India - Plutonium Investigation n°10

India's five tests

On 11 and 13 May 1998 India carried out five nuclear tests. On 11 May, three different explosions detonated at the same time. The synchronisation made it more difficult for non Indian intelligence services - which appeared to be taken by surprise by the tests - to analyse the three blasts. According to the Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), the 11 May tests were a fission device, a thermonuclear device (using nuclear fusion) and a low-yield device. Preliminary analysis of geological information gives a value of about 20 kilotonnes for the combined blast of the 11 May 1998 tests. On 13 May India detonated two subcritical low-yield tests, corresponding to less than one kilotonne. Similarly as with France or the other nuclear weapons states which carried out nuclear testing recently, these tests enable computerised simulations to be done and therefore an improvement of the existing nuclear weapon devices - without necessarily carrying out full scale tests. This practice jeopardises the objective of both the non proliferation treaty and the comprehensive test ban treaty.

According to information published in September 1998 in the weekly science magazine Nature, "two of the five devices tested by India in May this year are believed to have used plutonium that was not classified as weapons grade", i.e. that originated from nuclear power plants instead of dedicated plutonium production reactors.

The Indian government claimed the May 1998 tests were carried out for national security (see The Words of the Month, page 7). At the same time, these tests had been forecasted by the ruling Hindu Nationalist party (Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP) before the elections.

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