India conducted a second round of nuclear testing today, exploding two sub-kiloton warheads at an underground facility in the Thar desert. The latest explosions, which according to a government statement "complete the planned series of tests," have raised hopes that India is now prepared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty outlawing such activity.
The new tests, which occurred at 12:21 p.m. local time in the Pokharan Range of Rajasthan in northwest India, were carried out amidst harsh international condemnation of the first three explosions on Monday. "These nuclear tests are a terrible mistake by a perfectly wonderful country," said U.S. President Bill Clinton as he announced stiff economic sanctions against India. Indian officials described the U.S. sanctions, which include a ban on the sale of technology of possible military use, as "most unfortunate" but said that they would not be a major factor in shaping the country's defense strategy. Indian officials said the two rounds of live tests should supply India with enough data to carry out additional weapons design work via computer simulations.
Meanwhile, sketchy technical details are emerging from Monday's tests --which took the world by surprise, despite public statements by the new government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he was weighing the use of nuclear weapons. Combined, the three simultaneous explosions released energy that was equivalent to around 55 kilotons of TNT, about three times the firepower of the Hiroshima bomb, says Ranganath Bharthur, scientific officer in the high-pressure physics division of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center's Seismic Array Station at Gauribidanur, in southern India. In addition, Indian weapons experts believe that the thermonuclear device tested on Monday used a combination of light metals, such as lithium hydride, rather than hydrogen.