delivery platform, and the Jaguar is known to have been abandoned for nuclear weapons delivery due to technical problems. Thus it may be that the Mirage 2000 remains the sole air breathing nuclear weapon delivery system.
India has developed short and medium-range nuclear-capable missiles. These are the Prithvi (range 250 km, payload 500 kg), and the Agni-II (range 2500 km, payload 1000 kg).
The first operational capability of a missile deliverable nuclear warhead was probably soon after the official deployment of the Prithvi SS-250 missiles in September 1997, which occurred after the successful completion of integration and testing of the warhead and missile during 1996-97. Reportedly four nuclear armed Prithvis were deployed during the Kargil War in June 1999. Also during this war was the first deployment of the medium range Agni-II, apparently consisting of a single preproduction model. The Agni-II was not qualified for full production and deployment until after the second Agni-II test occurred on 17 January 2001 at 10:01 a.m. IST (Indian Standard Time) when it was tested in its final deployment configuration.
India reportedly is investigating development of an ICBM-class missile called Suriya.

Current Arsenal

There are no official figures for weapon stockpiles at any stage of development of India's arsenal. The only figures that can be offered are either explicit estimates made from considerations of India's probable ability to produce critical raw materials and considerations of likely production plans; or are unofficial statements of uncertain provenance and authenticity. To show the problems with figures of the latter sort we have only to look at the statement by K. Subrahmanyam, a leading strategic theorist, that by 1990 India had stockpiled at least two dozen unassembled weapons, versus the May 1998 estimate by G. Balachandran, an Indian nuclear researcher, that India had fewer than 10 weapons ready to be assembled and mounted on warplanes or missiles.
The types of weapons India is believed to have available for its arsenal include:
  • a pure fission plutonium bomb with a yield of 12 kt;
  • a fusion boosted fission bomb with a yield of 15-20 kt, made with weapon-grade ploutonium;
  • a fusion boosted fission bomb design, made with reactor-grade plutonium;
  • low yield pure fission plutonium bomb designs with yields from 0.1 kt to 1 kt;
  • a thermonuclear bomb design with a yield of 200-300 kt.
All of these types should be available based on the tests conducted during Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II). It may be possible to extrapolate significantly from these device classes however without further testing. There is reasonable doubt about whether the thermonuclear device actually performed as designed. Even if this so, it does not rule out the possiblity that sufficent test data was collected to field a successful design with reasonable confidence of good performance. Interest has been expressed in the development of a neutron bomb (a very low yield tactical thermonuclear device), but this would probably require additional testing to perfect. The most widely accepted estimates of India's plutonium production have been made by David Albright ([Albright et al 1997], [Albright 2000]). His most recent estimate (October 2000) was that by the end of 1999 India had available between 240 and 395 kg of weapon grade plutonium for weapons production, with a median value of 310 kg. He suggests that this is sufficient for 45 - 95 weapons (median estimate 65). The production of weapon grade plutonium has actually been greater, but about 130 kg of plutonium has been consumed - principally in fueling two plutonium reactors, but also in weapons tests. His estimate for India's holdings of less-than-weapons-grade plutonium (reactor or fuel grade plutonium) are 4200 kg of unsafeguarded plutonium (800 kg of this already separated) and 4100 kg of IAEA safeguarded plutonium (25 kg of this separated). This unsafeguarded quantity could be used to manufacture roughly 1000 nuclear weapons, if India so chose (which would give it the third largest arsenal in the world, behind only the U.S. and Russia).

Nuclear Force Planning

Nothing is publicly known about official Indian nuclear force planning, but assessments made by opinion leaders provide a context for judging the prevailing attitude in Indian government circles
India's first effort to formulate a nuclear policy and the determine the means needed to implement it was an informal but authoritative study group that was set up in November 1985 to answer queries by Rajiv Gandhi regarding defense planning. It encompassed the three services (Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Tahliani, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. K. Sundarji, Deputy Cheif of Air Staff John Greene), leaders of BARC (Ramanna), the DRDO (Abdul Kalam), and the AEC (Chidambaram), and India's most prominent strategic analyst K. Subrahmanyam. The outcome of the group's deliberations was to recommend building a minimum deterrent force with a strict no first use policy. The arsenal envisioned was 70 to 100 warheads at a cost of about $5.6 billion.
In 1994 K. Subrahmanyam suggested that a force of 60 warheads carried on 20 Agnis, 20 Prithvis and the rest on aircraft would cost about Rs 10 billion over 10 years. In 1996 Sundarji suggested a cost of some Rs 27.5 billion -- Rs 6 billion for 150 warheads, Rs 3.6 billion for 45 Prithvis and Rs 18 billion for 90 Agni missiles.

Delivery Systems


Length18.4 meters
Diameter1.3 meters
Weight16,000 kg
Range1500 km
StagesTwo stage, solid fuel (HTPB, hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene/oxidizer)
GuidanceStrap-down inertial; in-flight positioning update?
Payload1000 kg; Reentry vehicle has carbon-carbon composite heat shield;
Thermonuclear warhead (200-300 kt)?, fission/boosted fission warhead (>15 kt)?
"Agni" is Hindi for "fire" and is also the name of the Hindu deity of fire. There is some question as to the operational status of the Agni-I. For many years the Agni-I program has been described as a "technology demonstration", which was consistent with the design varaitions that were tried, and the employment of a solid/liquid fuel two stage design that would be undesirable for operational use. However in August 2000 the U.S. defense industry weekly Defense News quoted an unnamed senior scientist at DRDO as stating that India had 10 Agni-I missiles in service. He added that the unit cost of the Agni-I is about $5 million.


Agni before launch

Developed by the Defense Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) of Hyderabad. The first member of the Agni family was successfully launched on 22 May 1989 from the Chandipur test facility about 250 km southwest of Calcutta at Balasore. The two-stage missile impacted 800 km downrange in the Bay of Bengal. The Agni-I has been tested at a maximum range of 1400 km.
The Agni-I first stage was based on the Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) used in satellite launches since 1979. The first stage motor was 10 meters long and capable of delivering about 45 tons average thrust with a 50 second burn duration. The second stage was a shortened version of the two chamber liquid fuel motor from the Prithvi. Second stage
control was achieved through engine gimballing by its hydraulic actuation system.

Agni-I awaiting launch

Agni in flight
   Agni in flight 


Length20 meters
Diameter1.3 meters
Weight16,000 kg
Range2500 - 3000 km
StagesTwo stage, solid fuel (HTPB, hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene/oxidizer)
GuidanceStrap-down inertial; in-flight positioning update?
Payload1000 kg; Maneuverable reentry vehicle with carbon-carbon composite heat shield;
Thermonuclear warhead (200-300 kt)?, fission/boosted fission warhead (>15 kt)?

The medium range Agni-II system is the first true strategic missile (in the Indian context) deployed by India. The Agni-II is designed to be mobile. It was originally developed in a road-mobile configuration but its deployment is being conducted using a rail-mobile version. The strap-down (limited degree of freedom) inertial guidance system may be replaced in the future with a full inertial system. The RV is reported to have an optical terminal guidance, and speculation has been made about the possible use or future use of a external positioning reference system. The Agni-II is an indigenously developed system, descended from the SLV-3 space launch vehicle via the Agni-I technology demonstrator. A pre-production road mobile Agni-II (Agni-I?) is said to have been made operational during the 1999 Kargil War. The Agni-II costs approximately Rs.400 million per missile and is manufactured by a partnership of the DRDO and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) in Hyderabad. It is expected that BDL will be manufacturing 10-12 missiles every year.
The Agni-II was test fired in April 1999 with a range of 2300 km; on its second test on 17 January 2001 it travelled 2200 km. When the missile system is inducted, India will have the capability to strike at targets at least 2500 km away (up to 3000 km using specific payloads, according to some estimates).
Although the government has on several occasions stated that nuclear weaponization was now complete, the fact remains that the second Agni-II test occurred almost two years after the first and by all accounts more must take place before a true deployable arsenal is available.
In August 2000 Defence Minister George Fernandes stated that the Agni-II had "reached the point of operationalization". A DRDO scientist quoted in Defense Weekly reported in August 2000 at that time two pre-production Agni-II missiles were fully operational. He added that the unit cost of the Agni-II about $8 million and that, if required, DRDO's missile research laboratory could produce, in collaboration with Bharat Dynamics Limited, up to 18 Agni-IIs a year. Following the second successful test of Agni-II, on 17 January 2001, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister V.K. Aatre said that the Agni-II missile would be inducted into the Indian Air Force by year's end. This test was the first time the Agni-II was test-fired in its final operational configuration.
The Agni-II can be launched in 15 minutes, as opposed to half a day for the Agni-I. It uses far more accurate navigational and guidance systems and is designed to operate on a highly mobile platform which lends flexibility and reduces vulnerability to strikes.
Given its range and India's geopolitical situation, most observers say that the Agni-II was developed as a deterrent against China (it has far more range than is required to cover Pakistan). If that is the case, India has some way to go since with its current range, the Agni-II can at best cover Chinese territory as far as the western cities of Chengdu and Kunming, if based in the central plateau of Bihar. Even if based in Assam, a somewhat improbable scenario, the missile would not be able to reach either Shanghai or Beijing. For this purpose, India is developing the Agni-III, a longer-range missile capable of reaching targets out to 3500 km and beyond. The first test of this vehicle, which will feature entirely new first and second stages, is likely to take place in 2001. Speaking to the Lok Sabha in February 2001 Defence Minister George Fernandes gave the time frame for induction as 2001-2002.


A follow on version to the Agni-II, to be called Agni-III, with a range of 3500 to 5000 km and a 1000 kg payload, is under development. This is expected to be the final variant in the Agni family. According to DRDO sources two approaches are under consideration - an enlarged solid fuel first stage with a 1.8 meter diameter and 36 tonnes of propellant, or an added third stage to the existing Agni-II. The principal objective of the Agni-III would be to develop a missile capable of reaching China's capital of Beijing. The Deccan Chronicle reported on 23 September 2000 that Defence Minster George Fernandes had disclosed that the Agni-III had almost completed the development stage and was ready to be test fired soon. Yahoo India News reported a senior defence department official as saying India plans to build the third version of the Agni IRBM, but is yet to set a deadline for the project (8 February 2001). "Agni-III will obviously be of a higher range and better capabilities than its predecessor," said the official, who did not want to be identified. "But we have not set a date to test it," the official said on the sidelines of an aerospace conference in Bangalore.


A higher performance missile in the ICBM class (the Suriya or Surya) with a range of over 6000 km has been discussed. It would be an entirely new development effort. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister, was quoted in the Hindustan Times on 18 September 2000 as saying that "All technologies and industrial complexes are available for an ICBM. It'll not take much time, should India decide on it." He discounted speculation that the ICBM will be the derivative of the GSLV, India's latest space launch vehicle. "Cryogenic engines (used for the GSLV) are good for satellite launch vehicles, not missiles. They require huge fuelling facilities, which can be detected by satellite."


Length9 meters
Diameter1.1 meters
Weight4000 kg
PropulsionSingle stage, dual motor;
liquid fuel - inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA) oxidizer; 50% xylidene, 50% triethylamine fuel
  • SS-150 (Prithvi-1); Army version - range 150 km, payload 1000 kg
  • SS-250 (Prithvi-2); Air Force version - range 250 km, payload 500-750 kg
  • Dhanush ("Prithvi-3") ?; Naval version - range 350 km, payload 500 kg
Agni on gantry
Prithvi launch
Prithvi (Hindi for "Earth") is a single stage, road-mobile, short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). The missile's corrosive liquid fuel must be loaded immediately prior to launch, which is a serious disadvantage in the field. On the other hand the ability to control the liquid fuel motor, including throttling it or shutting it down (difficult or impossible with solid fuel) gives it great flexibility in range and trajectory, including in-flight maneuvering. The liquid propellant also has higher performance than solid propellants, giving the Prithvi an unusually high payload for its size and range. The inertial navigation system has been reported to have a CEP (Circular Error Probability) equal to .01% of its range, or 15 m for the Army version and 25 m for the Air Force version at maximum range (this is roughly comparable to an ICBM having a 1.5 km accuracy). The missile uses its maneuvering capability to follow up to six different trajectories so as to avoid ABM interception, and confuse launch system counter targeting. Another defense measure the Prithvi has is the use of radar absorbing paint to reduce its radar signature.
The fact that both the Indian Army and the IAF operate versions of the Prithvi is the result of a turf war over control of ballistic missile systems, a scenario that has played out in many other nations. The outcome of this struggle was that the Army controls land based missiles with a range of 150 km or less (a limit that was set by the initial range of the Prithvi) while longer range missiles belong to the Air Force. The DRDO is attempting to increase the payload of the IAF version to 1000 kg, by using higher performance liquid propellants to generate more thrust-to-weight ratio. The missile carries both nuclear warheads and a variety of conventional payloads. A family of warheads have been developed, including high-explosive (HE), pre-fragmented unitary HE, incendiary, cluster munitions (bomblets), sub-munitions, and fuel-air explosives (FAE).
For field operations, Prithvi is transported on an all-terrain, eight wheel Kolos Tatra 4x4 truck. The missile is deployed off this vehicle and fired from a simple launcher. Each battery of four Prithvi carrier vehicles is accompanied by a missile re-supply and loading vehicle, a propellant tanker and a command post vehicle to provide target data to the missile's guidance system before launch. In addition, a variety of other support support vehicles and equipment are used to support the batteries in the field.
Prithvi SS-150 which has been in serial production by Bharat Dynamics Limited in Hyderabad since 1997, following a development program that included 12 test flights.
Due to the limited strategic space of Pakistan (the Indus river valley where most major Pakistani cities are located runs close to the Indian frontier) the Prithvi has significant strategic value despite its short range. If it is deployed in states like Kashmir, Punjab and Gujrat which border Pakistan, it would place the capital of Islamabad, as well as the principal cities of Lahore and Karachi in range, as wells as many of Pakistan’s strategic military installations.
In September 2000 Defense News reported that India would go ahead with full production of about 300 Prithvis for all three branches of the Indian defense forces. The decision, taken by Defence Minister George Fernandes on 25 August, was prompted by Pakistan's test-firing of its Ghauri-III IRBM 10 days earlier, on Independence Day, a senior Indian ministry official, who was not named, was quoted as saying. The production of 300 Prithvis was estimated to cost $200 million. The state-owned Bharat Dynamics in Hyderabad would invest $100 million to ready itself for production. According to company sources, the Army required 150 Prithvis with a range of 150 km while the Navy needed 100 missiles of equal range. 50 Prithvi missiles with a longer range of 250 km, known as Prithvi-II, have to be produced to meet the requirement of the Air Force, the company said.


The Prithvi is a descendant of an earlier program called "Project Devil", an attempt to reverse engineer the Soviet SA-2 liquid fuel surface-to-air missile by the Defense Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) at Hyderabad. This latter project, initiated under the leadership of Dr. Dr. Basanti Dulal Nag Chaudhuri, was a failure and was cancelled in 1978; nonetheless valuable experience and technical skill was obtained which provided the basis for Prithvi.
Development was initiated in 1983 as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) under the leadership of Dr. Avil Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, the project manager for the successful SLV-3 program. The Prithvi was intended to be a 150 km tactical missile and was first tested at Sriharikota on 22 February 1988..
In October 1995, 20 pre-production models of the initial Prithvi SS-150 (with a 150 km range) were secretly delivered to the Army to form the 333rd Missile Regiment based in Secunderabad. At this time the Prithvi was not yet equipped with a nuclear warhead. The first deployment of Prithvi missiles (numbering less than a dozen) was at Jalandhar, about 200 km from the Pakistani border in May 1997 prior to its formal operational adoption. Integration and testing of a nuclear warhead was completed in 1997 on the Prithvi SS-150 before these were formally deployed in September 1997. Significantly in December 1998, the Army deployed the Prithvi in a major military exercise code named Shiv-Shakti for the first time since its induction. According to Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj during the 1999 Kargil War four nuclear armed Prithvis were actually deployed for retaliatory strikes. Some units are reported to have been moved to at least two northern locations close to the Pakistani border.
The fourth test flight of the extended range SS-250 was launched on 16 June 2000 at the Interim Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur-on-Sea on the east coast of India. The liquid-propellant weapon carried multiple warheads over a range of 250 km. At this point the SS-250 had not yet been inducted into service.
There is some question whether the Dhanush is really a Prithvi variant, or simply a new missile design in the same size class.
Jane's Missiles and Rockets reported on 9 August 2000 that John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has detected what it believes is the storage site for Indian's Prithvi missiles. An image of the Research Centre Imarat complex taken earlier this year by the Ikonos imaging satellite revealed an installation which Pike says "is probably the primary Prithvi garrison". The Imarat center is associated with research and development of technologies for missiles and other advanced weapons. "Although it is reported that the 333rd Missile Group is headquartered in Secunderabad, it is evident that the military cantonment would be an inappropriate location for the actual missiles, given the urban congestion of the area," said Pike. The facility at the Imarat center consists of three pairs of garages, each of which the FAS estimates to be large enough to house four vehicles, which suggests that each pair is used to house a battery of four launchers plus four support vehicles. The facility is surrounded by a security perimeter which incorporates a series of objects which may be guard houses. A nearby complex of buildings could be an administrative support facility for the Prithvi missiles, but "this complex is devoid of functional signatures that would support this interpretation, and is enclosed within a separate security perimeter that is suggestive of institutional associations unrelated to the Prithvi complex."


Length8.56 meters
Weight4000 kg
Range350 km
StagesSingle stage, liquid fuel
Payload500 kg; fission/boosted fission warhead (>15 kt)?
The Dhanush (Bow, as in "bow and arrow") is a derivative of the Prithvi program, adapted to naval use and given extended range. The first test firing was conducted on 10 April 2000 from the modified Sukanya class off-shore patrol vessel (OPV), INS Subhadra in the Bay of Bengal 20 km off Orissa state. It was a only partially successful with, the missile splashing down 25-30 km from its launch point. The launch platform used was a hydraulically-stabilized, rail-mounted platform built on the helicopter deck of the Subhadra.
Dhanush is probably intended for deployment on a specialized ballistic missile submarine, either conventionally powered or the nuclear powered Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). Neither is likely in the near future due to technical and financial constraints.


PropulsionAir breathing jet engine
There have been conflicting reports about this program since Clinton administration officials in the United States reported on 27 April 1998 that India was developing a sea-launched ballistic missile with a 200 mile range intended for submarine deployment. More recent reports describe Sagarika as submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) intended for the nuclear-powered submarine known as the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). The initial description of Sagarika as a ballistic missile may have been due to confusion with the Dhanush. Sagarika had been expected to enter service by 2002, but the program has been troubled as has the ATV submarine itself. Work on an Indian nuclear powered submarine has proceeded fitfully and unsuccessfully for nearly 25 years.

Nuclear Facilities

Bhabha Atomic Research Center
Bhabha Atomic Research Center
The center piece of India's nuclear weapons program is the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Trombay near Mumbai (Bombay) which is the center for nuclear weapons associated work. BARC was founded as the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET) on 3 January 1954 by Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha. Bhabha was the also the founder India's entire nuclear industry and infrastructure, and India's first Secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) when it was created on 3 August 1954. In its early years BARC was already a very large, but primarily civilian-oriented nuclear research laboratory. When India's first nuclear device was designed and fabricated at there, the work was conducted surreptitiously (often at night) to hide it from the rest of the laboratory. But in May 2000 a watershed was reached in this tension between civilian and military work when the civilian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which had been exercising regulatory oversight was split off from BARC. As S. Rajagopal oberved, an expert on nuclear affairs and a professor of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies, this decision effectively reclassified BARC as a nuclear weapons laboratory - a laboratory with a primarily military function though also conducting civilian oriented work in a model similar to the U.S. weapons labs. But without much of the civilian oversight and management that the U.S. labs have.
BARC is the site of the two reactors used for weapons-grade plutonium production: the 40 MW CIRUS (Canadian-Indian-U.S.) reactor, and the 100 MW reactor named R-5, but usually called "Dhruva". Both of these are heavy water moderated and cooled natural uranium reactors.
CIRUS was supplied by Canada in 1954, but uses heavy water supplied by the U.S. (hence its name). The reactor is not under IAEA safeguards (which did not exist when the reactor was sold), although Canada stipulated, and the U.S. supply contract for the heavy water explicitly specified, that it only be used for peaceful purposes. Nonetheless CIRUS has produced much of India's weapon plutonium stockpile, as well as the plutonium for India's 1974 Pokhran-I nuclear test. India argued in 1974 that the contract allows its use in producing peaceful nuclear explosives, which is how it characterized this explosion, though in recent years the project director Raja Ramanna has conceded that this was a sham. CIRUS reactor achieved criticality on 10 July 1960. It can produce 6.6-10.5 kg of plutonium a year (at a capacity factor of 50-80%).
In 1977 work began on the larger Dhruva plutonium production reactor, which was developed indigenous but based on the Canadian supplied technology. It was commissioned on 8 August 1985 but startup problems caused by resonance vibrations from the cooling system damaged fuel assemblies soon required shutdown. After modifications were made (spring clips to damp fuel rod vibration) it began operating at one-quarter power in December 1986 and reached full operation in mid-January 1988. It operates at 100 MW and is capable of producing 16-26 kg of plutonium annually (at a capacity factor of 50-80%).
An additional possible source of plutonium are a number of unsafeguarded CANDU power reactors, including Madras Atomic Power Stations (MAPS, known as Madras I and II, or MAPS-I and MAPS-II); the Narora Atomic Power Stations (NAPS, known as NAPS-I and NAPS-II), and the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station (KAPS). Like CIRUS and Dhruva, the CANDU reactors are heavy-water moderated natural uranium reactors that can be used effectively for weapon-grade plutonium production. The possible production by MAPS is much larger than CIR and Dhruva combined, although the fuel burnup in power reactors of this type normally produces lower grade plutonium that is less desirable for weapons. Each power station reactor could produce up to 160 kg/yr (at a 60% capacity factor). It is uncertain how practical it is to operate MAPS for weapons grade plutonium production, although even the reactor-grade output has weapons potential. If supergrade plutonium were produced at BARC by short irradiation periods, it could be mixed with MAPS plutonium to extend the plutonium supply. As of November 1998 India had a total of 10 small power reactors operating, with 4 under construction and due to begin operation in 1999, but with 12 more planned or under construction that would boost electrical output by another 5100 MW.
Nuclear power supplied 2.65 percent of India's electricity in 1999 and this is expected to reach 10 per cent by 2005. Expectations for nuclear power growth have consistently fallen far short of goals for over 30 years, so this percentage is likely to continue to grow slowly. India's nuclear power program proceeds almost entirely without fuel or technological assistance from other countries. Partly as a result its power reactors have been among the worst-performing in the world (with regard to capacity factors), reflecting the technical difficulties of the country's isolation, but are apparently now improving significantly. Its industry is largely without IAEA safeguards, though a few plants are under facility-specific safeguards.
In February 2001 India had 14 small nuclear power reactors in commercial operation, two larger ones under construction and ten more planned. The 14 operating ones comprise:
  • two 150 MWe BWRs from USA, started up in 1969, now using locally-enriched uranium and are under safeguards,
  • two small Canadian PHWRs (1972 & 1980), also under safeguards; and
  • ten local PHWRs based on Canadian designs, two of 150 and eight 200 MWe.
The separated plutonium for the 1974 test was produced at the separation plant in Trombay, near to Bombay, capable of processing 50 tonnes of heavy metal fuel/yr. Construction on the first facility there began in the 1950s, and began operating in 1964. In 1974 it was shut down for repair and expansion and reopened in 1983 or 1984. Trombay handles the fuel from both the Cirus and Dhruva reactors.
Kalpakkam Plutonium Plant
Kalpakkam Plutonium Plant
India also can separate plutonium in the Power Reactor Fuel Reprocessing (PREFRE) facility. This plutonium separation plant was built at Tarapur, north of Bombay, and began operating in 1979. The plant has encountered operating problems, but India reports having overcome these by 1990. The nominal annual capacity is given as 100-150 tonnes of CANDU fuel. A much larger plant is now under construction at Kalpakkam sufficient to handle all existing reactors.
Given its immense thorium resources, India is actively interested in developing the thorium/U-233 fuel cycle. India is known to have produced kilogram quantities of U-233 by irradiating thorium in CIR, Dhruva, and MAPS reactors. Substantial production of U-233 is not practical though with natural uranium fueled reactors. The thorium cycle requires more highly enriched fuel to have an acceptable breeding ratio with the non-fissile thorium blanket. Reactor-grade plutonium from MAPS could serve as start-up fuel for U-233 plants in the future. If available U-233 is as effective a weapon material as plutonium.
India has been developing the capability to produce heavy water domestically to provide the moderator load for future reactors. The heavy water for almost all existing reactors was imported however. The 110 tonnes of unsafeguarded moderator for Dhruva and Madras I and II were ironically provided by China.
India has acquired and developed centrifuge technology and built centrifuge enrichment plants in Trombay and Mysore in the 1980s. The larger Rare Metals Plant (RMP), as it is called, at Mysore has a cascade capable of producing 30% enriched uranium in kilogram quantities, beginning in 1992-93, although reliability has been a problem. These enrichment plants appear to have no role in India's power reactor development plans, so they may be intended to offset the prestige of Pakistan's enrichment capability, or to provide additional standby weapons production capability. India has reported that it plans to build an enriched uranium reactor, and a domestically fueled nuclear submarine.
India's interest in light weight weapon design can be surmised from BARC's acquisition in the 1980s of a vacuum hot pressing machine, suitable for forming large high-quality beryllium forgings, as well as large amounts of high purity beryllium metal. India is known to manufacture tritium, and may have developed designs for fusion-boosted weapons.
India is not a signatory to NPT and has opposed the treaty as discriminatory to non-weapons states. India has previously taken the position that a world-wide ban on nuclear testing, and the production of fissionable material for weapons is called for. Except for China, which continues testing, there is now a de facto halt to testing worldwide, as well as the production of weapons grade plutonium and uranium by the US and Russia. India has shown no interest so far in restricting its own activities despite these changes in the world situation. India has also rejected offers at bilateral negotiation with Pakistan, but in December 1988 the two nations signed an agreement prohibiting attacks on each other's nuclear installations and informing each other of their locations (though not their purposes)


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