India’s Nuclear-weapons journey

India embarked on the path of nuclear weapons development after its face-off with China in the 1962 war, followed by China carrying out nuclear tests in 1964 and in the subsequent years.

  • In 1974, under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India conducted its first nuclear tests, Pokhran-I, dubbed as a “peaceful nuclear explosion”. 
  • Despite more than two decades of international pressure that followed to make India abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, India again carried out a test in May 1998, Pokhran-II, involving a fission device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device. Its successful execution meant that India had the ability to introduce nuclear warheads into its fast-developing missile programme. 
  • A fortnight after the Pokhran-II tests, Pakistan also carried out similar tests, confirming progress with its nuclear weapons programme; since that time its nuclear arsenal has expanded rapidly.

In 1999, India came out with an explicit nuclear doctrine that committed, among other things, to No first use(NFU) — that is it would never carry out a nuclear first-strike. This doctrine emphasized “minimal deterrence, no first use and non-use against non-nuclear-weapon states”, in the words of former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. The NFU promise thus went together with credible minimum deterrence (CMD).

Nuclear Energy in India

India’s nuclear power plants, mostly set up during the sanction years, provide only 3% of the energy mix. After the historic Indo-US nuclear deal 2008, the first two plants at Kundankulam – established with Russian assistance.

Nuclear fuel of the future: Thorium

According to the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD), a constituent Unit of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), India has 11.93 million tonnes of Monazite (ore) which contains about 1.07 million tonnes of thorium.

The country’s thorium reserves make up 25 per cent of the global reserves. It can easily be used as a fuel to cut down on the import of Uranium from different countries.

  • Through U-233 that could be produced from it releases 8 times the amount of energy per unit mass compared to natural U.
  • In waste generation also, it has a relative advantage over Uranium. Thorium dioxide is much more stable the Uranium dioxide
  • Higher thermal conductivity so in case of explosion heat energy will quickly flow out and prevent a meltdown.
  • The melting point is 500 degrees higher so in case of accident heat energy will flow out quickly and prevent a meltdown.

Thorium Cycle – Working

Thorium-232 is a fertile material. The thorium cycle can be understood in following figure:

Nuclear Energy In India

Reasons it has not been developed

  • First, one needs to produce U-233 from Th, and for this, reactors based on the naturally available nuclear fuel material, Uranium-235, are required.
  • Recovery of U-233 by large-scale reprocessing of irradiated thorium poses certain practical hurdles.
  • Thorium cannot be weaponized and world powers built nuclear energy plants after they built the weapon.

Spent Fuel Reprocessing Process

  • The nuclear fuel mix has a high amount of fissile material. Once it is used, the amount of non-fissile material and by-products would increase and that material cannot be used again as fuel in its present form. This is called spent fuel.
  • It may or may not be re-usable. If spent fuel is not reprocessed, the fuel cycle is referred to as an open fuel cycle (or a once-through fuel cycle); if the spent fuel is reprocessed, it is referred to as a closed fuel cycle.
  • India’s nuclear programme is oriented towards maximizing the energy potential of available uranium resources and the utilization of the large thorium reserve.
  • Available global uranium resources cannot sustain the projected expansion of nuclear power without adopting the closed fuel cycle approach.

Uranium Enrichment-

UE is an artificial process in which the percentage of U-235 is enhanced and for this purpose, centrifuges are used. Naturally occurring U is comprised of two isotopes i.e. U-235 and U-238. Natural Uranium consists of 99.3 % of U-238 which is not fissile material i.e. not suitable as fuel and 0.7 % of U-235, which is very fissile and used as fuel.

So, it is required to convert it in maximum percentage for use.

In enrichment process the % of the fissile isotopes are increased by using centrifuges.

In enrichment isotopic separation is done by using lessors and diffusion. Enriched U falls into two categories-

1. LEU (Low Enriched Uranium) In this case the % of U-235 is equal to or less than 20, it is used for peaceful processes like fuel for the nuclear reactor for example Jaitapur requires 5% enriched U as the fuel.

2. HEU (High enriched Uranium) HEU is also known as weapon-grade Uranium. The % of U-235 can go beyond 90. It is used for conducting nuclear tests and configuring nuclear weapons under any circumstance such as material can not be transferred to any country.

Nuclear Cooperation Agreement

One of the plans of action devised by India to address climate change is to produce 25% of its total electricity from nuclear by 2050, for 2032 the target is 27000 MWE, for 2020 the goal is 20,000 MWE and current production is 6780 MWE which is 2 to 3 % of total electricity.

Domestically India can produce only 1/5 of total nuclear fuel, therefore, the Nuclear cooperation agreement was a sign with Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, South Korea, Russia, UK, USA, Uzbekistan.

Under this agreement India was promised –

  • Nuclear Fuel
  • Nuclear reactor
  • ENR Technology (enrichment and reprocessing)

Reprocessing is the extraction of useful elements from the spent fuel rods, but later the USA, Russia, and France asked India to get the membership of NSG then only access to ENR will be allowed.

India’s obligation –

  1. Separation plan
  2. Safeguard agreement

As India is not a member of NPT, therefore, it was asked to classified it’s nuclear facilities in civilian and military categories and those which are in civilian were to brought under the inspection of IAEA through safeguard agreement, In 2006 India was having 21 reactors out of them 14 were brought in the civilian list and 8 in the military list. India is the only country other than the 5 nuclear weapon states which are allowed to maintain military reactors. It implies India’s recognition as a country with nuclear weapons.

Additional Protocol – It was adopted by IAEA in the 1990s to increase its presence in the nuclear programme of non-nuclear weapon states. In 1993 IAEA adopted a programme i.e.  93+2 to address the weaknesses of safeguard mechanism, this led the genesis of the additional protocol. The difference between safeguard agreement and additional protocol is that under former only declared sites can be brought under the inspection whereas under additional protocol both declared as well as undeclared sites can be inspected.

India refused to sign the protocol which has been signed by non-nuclear weapon state rather it negotiated a new one and gave 3 commitments-

  1. To bring 14 civilian reactors under IAEA inspection
  2. It will inform IAEA if Uranium is exported to non-nuclear weapon states
  3. It will communicate to IAEA if Th is being exported to non-nuclear to weapon states.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
  • As the preeminent nuclear watchdog under the UN, the IAEA is entrusted with the task of upholding the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.
  • It was established as an autonomous organisation on July 29, 1957, at the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is a UN agency.
  • Though established independently of the UN through its own international treaty, the agency reports to both the UN General Assembly and the UNSC.
  • India became a member in 1957 itself.
  • The IAEA has regional offices in Geneva, New York, Toronto and Tokyo; and research laboratories in Austria, Italy and Monaco.
  • What are its safeguards?
    • Safeguards are activities by which the IAEA can verify that a State is living up to its international commitments not to use nuclear programmes for nuclear-weapons purposes.
    • Safeguards are based on assessments of the correctness and completeness of a State’s declared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.
    • Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
  • Basically, two sets of measures are carried out in accordance with the type of safeguards agreements in force with a State.
    • One set relates to verifying State reports of declared nuclear material and activities.
    • Another set enables the IAEA not only to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material but also to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State.
IAEA Governance

The IAEA has two policymaking bodies. They are:

  1. General Conference
  2. Board of Governors

General Conference

  • It consists of all the member countries of the IAEA.
  • It meets in a regular annual session.
  • The annual general conference usually takes place in September.

Board of Governors

  • Here, there are 35 members.
  • The Board generally meets five times a year.
  • It examines and makes recommendations to the IAEA’s General Conference on the organisation’s programme, financial statements and budget. 
  • The Board considers membership applications, approves safeguards agreements and the publication of the safety standards of the IAEA. 
  • It also appoints the Director-General of the IAEA, with the approval of the General Conference. 


  • The IAEA also has a Secretariat which comprises the organisation’s professional and general service staff. It is headed by the Director-General.
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