India’s secret: a Nuclear City to Produce Thermonuclear Weapons

The nuclear city would, in short, be ringed by a security perimeter of thousands of military and paramilitary guards.

in choosing to remain publicly silent, the United States was taking a risk, evidently to try and reap financial and strategic rewards.

India Is Building a Top-Secret Nuclear City to Produce Thermonuclear Weapons, Experts Say The weapons could upgrade India as a nuclear power
— and deeply unsettle Pakistan and China.
Foreign BY ADRIAN LEVY DECEMBER 16, 2015 “………A culture of quiet

Like the villagers in Challakere, some key members of the Indian Parliament say they know little about the project.

One veteran lawmaker, who has twice been a cabinet minister, and who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic, said his colleagues are rarely briefed about nuclear weapons-related issues. “Frankly, we in Parliament discover little,” he said, “and what we do find out is normally from Western newspapers.” And in an interview with Indian reporters in 2003, Jayanthi Natarajan, a former lawmaker who later served as minister for environment and forests, said that she and other members of Parliament had “tried time and again to raise [nuclear-related] issues … and have achieved precious little.”

Nonetheless, Environment Support Group lawyers acting for the villagers living close to Challakere eventually forced some important disclosures. The region’s parliamentary representative heard about plans for the park from then-Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony as early as March 2007, according to a copy of personal correspondence between the two that was obtained by the group and seen by CPI. (Antony declined to comment.)

This was the very moment India was also negotiating a deal with the United States to expand nuclear cooperation. That deal ended nearly three decades of nuclear-related isolation for India, imposed as a punishment for its first atom bomb test in 1974. U.S. military assistance to India was barred for a portion of this period, and Washington also withheld its support for loans by international financial institutions.

The agreement, which the two sides signed in 2007, was highly controversial in Washington. While critics warned it would reward India for its secret pursuit of the bomb and allow it to expand its nuclear weapons work, supporters emphasized that it included language in which India agreed to identify its civilian nuclear sites and open them to inspection by the IAEA.

India also said that it would refrain from conducting new atomic weapons tests. And in return for waiving restrictions on India’s civil nuclear program, the U.S. president was required to determine that India was “working actively with the United States for the early conclusion of a multilateral treaty on the cessation of the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons.” In April 2006, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the deal would not trigger an arms race in the region or “enhance [India’s] military capacity or add to its military stockpile.” Rice added: “Moreover, the nuclear balance in the region is a function of the political and military situation in the region. We are far more likely to be able to influence those regional dynamics from a position of strong relations with India and indeed with Pakistan.”

Opponents of the deal complained, however, that it did not compel India to allow inspections of nine reactor sites known to be associated with the country’s military, including several producing plutonium for nuclear arms. The deal also allowed 10 other reactor sites subject to IAEA inspection to use imported uranium fuel, freeing up an indigenously mined supply of uranium that was not tracked by the international community — and could now be redirected to the country’s bomb program.

By May 2009, seven months after Congress ratified the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal, the Karnataka state government had secretly leased 4,290 acres adjacent to the villages of Varavu Kaval and Khudapura in the district of Chitradurga to the DRDO and another 1,500 acres to the Indian Institute of Science, a research center that has frequently worked with the DRDO and India’s nuclear industry, documents obtained by lawyers showed.

In December 2010, the state government leased a further 573 acres to the Indian Space Research Organisation and the BARC bought 1,810 acres. Councilor Karianna said the villagers were not told at the time about any of these transactions and that the documents, which the advocacy group obtained two years later in 2012, “were stunning. We were being fenced in behind our backs.”

Srikumar Banerjee, then-chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, first offered an official glimpse of the project’s ambitions in 2011, when hetold CNN’s India channel that the enrichment plant could be used to produce nuclear fuel, or slightly enriched uranium, to power India’s heavy- and light-water reactors. However, Banerjee added that the site would also have a strategic use, a designation that would keep international inspectors away. (India’s nuclear agreement with Washington and others provides no access to military-related facilities.)

High security, zero accountability

The sensitivity of the Challakere project became clearer after the Environment Support Group legal team filed a lawsuit in 2012 at the High Court of Karnataka, demanding a complete accounting of pastureland being seized by the authorities — only to learn from the state land registry that local authorities had granted the Indian army 10,000 acres too, as the future home for a brigade of 2,500 soldiers. The State Reserve Police, an armed force, would receive 350 acres, and 500 acres more had been set aside for a commando training center.

The nuclear city would, in short, be ringed by a security perimeter of thousands of military and paramilitary guards.

In July 2013, six years after New Delhi greenlit the plans, an Indian environmental agency, the National Green Tribunal, finally took up the villager’s complaints. It dispatched investigators to the scene and demanded that each government agency disclose its ambitions in detail. The DRDO responded that national security trumped the tribunal and provided no more information; the other government entities simply continued construction.

While the IAEA would be kept out, villagers were being hemmed in. By 2013, a public notice was plastered onto an important local shrine warning worshippers it would soon be inaccessible. A popular altar for a local animist ceremony was already out of bounds.

“Then the groundwater began to vanish,” Karianna said. The district is semiarid, and local records, still written in ink, show that between 2003 and 2007, droughts had caused the suicides of 101 farmers whose crops failed. By 2013, construction had fenced off a critical man-made reservoir adjacent to Ullarthi. Bore wells dug by the nuclear and military contractors as the construction accelerated siphoned off other water supplies from surrounding villages.

Seventeen miles of 15-foot-high walls began to snake around the villagers’ meadows, blocking grazing routes and preventing them from gathering firewood or herbs for medicine. Hundreds rallied to knock holes into the new ramparts. “They were rebuilt in days,” Karianna said, “so we tried again, but this time teams of private security guards had been hired by someone, and they viciously beat my neighbors and friends.”

BARC and the DRDO still provided no detailed explanations to anyone on the ground about the scope and purpose of their work, Karianna added. “Our repeated requests, pleadings, representations to all elected members at every level have yielded no hard facts. It feels as if India has rejected us.” Highlighting local discontent, almost all of the villagers ringing the kavals boycotted the impending general election, a rare action since India’s birth as a democracy in 1947. The growing local discontent, and the absence of public comment by the United States or European governments about the massive project, eventually drew the attention of independent nuclear analysts.

From centrifuges to submarines

Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, an analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonprofit, scoured all the available satellite imagery in the summer of 2014. Eventually, she zeroed inon the construction site in the kavals. The journal IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review was separately doing the same in London, commissioning Kelley,formerly of the IAEA, to analyze images from the Mysore plant.

What struck both of them was the enormous scale and ambition of the projects, as well as the secrecy surrounding them. The military-nuclear park in the kavals, at nearly 20 square miles, has a footprint comparable in size to the New York state capital, Albany. After analyzing the images and conducting interviews with atomic officials in India, Kelleher-Vergantini concluded that the footprint for enrichment facilities planned in the new complex would enable scientists to produce industrial quantities of uranium (though the institute would only know how much when construction had progressed further). As Kelley examined photos of the second site, he was astonished by the presence of two recently expanded buildings that had been made lofty enough to accommodate a new generation of tall, carbon-fiber centrifuges, capable of working far faster to enrich uranium than any existing versions.

Nuclear experts express the productiveness of the enrichment machines in Separative Work Units (SWUs). Kelley concluded that at the second site, the government could install up to 1,050 of these new hyper-efficient machines, which, together with about 700 older centrifuges, could complete 42,000 SWUs a year — enough, he said, to make roughly 403 pounds of weapons-grade uranium. A new hydrogen bomb, with an explosive force exceeding 100,000 tons of TNT, requires only between roughly 9 and 15 pounds of enriched uranium, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, a group of nuclear experts from 16 countries that seek to reduce and secure uranium stocks.

Retired Indian nuclear scientists and military officers said in interviews that India’s growing nuclear submarine fleet would be the first beneficiary of the newly produced enriched uranium……..

India has already received roughly 4,914 tons of uranium from France, Russia, and Kazakhstan, for example, and it has agreements with Canada, Mongolia, Argentina, and Namibia for additional shipments. In September 2014, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed an agreement to make Australia a “long-term, reliable supplier of uranium to India” — a deal that has sparked considerable controversy at home.

The International Panel on Fissile Materials estimates that the Arihant-class submarine core requires only about 143 pounds of uranium, enriched to 30 percent — a measure of how many of its isotopes can be readily used in weaponry. Using this figure and the estimated capacity of the centrifuges India is installing in Mysore alone — not even including Challakere — Kelley concluded that even after fueling its entire submarine fleet there would be 352 pounds of weapons-grade uranium left over every year, or enough to fuel at least 22 H-bombs. (His calculation presumes that the plant is run efficiently and that its excess capacity is purposeful and not driven by bureaucratic inertia — two large uncertainties in India, a senior U.S. official noted. But having a “rainy day” stockpile to deter the Chinese might be the aim, the official added.)

Thermonuclear doctrine and the China threat

A retired official who served inside the nuclear cell at the Indian prime minister’s office, the apex organization that supervises the military nuclear program, conceded that other uses besides submarines had been anticipated “for many years.” He pointed to a “thermonuclear bomb program” as “a beneficiary” and suggested India had had no choice but to “develop a new generation of more powerful megaton weapons” if it was to maintain “credible minimum deterrence.”………

The impact of the U.S.-India nuclear deal and India’s fissile production surge on the country’s neighbors can already be seen. “Pakistan recently stepped up a gear,” the former senior British official said. He pointed to an increase in Pakistan’s plutonium production at four new military reactors in the city of Khushab; a reprocessing plant known as Pinstech, near Islamabad; a refurbished civilian plutonium reprocessing plant converted to military use in an area known as Chashma; and “the ramping up of uranium production at a site in Dera Ghazi Khan.”

The retired British official added: “India needs to constantly rethink what deterrence means, as it is not a static notion, and everyone understands that. But the balance of power in the region is so easily upset.” The official said that in choosing to remain publicly silent, the United States was taking a risk, evidently to try and reap financial and strategic rewards.

Does Washington know?

      Officials at the Pentagon argued privately before Washington reached its 2008 nuclear deal with India that lifting sanctions would lead to billions of dollars’ worth of sales in conventional weapons, according to a U.S. official privy to the discussions. That prediction was accurate, with U.S. exports of major weapons to India reaching $5 billion from 2011 to 2014 and edging out Russian sales to India for the first time………



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