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US distrusted India’s nuclear program even in 1960s, according to declassified US documents

The Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). PA.

New Delhi: The documents recently declassified by the United States National Security Archive suggest that the United States has always been wary of India’s nuclear program since the late 1960s.

The documents show that Canadian nuclear inspectors visiting the Canada-India reactor at Trombay in Mumbai in June 1968 were troubled by data suggesting that India was moving towards the development of a nuclear device.

This triggered a strong reaction from the United States, saying at the time that it would start an arms race in the region.

Declassified Truth

According to a report published in the National Security Archivein 1968, while visiting the Canada-Indian Reactor (CIR) at Trombay, Canadian inspectors were troubled by data suggesting that India was moving towards the development of a nuclear device.

The recently declassified US State Department telegram revealed that Canadian nuclear experts had told US diplomats that reactor fuel had been irradiated to a level low enough to produce weapons-grade plutonium. According to them, if India wanted to, it could produce up to 12 kilograms of plutonium per year.


The document shed light on the early years of India’s nuclear program and US policy towards India’s nuclear ambitions before its first nuclear test in May 1974. It also revealed that senior Indian nuclear officials posed a challenge to US non-proliferation policy, when they insisted that they could freely use the plutonium produced in their nuclear reactors for a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE).

However, this went against previous US-India nuclear agreements on heavy water supply.

According to National Security Archivethe November 1970 U.S. demarche presented to the Indian government stated that the use of plutonium produced pursuant to U.S.-Indian Civil Agreements for (the) manufacture (of) PNE devices would be inconsistent with such agreements and that they would strongly oppose any its use.

India’s response

In the response that was not previously made public, Indian officials said they had no intention of developing nuclear weapons, but said they had broad possibilities to use nuclear technology. for peaceful purposes.

India’s first nuclear test

Subsequently, India would conduct its first nuclear test in May 1974. Following this, US intelligence attempted to determine the short term direction of Indian policy and a June 1974 interagency intelligence memorandum recently declassified acknowledged that Washington had no evidence of Indian nuclear activity. decision-making, but felt that policy makers had several major choices before them.


One of the choices was to pursue the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, without military purposes, and another major choice was to secretly build up an inventory of small arms under the guise of a PNE program “with little or no improvement in delivery capabilities”.

India’s stance on nuclear

With the 1974 test, India became the sixth country to develop a nuclear capability, but it said it was only testing a PNE and not a live weapon, an approach it has maintained ever since. Thereafter, the Indian government, although it had acquired enough sophistication to create weapons, maintained that it had pursued its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, such as economic development. This led India to reject the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a threat to its independence and to refuse to accept safeguards and inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

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