India’s Nuclear Programme Takes Off

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    When India conducted its first nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974, it became the first confirmed nuclear nation outside the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council. It brought the goal of two visionaries – Jawaharlal Nehru and nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha - to fruition.

    These men foresaw not only the tremendous military edge that nuclear power would give India but also the socio-economic benefits of nuclear energy in a country looking to script its future, post-independence.

    The prequel to India’s nuclear programme began in 1944, when Bhabha teaching at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. He drew attention to the need for an institute in India where original research in mathematics and the sciences could be conducted.

    Bhabha appealed to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, stressing the need for indigenous development of scientific resources and training for India’s benefit. He wrote to the trust, saying:

    “When nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production in, say, a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand.”

    The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was thus set up in Bombay in 1945. It was meant to be the centre for all large-scale projects in nuclear research. But Bhabha realised that the atomic energy programme needed a laboratory dedicated to this purpose.

    He discussed this with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and they agreed that science was important for the progress of a Modern India. Atomic energy was then at the frontier of science and India needed to become self-reliant in nuclear science and engineering.

    Thus, the Atomic Energy Establishment was set up in Trombay, in Mumbai, in 1954. It was renamed the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, or BARC, in 1967, following Bhabha’s untimely death in a plane crash. It marked the beginning of India’s nuclear programme.

    BARC went on to do groundbreaking work. From indigenously developing nuclear reactors for electricity generation to the application of radiation in agriculture and medicine, to computer modelling, BARC continues to be a jewel of Indian science.

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