India had strongly criticised Adrian Levy in December after the American journalist, working for the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington, reported that the South Asian country was building a “secret nuclear facility”. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs rubbished Levy’s report, saying in a statement: “It appears to be a clearly motivated piece which seeks to paint a picture of India’s nuclear programme, which does not tally with facts at all.” However, some Indian scientists have admitted to the new facility, saying that it is under construction at Challakere in the southern Indian province of Karnataka.

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On the sidelines of the 103rd Indian Science Congress held at the University of Mysore on January 3-7, recently retired Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission R K Sinha told the press that a science complex, currently under construction over 8,000 acres of land at Challakere, would have a nuclear facility for enrichment of uranium. When asked whether the new facility would pose a threat to local population, Sinha stressed: “We are not doing any harm to anybody. Enrichment of uranium causes no harm to the environment. It requires land and property. We have acquired the land by paying money to the right people. We are taking care of responsibilities in the neighbourhood development programme. From all angles, people are happy there.”

Sinha also said that Indian scientists have developed the technology for uranium enrichment and made the country proud. According to him, unlike Iran (which has been blamed for clandestinely acquiring the technology) and Pakistan (accused of stealing from somewhere), India has done it “ourselves”.

The senior scientist argued that the facility would help the country overcome power crisis, making it clear that India has no intention to produce nuclear weapons at the facility. Sinha explained: “We should be self-sufficient in nuclear fuel, but nuclear fuel is a primary thing whose quantities are very small. A small 20kg bundle can generate 0.88 million units when it is in natural state, but if I enrich it, the same fuel will produce at least seven times higher energy. From 20kg through an enrichment programme, we can get at least four million units of electricity. That is the purpose of enrichment.”

Currently, India imports enriched fuel from abroad. According to Sinha, the new facility will reduce India’s dependency on foreign countries for enriched uranium and it is the main objective of this particular project. At the same time, the former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission admitted that there was also a strategic angle, saying: “Our nuclear submarines work on enriched uranium. Where are we supposed to get uranium for that? Should we stop our nuclear submarine programme? Our enemies may not like it. This is a way to attack them. Let us not worry about what they say.”

Meanwhile, Sinha assured the international community that the Indian scientists would remain committed to reduce risk to the public and the environment while increasing the rate of growth of nuclear energy within the country in a significant way.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]