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Nuclear Last updated: June, 2013

India tested its first fission device in May 1974, and now possesses full nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. It remains outside the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, India has a facility-specific safeguards agreement in place with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) allowing it to participate in global civilian nuclear technology commerce. India has a sizable and growing nuclear arsenal, although it has not made an official claim as to its nuclear capabilities.

Capabilities

According to the 2012 SIPRI Yearbook, the Indian arsenal comprises 80 to 100 warheads.[1] The ranges of such estimates are generally dependent on analyses of India's stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, estimated at 0.54 ± 0.18 tons.[2] Although India has also stockpiled roughly 2.4 ± 0.9 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU), some of this material is most intended for use in nuclear submarines and research reactors.[3]

The plutonium for India's nuclear arsenal is most likely obtained from two research reactors: the 40 MWt CIRUS and the 100 MWt Dhruva, which began operations in 1963 and 1988, respectively.[4] Depending on the capacity factor and operating availability, the CIRUS reactor was estimated to produce 4 to 7 kg of weapons-grade plutonium annually; the corresponding figure for the Dhruva reactor is 11 to 18 kg.[5] The CIRUS reactor was decommissioned in 2010 under the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement’s separation plan of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement.[6] The irradiated fuel from the reactors is reprocessed at the Plutonium Reprocessing Plant in Trombay, which has a capacity of roughly 50 tons of spent nuclear fuel per year.[7] India is building six fast breeder reactors, which will increase plutonium production capacity available for weapons-use. Construction on the first prototype fast-breeder reactor is nearing completion, and is expected to start commercial operation in 2014.[8]

There is considerable controversy over the yield and reliability of India's nuclear devices. When India tested its first fission device in May 1974, Indian scientists claimed the device had a yield of about 12 kilotons (kt); however, some Indian officials later stated that the figure was closer to 8 to 10 kt, while other independent analysts estimate that the yield was as low as between 4 and 6 kt.[9]

Similar disputes surround India's May 1998 tests. After the first of round of tests on 11 May India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) announced that it had simultaneously tested three nuclear devices: a thermonuclear device with a yield of 43 kt; a fission device with a yield of 12 kt; and a sub-kiloton device with a yield of 0.2 kt.[10] However, analysts and scientists outside of India – citing evidence from geologic and seismic data – concluded that the cumulative yield of the Indian tests was much lower, implying that the second stage of the thermonuclear test had not detonated successfully.[11] In subsequent years, the controversy was reignited following announcements in 2000 by P.K. Iyengar, former chief of the Department of Atomic Energy, and in 2009 by K. Santhanam, field director of the 1998 tests, that the tests did not achieve the desired results.[12] These scientists argue that India should therefore refrain from signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and conduct further tests.[13] However, Anil Kakodkar and R. Chidambaram, present and former leaders of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), have consistently disputed these claims, maintaining that their original estimates were correct and that further testing is unnecessary.[14]

History

Developing a Peaceful Nuclear Program: 1947 to 1974

India's nuclear program was conceived in the pre-independence era by a small group of influential scientists, notably Homi Bhabha, who grasped the significance of nuclear energy and persuaded political leaders to invest resources in the nuclear sector.[15] In the aftermath of independence in August 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru launched an ambitious nuclear program meant to boost the country’s prestige and self-reliance in energy. The primary focus of the program was the production of inexpensive electricity; however, the decision to develop the complete nuclear fuel cycle also gave India the technical capability to pursue nuclear weapons.[16]

In the years that followed, the internal debate over whether India should develop a nuclear explosive device continued. On the one hand, the scientific establishment wanted to prove that it was technically capable of detonating a nuclear device, and hawks within Parliament pointed to security developments in China and elsewhere as necessitating a nuclear deterrent.[17] On the other hand, many politicians opposed nuclear weapons both for economic and moral reasons, arguing that nuclear weapons would not make India safer, and that the solution to nuclear proliferation was comprehensive global nuclear disarmament.[18] A consensus emerged on both sides that India should not sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) when it was opened for signature in 1968 unless the nuclear weapon states agreed to a clear plan for nuclear disarmament.[19]

Although averse to the idea of nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri authorized theoretical work on the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion for Peaceful Purposes (SNEPP) project in November 1964.[20] In the late 1960s nuclear scientists continued to develop the technical capacity for a nuclear explosion, although the political decision had not yet been made to carry out the test.[21] Ultimately, on 18 May 1974, India tested a fission device which it described as a “peaceful nuclear explosion” (PNE). The decision was partly based on security considerations, but equally important were the scientific community’s desire to display its successes and the domestic political desire to win support. George Perkovich argues that, “the final decision to conduct the test was the result of an ad hoc, intuitive process that lacked rigorous security analysis.”[22]

The Slow Path Toward Weaponization: 1974 to 1998

India’s 1974 nuclear test was condemned by many countries as a violation of the peaceful-use agreements underlying U.S. and Canadian-supplied nuclear technology and material transfers, and was a major contributing factor to the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).[23] The United States responded to the test by imposing a number of sanctions on India.[24] However, despite international alarm about the military implications of its nuclear explosion, India did not follow the 1974 test with subsequent tests, nor did it immediately weaponize the device design that it had tested.[25] Itty Abraham argues that it was not until roughly 1986 that India could be considered a “nuclear weapons-capable state.”[26] At that time, advances in Pakistan's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and the oblique nuclear threats issued by Islamabad in the wake of the 1986 to 1987 Brasstacks crisis appear to have persuaded Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to authorize weaponization of India's nuclear capability.[27]

At the same time, India continued to support efforts for nuclear disarmament. In 1988, Prime Minister Gandhi submitted an Action Plan for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free and Non-Violent World Order to the United Nations General Assembly.[28] As negotiations on the CTBT rapidly progressed in the early 1990s, Indian elites came to regard the CTBT as an instrument of nonproliferation that sought to freeze countries’ nuclear capabilities. This, along with the indefinite extension of the NPT, reignited domestic political pressure for India to risk economic sanctions by conducting further tests.[29]

In 1995 the Narasimha Rao government considered an accelerated program of nuclear tests. However, India's test preparations were detected by U.S. intelligence agencies, and the resultant U.S. diplomatic pressure convinced the Rao government to postpone the tests.[30] Plans for testing were renewed when the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power for a brief period in 1996, but the BJP decided not to go through with the tests.[31] When it returned to power in 1998, the BJP authorized two rounds of nuclear tests on 11 and 13 May 1998, after which it formally declared India to be a nuclear-weapon state.[32] Almost no one outside of India foresaw the test; however, geospatial analysis by Vipin Gupta and Frank Pabian had identified a likely site and timeframe for the test.[33]

India as a Declared Nuclear Power: 1998 to the Present

India’s nuclear tests were followed within a month by a similar set of tests by Pakistan, resulting in fears in the international community of an arms race or an escalation of conflict between the two openly declared nuclear powers in South Asia.[34] The 1999 Kargil War and the 2001 to 2002 Twin Peaks Crisis heightened tensions between the two countries, although these low-level conventional conflicts did not escalate to the nuclear level.[35]

After the 1998 tests the Indian government established a National Security Advisory Board, which issued a Draft Report on Indian Nuclear Doctrine in 1999 that broadly outlined India’s nuclear no-first-use policy and defensive posture of “credible minimum nuclear deterrence.”[36] In January 2003, a Ministry of External Affairs press release maintained adherence to no-first-use, although with the condition that nuclear weapons could also be used in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack, or to protect Indian forces operating in Pakistan.[37] Internal debate about the future role of nuclear weapons continued: a task force established by the Ministry of External Affairs to review India's nuclear posture recommended in 2007 “a comprehensive and integrated nuclear defense capability," taking into account the persistent political instability in the region and China's continued nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.[38]

In line with this posture, India does not maintain a constituted nuclear force on a heightened state of alert. The country’s nuclear weapons remain under the control of the civilian Nuclear Command Authority (NCA), comprised of a Political Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, which is “the sole body which can authorize the use of nuclear weapons;” and an Executive Council, led by the National Security Advisor, which “provides inputs for decision making… and executes the directives given to it by the Political Council.”[39] The Indian mission to the United Nations has submitted several draft recommendations on “reducing nuclear danger,” which include “steps to reduce the risks of unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons, including through de-alerting and de-targeting nuclear weapons.”[40]

The U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement and India's Participation in Nuclear Commerce

A key development in recent years has been the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement, plans for which were first unveiled in July 2005. This agreement and the subsequent endorsement of India's case by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) enabled India to engage in international nuclear trade. In return, New Delhi agreed to allow safeguards on a select number of its nuclear facilities that are classified as "civilian" in purpose. The remaining "military" facilities remain off-limits to international inspectors.

The agreement process required navigating a number of diplomatic and legal hurdles. The U.S. Congress passed the Hyde Act in January 2006 to exempt nuclear cooperation with India from provisions of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, allowing for the adoption of a bilateral 123 nuclear cooperation agreement in August 2007.[41] In September 2008, the NSG approved an exemption allowing the members of this export control regime to conduct nuclear trade with India.[42] Finally, a safeguards agreement for select civilian nuclear facilities was concluded between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in February 2009, after approval by the IAEA Board of Governors the previous year.[43]

In October 2009 India submitted a separation plan, updated in 2010, to put 12 nuclear reactors and the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad under IAEA safeguards by 2014.[44] The first two nuclear power plants, units at the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS), have been formally placed under the safeguards agreement.[45] In late July 2010, India and the United States signed a bilateral agreement allowing India to reprocess U.S.-obligated nuclear material at two new reprocessing facilities, to be constructed and placed under IAEA safeguards.[46]

Following the NSG waiver, India signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia.[47] In October 2009, New Delhi identified two locations in the states of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh that could host reactors constructed by GE Hitachi and Westinghouse.[48] However, given the constraints on any agreement imposed by New Delhi’s civil nuclear liability law, it is unclear whether U.S. companies will conclude any reactor supply deals with India. [49]

Recent Developments and Current Status

India continues to participate in international nuclear trade. In April 2013, Canada and India signed a bilateral safeguards agreement for trade in nuclear materials and technology used in IAEA safeguarded facilities.[50] Negotiations are ongoing between India and Japan for a bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.[51] In late 2011, Australia’s Labor Party approved a change to its policy position that would allow the country to export uranium to India; discussions on a bilateral safeguards agreement are ongoing.[52]

India is tightening its export controls for dual-use technologies in an effort to get membership into the Nuclear Supiler’s Group and other export control regimes. New Delhi is seeking membership to the NSG, MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. According to Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, “In some respects, our controls are more stringent than those practiced by the NSG and MTCR.”[53]

In arguing for NSG membership, India has portrayed itself as a responsible nuclear power, pointing to its positive record on nonproliferation and consistent support for complete nuclear disarmament.[54] It has maintained a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and supports negotiations of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) that is "universal, non-discriminatory, and internationally verifiable."[55] At the same time, India has remained firmly outside of the NPT, arguing that “nuclear weapons are an integral part of our national security and will remain so pending the global elimination of all nuclear weapons.”[56] New Delhi has not signed the CTBT, and continues to produce fissile material for its nuclear weapons program. Although it has reiterated its commitment to no-first-use of nuclear weapons, India’s nuclear posture of credible minimum deterrence is still evolving, and the country is developing a strategic triad of nuclear delivery systems.[57]

Sources:
[1] Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristensen, "World Nuclear Forces," SIPRI Yearbook 2012: Armaments, Disarmaments and International Security (Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012), www.sipri.org.
[2] "India," International Panel on Fissile Materials, 4 February 2013, www.fissilematerials.org.
[3] "India," International Panel on Fissile Materials, 4 February 2013, www.fissilematerials.org.
[4] R. Rajaraman, “Estimates of India’s Fissile Material Stocks,” Science and Global Security, 16:74-86, 2008, www.princeton.edu.
[5] "Global Fissile Material Report 2010," International Panel on Fissile Materials, Fifth Annual Report, December 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
[6] “Implementation of the India-United States Joint Statement of July 18, 2005: India’s Separation Plan,” www.dae.gov.in; Pavel Podvig, “India Shuts Down CIRUS Reactor,” International Panel on Fissile Materials Blog, 31 December 2010, www.fissilematerials.org;  "Global Fissile Material Report 2011," International Panel on Fissile Materials, Fifth Annual Report, January 2012, www.fissilematerials.org.
[7] R. Rajaraman, “Estimates of India’s Fissile Material Stocks,” Science and Global Security, 16:74-86, 2008, www.princeton.edu.
[8] Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristensen, "World Nuclear Forces," SIPRI Yearbook 2012: Armaments, Disarmaments and International Security (Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012) www.sipri.org; “Nuclear Power in India,” World Nuclear Association, 10 April 2013, www.world-nuclear.org.
[9] Carey Sublette, “What Are the Real Yields of India’s Test?,” The Nuclear Weapon Archive, 8 November 2001, http://nuclearweaponarchive.org.
[10] Mark Hibbs, “India May Test Again Because H-Bomb Failed, U.S. Believes,” Nucleonics Week, 26 November 1998, www.lexis-nexis.com.
[11] Mark Hibbs, “Geology Supports Seismic Data that Suggest Indian H-Bomb Fuel Didn’t Burn,” Nuclear Fuel, 17 September 2001, www.lexis-nexis.com; Gregory van der Vink, et al., “False Accusations, Undetected Tests and Implications for the CTB Treaty,” Arms Control Today, May 1998, www.armscontrol.org; Jeffrey Lewis, “India’s H Bomb Revisited,” Arms Control Wonk, 27 August 2009, http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com.
[12] Mark Hibbs, “Because H-Bomb Fuel Didn’t Burn, Iyengar Pleads for Second Test,” Nucleonics Week, 1 June 2000, www.lexis-nexis.com; K. Santhanam and Ashok Parthasarathi, “Pokhran-II Thermonuclear Test, a Failure,” The Hindu, 17 September 2009, www.thehindu.com.
[13] Sachin Parashar, “Pokhran II Not Fully Successful: Scientist,” The Times of India, 27 August 2009, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com.
[14] S.K. Sikka, et al., “Update on the Yield of the May 11-13, 1998 Nuclear Detonations at Pokhran,” BARC News Letter No. 178, November 1998, www.fas.org; Rahi Gaikwad, “Pokhran-II: ‘No Scientific Basis for Doubts,’” The Hindu, 24 September 2009, www.thehindu.com.
[15] “About Us,” Bhabha Atomic Research Center, www.barc.ernet.in.
[16] George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[17] Mika Kerttunen, ‘A Responsible Nuclear Weapons Power’ – Nuclear Weapons and Indian Foreign Policy (Helsinki: National Defence University Department of Strategic and Defence Studies, 2009) p. 152.
[18] Mika Kerttunen, ‘A Responsible Nuclear Weapons Power’ – Nuclear Weapons and Indian Foreign Policy (Helsinki: National Defence University Department of Strategic and Defence Studies, 2009), p. 152.
[19] Karsten Frey, India’s Nuclear Bomb and National Security (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 169.
[20] George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[21] Mika Kerttunen, ‘A Responsible Nuclear Weapons Power’ – Nuclear Weapons and Indian Foreign Policy (Helsinki: National Defence University Department of Strategic and Defence Studies, 2009).
[22] George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[23] “Historical Documents Regarding India’s Misuse of Civilian Nuclear Technology Assistance,” Arms Control Association, www.nci.org; “History of the NSG,” Nuclear Suppliers Group, www.nuclearsuppliersgroup.org.
[24] Steve LaMongagne, “India-Pakistan Sanctions Legislation Fact Sheet,” The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, 2011, http://armscontrolcenter.org.
[25] Itty Abraham, “Interpreting the Meanings of India’s Nuclear Tests,” in Scott D. Sagan, ed., Inside Nuclear South Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
[26] Itty Abraham, “Interpreting the Meanings of India’s Nuclear Tests,” in Scott D. Sagan, ed., Inside Nuclear South Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
[27] George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[28] United Nations General Assembly, “Address by His Excellency Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of the Republic of India,” A/S-15/PV.14, 15 June 1988, via: http://fissilematerials.org.
[29] George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[30] George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
[31] Kanti Bajpai, “The BJP and the Bomb,” in Scott D. Sagan, ed., Inside Nuclear South Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
[32] Howard Diamond, “India Conducts Nuclear Tests; Pakistan Follows Suit,” Arms Control Today, May 1998, www.armscontrol.org.
[33] Vipin Gupta and Frank Pabian, “Investigating the Allegations of Indian Nuclear Test Preparations in the Rajasthan Desert,” Science & Global Security, vol. 6, 1997, pp. 101-188, www.princeton.edu.
[34] V.R. Raghavan, “Limited War and Nuclear Escalation in South Asia,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall-Winter 2001.
[35] For a discussion of the role of nuclear weapons in maintaining stability for lower level conflicts, see: Rajesh Kumar, “Revisiting the Kashmir Insurgency, Kargil, and the Twin Peak Crisis: Was the Stability/Instability Paradox at Play?” The New England Journal of Political Science, Vol. 3 No. 1, Fall 2008, www.northeastern.edu; and S. Paul Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” International Security, Vol. 30 No. 2, Fall 2005, http://iis-db.stanford.edu.
[36]  “India’s Draft Nuclear Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, July/August 1999, www.armscontrol.org.
[37] Scott D. Sagan, “Evolution of Pakistani and Indian Nuclear Doctrine,” in Scott D. Sagan, ed., Inside Nuclear South Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); Ministry of External Affairs of India, “The Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Operationalization of India’s Nuclear Doctrine,” Press Release, 4 January 2003, www.mea.gov.in.
[38] Rashme Sehgal, "Panel: Keep N-Arms Option Open," The Asian Age, 21 October 2007, www.lexis-nexis.com.
[39] Ministry of External Affairs of India, “The Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Operationalization of India’s Nuclear Doctrine,” Press Release, 4 January 2003, www.mea.gov.in.
[40] United Nations General Assembly, “Reducing Nuclear Danger,” A/C.1/66/L.45, 14 October 2011, via: www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[41] Jayshree Bajoria and Esther Pan, “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” Council on Foreign Relations, 5 November 2010, www.cfr.org.
[42] Wade Boese, “NSG, Congress Approve Nuclear Trade with India,” Arms Control Today, October 2008, www.armscontrol.org.
[43] International Atomic Energy Agency, “India Safeguards Agreement Signed,” Press Release, 2 February 2009, www.iaea.org.
[44] International Atomic Energy Agency, “Agreement between the Government of india and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards to Civilian Nuclear Facilities,” INFCIRC/754/Add.3, 16 December 2010, www.iaea.org.
[45] "N-Plan Ready Before PM Visit," The Telegraph, 17 October 2009, www.telegraphindia.com.
[46] U.S. Department of State, “Arrangements and Procedures Agreed Between the Government of the United States and the Government of India, Pursuant to Article 6(iii) of Their Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy,” 29 March 2010, www.state.gov; Narayan Lakshman, "Reprocessing Accord Signed," The Hindu, 1 August 2010, www.hindu.com.
[47] “Nuclear Power in India,” World Nuclear Association, updated February 2012, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf53.html.
[48] Randy Woods, "India Names Sites to Host Reactors by GE Hitachi, Westinghouse,"Nucleonics Week, 22 October 2009.
[49] Simon Denyer and Rama Lakshmi, “U.S.-India Nuclear Deal Drifts Dangerously,” The Washington Post, 15 July 2011, www.washingtonpost.com.
[50] “Nuclear Power in India,” World Nuclear Association, 10 April 2013, www.world-nuclear.org.
[51] ”Indian-Japanese Cooperation Deal Moves Closer,” World Nuclear News, 30 May 2013, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[52] “Australia and India Building the Strategic Partnership,” speech by Stephen Smith MP, Minister for Defence of Australia, at the Asia Society Mumbai, 9 December 2011, www.minister.defence.gov.au; “Australia to Allow Uranium Exports to India,” World Nuclear News, 5 December 2011, www.world-nuclear-news.org; “Nuclear Power in India,” World Nuclear Association, 10 April 2013, www.world-nuclear.org.
[53] “India Tightens Export Control Norms for Dual Use Technology,” The Deccan Herald, 28 March 2013, www.deccanherald.com.
[54] Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., “Statement by External Affairs Minister of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee on the Civil Nuclear Initiative,” 5 September 2008, www.indianembassy.org.
[55] “Remarks by Ambassador Hamid Ali Rao of India,” 3 February 2011, via: www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[56] Permanent Representative of India to the Conference on Disarmament, “Statement by India in the CD Plenary after the Adoption of Decision on Programme of Work Contained in CD/1863,” 29 May 2009, via: www.reachingcriticalwill.org.
[57] Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy (Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2008).

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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