Smiling Buddha

Smiling Buddha
Operation Smiling Buddha
Country  India
Test site Pokhran
Period May 1974
Number of tests 1
Test type Underground tests
Device type Fission
Max. yield 8 kilotons of TNT (33 TJ)
Previous test None
Next test Pokhran-II

The Smiling Buddha[1], formally designated as Pokhran-I, was the codename given to Republic of India's first nuclear test explosion that took place at the long-constructed Indian Army base, Pokhran Test Range at Pokhran municipality, Rajasthan state on 18 May 1974 at 8:05 a.m. (IST).[2] It was also the first confirmed nuclear test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The explosive yield of the bomb was reported to be 8 kt.[3]



The nuclear weapons efforts were remarkably established in 1944 by Homi J. Bhabha who founded the nuclear institute Institute of Fundamental Research in 1944.[4] Nuclear physicist Piara Singh Gill also returned to country from the United States after participating in Manhattan Project in 1945.[4] Physicists such as Chandrasekhara Raman and Satyendra Bose later went onto play an integral role in the research of nuclear weapons technology.[4]

After Indian independence, Premier Jawarharalal Nehru authorized development of the nuclear programme headed by Homi J. Bhabha; the Atomic Energy Act of 1948 focuses on peaceful development.[4] India was heavily involved in the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but ultimately opted not to sign.[5]

We must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war - indeed I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes. ... Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way
—Jawaharalal Nehru— 1st Premier of Republic of India, [4]

In 1954, Bhabha moved the nuclear programme in a direction moving towards weapons designing and production. Bhabha established two important infrastructure— Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Mumbai and the governmental department— Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) of which Bhabha was its first secretary. Between the period 1954 to 1959, the nuclear programme grew swiftly and by 1958, the DAE had 1/3 of the defence budget for research purposes.[4] In 1954, the United States and Canada, as part of the Atoms for Peace policy, agreed to provide and established the small research reactor, CIRUS, also at Trombay. Acquisition of CIRUS was a watershed a watershed event in nuclear proliferation, with understanding between India and the United States that the reactor would use for research purposes only.[4] The CIRUS was an ideal facility to developed the plutonium bomb, therefore Nehru had refused to accept the nuclear fuel from Canada, and started the program to developed the ingenious nuclear fuel cycle.[4]

In 1962, the nuclear programme was continued to develop but at slow rate. Nehru was distratcted by the Sino-Indian War, but lost the territory after China had successfully annexed the territory after launching a successful assault.[4] Nehru turned to Soviet Union for help but Soviet Union was facing the missile crisis in Cuba facing down the United States.[4] The Russian Politburo turned down Nehru's request for weapon supply and was shocked after Nehru founded that Soviet Union was indeed backing the Chinese.[4] The legacy of this war left an impression to India that Soviet Union was an unreliable ally, therefore a nuclear deterrence was deeply felt at that time. [4] Design work began in 1965 under Bhabha but later proceeded by Raja Ramanna who took over the program after latter's death. However, the nuclear programme came to halt after Lal Bahadur Shastri became the premier after Nehru's death. Shastri faced a another war, this time with West-Pakistan (now Pakistan). Shastri appointed dr. Vikram Sarabhai as the head of nuclear programme, but because of his Gandhian nature, Sarabhai focused the programme to be developed into more peaceful purposes rather than the military level.[6]

In 1967, after Indira Gandhi became the premier, the work on nuclear programme was re-started with new attitude and goals.[4] Homi Sethna, a chemical engineer, played a significant role in the development of weapon-grade plutonium while Ramanna designed and manufactured the whole nuclear device.[6] Because of the sensitivity, the first nuclear bomb project did not employed more than 75 scientists.[6]

On 7 September 1972 Prime minister Indira Gandhi authorized the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to manufacture a nuclear device and prepare it for a test.[5] Throughout its development, the device was formally called the "Peaceful Nuclear Explosive", but it was usually referred to as the Smiling Buddha.

Development team

The head of the development team was Raja Ramanna. Other key personnel included P. K. Iyengar, Rajagopala Chidambaram, Nagapattinam Sambasiva Venkatesan, and Waman Dattatreya Patwardhan under the supervision of Homi N. Sethna. Chidambaram, who would later coordinate work on the Pokhran-II tests, began work on the equation of state of plutonium in late 1967 or early 1968. To preserve secrecy, the project employed no more than 75 scientists and engineers from 1967–1974.[7][5] Dr. Abdul Kalam also arrived at the test site as the representative of the TBRL although he had no role whatsoever in the development of the nuclear bomb or even in the nuclear programme.

Role of Indian Nuclear Research Institutes

The device used a implosion system developed at the DRDO Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) in Chandigarh based on the Fat Man design. The detonation system was developed at the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) of DRDO at Pune. The 6 kg of plutonium came from the CIRUS reactor at BARC. The neutron initiator was a polonium-beryllium type code-named "Flower." The complete core was assembled in Trombay before transportation to the test site.

Cross-section of the device

The fully assembled device had a hexagonal cross section, 1.25 meter in diameter and weighed 1400 kg. The device was detonated at 8.05 a.m. in a shaft 107 m under the army Pokhran test range in the Thar Desert (or Great Indian Desert), Rajasthan. Coordinates of the crater are 27°05′42″N 71°45′11″E / 27.095°N 71.753°E / 27.095; 71.753.

Controversial Yield

The yield of this test has remained controversial with unclear data provided by Indian sources. Although occasional press reports have given ranges from 20 kt to as low as 2 kt, the official yield was initially reported at 12 kt (post Operation Shakti claims have raised it to 13 kt). Outside seismic data and analysis of the crater features indicates a lower figure. Analysts usually estimate the yield at 4 to 6 kt using conventional seismic magnitude-to-yield conversion formulas. In recent years, both Homi Sethna and P.K. Iyengar have conceded that the official yield is an exaggeration. Iyengar has variously stated that the yield was actually 8–10 kt, that the device was designed to yield 10 kt, and that the yield was 8 kt 'exactly as predicted'. Careful analysis of hard rock cratering effects establishes a tight bound around 8 kt for the yield.[3]

Code name

The project's code name was Smiling Buddha and the detonation was scheduled to occur on 18 May 1974 (the official test date), Buddha Jayanti, a festival day in India marking the birth of Gautama Buddha.


In 1975, Homi Sethna (chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission), Raja Ramanna and Nag Chaudhuri (head of the DRDO) received the Padma Vibhushan - India's second highest civilian award. Five other project members received the Padma Shri - India's fourth highest civilian award.

International Reaction

While India continued to state that the test was for peaceful purposes, it was shown opposition from many corners. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was formed in reaction to the Indian tests to check international nuclear proliferation.[8]


Pakistan did not view the test as a "peaceful nuclear explosion", and canceled talks scheduled for June 10 on normalization of relations.[5] Pakistan's Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto vowed in June 1974 that he would never succumb to "nuclear blackmail" or accept "Indian hegemony or domination over the subcontinent".[9][10] The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Munir Ahmed Khan said that the test would force Pakistan to test its own nuclear bomb.[11] Pakistan's leading nuclear physicist, Pervez Hoodbhoy, stated in 2011 that he believes the test "pushed [Pakistan] further into the nuclear arena".[12]

United States and Canada

The plutonium used in the test was created at the CIRUS reactor supplied by Canada and using heavy water supplied by the United States. Both countries reacted negatively, especially in light of then ongoing negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the economic aid both countries provided to India.[13][5] Canada concluded that the test violated a 1971 understanding between the two states, and froze nuclear energy assistance for the two heavy water reactors then under construction.[5] The United States concluded that the test did not violate any agreement and proceeded with a June 1974 shipment of enriched uranium for the Tarapur reactor.[5]

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union did not issue any statement, remaining silent in support of India.[citation needed]


China, itself a member of the nuclear club since 1964, issued no comment on the test.[5]


The CIRUS reactor used to produce the plutonium was a research reactor based on the NRX design and donated by Canada in 1960, with heavy water supplied by the US; ("CIRUS" = Canada-India Research U.S.). The Smiling Buddha test caused a public outcry in Canada, and in May 1976 the Canadian government cut off exchange of nuclear materials and technology with India in the wake of the test.


After the test, India continued expanding its nuclear power capacity and developing its nuclear physics programme, but made no further nuclear tests until 1998. Operation Shakti was carried out two months after the 1998 elections at the Pokhran test site, and used devices designed and built over the preceding two decades.[5][14]

Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement

A further effect of India's nuclear test was the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), also known as the London Club, resulting in some restrictions on trade in nuclear materials and technology with India. The NSG waived restrictions on nuclear trade with India in 2008 as part of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. However, the bans and restrictions were lifted once India assured the world that its nuclear development was for peaceful purposes.

See also


  1. ^ There are many code-names for this test. But it was officially known as Smiling Buddha by Indira Gandhi who witnessed this test. Civilian scientists called this test as "Operation Smiling Buddha" while Indian Army referred this test as Operation Happy Krishna. According to the United States Military Intelligence Corps, Operation Happy Krishna was codename for Indian Army to built the underground site in which the tests were taken. On other side, Indian Ministry of External Affairs designated this test as Pokhran-I.
  2. ^ 8:05 18 May 1974 (IST)
  3. ^ a b "India's Nuclear Weapons Program - Smiling Buddha: 1974". Nuclear Weapon Archive. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sublette, Carey. "Orgins of Indian nuclear program". Nuclear weapon Archive. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Perkovich, George (2002). India's nuclear bomb: the impact on global proliferation. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520232105. 
  6. ^ a b c Kanavi, Shivanand. "How Indian PMs reacted to nuclear bombs". Shivanand Kanavi. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  7. ^ Richelson, Jefferey T. (March 1999). Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea. WW Norton. pp. 233. ISBN 978-0393053838. 
  8. ^ Agencies (2 October 2008). "Nuclear Deal: A chronology of key developments". The Indian Express. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  9. ^ APP and Pakistan Television (PTV), Prime minister Secretariat Press Release (18 May, 1974). "India's so-called Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) is tested and designed to intimidate and establish "Indian hegemony in the subcontinent", most particularly Pakistan....Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime minister of Pakistan, on May of 1974." (html). Statement published on Associated Press of Pakistan and the on-aired on Pakistan Television (PTV). 
  10. ^ video of Prime Minister Bhutto's address in response to the Smiling Buddha test
  11. ^ Khan, Munir Ahmad (18 May, 1974). ""India's nuclear explosion: Challenge and Response"" (HTML). Munir Ahmad Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and former director of the IAEA Reactor Division. International Atomic Energy Agency and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. 
  12. ^ Hoodbhoy, PhD (Nuclear Physics), Pervez Amerali (Januar 23rd, 2011). "Pakistan’s nuclear bayonet" (HTML). Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Doctor of Philosophy (Nuclear Physics), Professor of Nuclear and High-Energy Physics at the Quaid-e-Azam University and Senior academic research scientist at the National Center for Nuclear Physics. Dr. Prof. Pervez Amerali Hoodbhoy and the The Herald. Retrieved September 9, 2011. 
  13. ^ Press Report, Associated (22 May 1974). "Ripples in the nuclear pond". The Desert News. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  14. ^ Reed, Thomas C.; Danny B. Stillman (2009). The nuclear express: a political history of the bomb and its proliferation. Zenith. ISBN 9780760335024. 

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