India Tests Three Nuclear Bombs

11 May 1998 7:30 pm

NEW DELHI--The Indian government resumed nuclear testing today, exploding three warheads simultaneously at Pokharan in the Thar desert in northwest India. The surprise underground tests occurred after a self-imposed hiatus of 24 years and appear to underscore the new government's intention to flex its nuclear muscles.

"These tests have established that India has a proven capability for a weaponized nuclear program," said Brajesh Misra, principal secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "They also provide a valuable database for the design of nuclear weapons of different yields for different applications and for different delivery systems." Misra said the tests were necessary for continued computer simulation of nuclear devices, although he did not rule out the possibility of further live tests. India has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The underground tests confirm India's status as an independent nuclear power, says Air Commodore (ret.) Jasjit Singh, an Indian defense analyst. "One fission device was very similar to the 1974 nuclear test, the second was a large megaton thermonuclear device, and the last was a low-yield accurate weapon. Now all India needs is an accurate delivery system." Speaking at a hastily called news conference shortly after the 3:45 p.m. tests, Prime Minister Vajpayee said there "was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere."

Other governments reacted angrily to the initial news. Pakistan immediately called for strong economic sanctions against India, and the U.S. State Department said "it is deeply disappointed" by the tests. Some observers withheld judgment. "The most hopeful scenario is that this is analogous to the French test" conducted [last year] before that nation acceded to the CTBT, says Christopher Paine of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes nuclear testing. The tests "may make them feel free to sign the treaty." Or India may feel encircled by China and is rattling its sword, he adds. "We just don't know yet which is true."

Secretary Misra said that India is ready "to consider being an adherent to some of the undertakings in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty." But he added that its support must be "an evolutionary process from concept to commitment that depends on a number of reciprocal activities."

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