Key players in Pokhran

Print edition : May 23, 1998

A SHARED passion to see India emerge strong and self-reliant in the nuclear field marks the three key persons who oversaw in the second week of May 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran - Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy; Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC); and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and Chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Chidambaram told Frontline after the successful completion of the five underground nuclear tests: "India must become strong. The greatest advantage of recognised strength is that you don't have to use it."

Abdul Kalam emphasised much the same point after every successful test of the Agni, Prithvi or Trishul missiles: "India should become strong. Strength respects strength."

All three scientists were present at Pokhran on both May 11 and 13 when the explosions were conducted.

Chidambaram, Kakodkar and Kalam have much more in common: highly regarded in their chosen fields, they are virtual workaholics with a natural ability to mould disparate groups into highly motivated teams that deliver results under trying circumstances. Secondly, despite the high-profile nature of their work, they are not known to seek publicity.

Many others in BARC made major contributions to the success of the tests. Among them are: Dr. S.K. Sikka, Associate Director, Solid State and Spectroscopic Group; M.S. Ramakumar, Director, Nuclear Fuels, and Automation and Manufacturing Group; Dr. D.D. Sood, Director, Radiochemistry and Isotope Group; and G. Govindarajan, Associate Director, Electronics and Instrumentation Group. In other words, key roles were assigned not only to the BARC Physics Group but to the radiometallurgy group, and electronics and instrumentation group as well. The physicists made the calculations, the metallurgy group provided the "meat" for the tests, and the electronics, instrumentation and mechanical engineers fabricated the device and provided the control systems.

CHIDAMBARAM, who is one of India's leading experimental physicists, is a contented man today. He played a leading role in the design and execution of the peaceful nuclear explosion experiment (PNE) at Pokhran, Rajasthan in May 1974, and he led the DAE team in May 1998, when the five tests were conducted. Aside from his leadership of the venture, he is admired by young scientists in the atomic energy establishment for his many-sided achievements in crystallography, materials science, neutron physics and advanced instrumentation.

He obtained his B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Physics in 1956 from Madras University with a first rank and a Ph.D. in Physics from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in 1962. He received his D.Sc. from the same institute in 1991 for his contributions in crystallography and materials science. He joined BARC in 1962 and became its Director in 1990. He has been AEC Chairman and DAE Director from 1993.

Chidambaram initiated research in high-pressure physics at BARC. His group, with indigenous experimental facilities, along with a strong theoretical component, is regarded as the best group in high pressure research in India and among the best in the world. He is a pioneer in the utilisation of research reactors in India and an internationally-reputed crystallographer. He was Chairman, Board of Governors, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), during 1994-95. Despite his punishing schedule and hectic travelling, he manages to find time to pursue his interests in cricket, tennis and Carnatic music.

KAKODKAR, who became one of the youngest directors of BARC, commands with ease the respect of his colleagues. He has been chosen by the International Technology Institute of the United States to be the recipient of the 1997 Rockwell Medal for Excellence in Technology. Kakodkar is the first from India and the third from Asia to receive this award, instituted in 1982. He has also been elected to the World Level of the Hall of Fame for Engineering, Science and Technology.

Kakodkar contributed to the design of most of the vital components of research reactors such as Dhruva, Purnima and Kamini, and all the power reactors at Rawatbhatta (in Rajasthan), Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu), Narora (Uttar Pradesh), and Kakrapar (Gujarat). He played crucial roles in solving the problems encountered in the reactors at Tarapur and Kalpakkam and in rectifying the Dhruva fuel design.

Even after taking on responsibilities as Director, BARC, and Member, AEC, Kakodar continues to lead the team engaged in the design of the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), which will be more economical, safer and more fuel-efficient than the Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors that are now generating electricity at Rawatbhatta, Kalpakkam, Narora and Kakrapar.

WHEN Abdul Kalam addressed the alumni association of the Madras Institute of Technology, Chennai, some years ago, he recalled his student days at the institute and said: "It was a joy to study the structure of the aircraft." His interest in aeronautical engineering led him to a career in the Indian Space Research Organisation. He was the Project Director of the first successful SLV-3 flight from Sriharikota in 1980. Kalam became the Director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad, and, later, Director of the country's Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. He led the teams that developed the Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Akash and Nag missiles. He is considered a good team leader and his gift for scouting talent. Still later, he was appointed Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister. He is the only scientist to have received the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour.

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