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Fusion arms may make CTBT obsolete - The Indian Express

Nirmala George ()
July 20, 1998

Title: Fusion arms may make CTBT obsolete
Author: Nirmala George
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: July 20, 1998

The Indian angst over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty may be
increasingly irrelevant as a whole new generation of nuclear
weapon technologies are on the horizon which could render
international non-proliferation treaties like the NPT and CTBT

A number of countries, including India, are looking at these new
areas like pure fusion research which are not covered by the
restrictions imposed by the CTBT.

More significantly, pure fusion research could undermine the
present global nuclear order, which controls the spread of
nuclear weapons by limiting access to materials such as highly
enriched uranium and plutonium. The next generation nuclear
weapons will not need these difficult-to-produce materials.
Instead, the raw material for pure fusion weapons - different
isotopes of hydrogen - are more easily available, for example
>from sea water.

As the pas de deux between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott moves
into a faster tempo this week, all the hand-wringing in India on
the "conditional-unconditional" signing of the CTBT may become a
futile exercise as the game of nuclear weapons has already moved
way beyond the ambit of the CTBT.

India may not be too far behind in the sphere of nuclear fusion
research, according to top scientists here. "India is not very
far behind in nuclear fusion research from that in the West. A
lot of people are working on the physics of fusion," former
Atomic Energy, Commission chairman P K Iyengar told The Indian

A report by the US-based Institute for Energy and Environmental
Research (IEER) made public last week accused the US and France
of violating the CTBT, by carrying out research on pure fusion
weapons, for long the Holy Grail of nuclear designers all over
the world.

Pure fusion weapons are hydrogen bombs with a difference. Until
now thermonuclear weapons-or hydrogen bombs as they are popularly
known needed a fission device to trigger it by producing the high
temperatures to begin a fusion reaction.

Now atomic scientists are examining a variety of other means, in
particular high-powered lasers, that could become the match-stick
to ignite the fusion fire.

The IEER report specifically mentions the National Ignition
Facility, a huge laser complex coming up in Livermore,
California, and the French facility Laser Mega Joule near
Bordeaux, both working on using powerful lasers to induce
thermonuclear explosions in the laboratory.

In simple words, the new research facilities use laser beams to
shoot a sharp burst of energy onto a tiny pellet of hydrogen
fuel, raising it to a white heat and causing the hydrogen atoms
to fuse into helium in an explosion of pure fusion energy.

The trick that the scientists are looking for is an efficient and
compact mechanism to build deliverable pure fusion weapons.

The advantages or dangers, depending on the way you look at it of
pure fusion weapons are many. Doing away with the fission trigger
makes the new generation weapons far more "cleaner" in terms of
nuclear fall-out. They could be made extremely small, giving
enormous flexibility for military planners.

The United States is pushing the frontiers of fusion research and
is way ahead in the race to build next generation nukes.

The other four nuclear weapons states are following suit, as are
Germany and Japan, each having developed significant capabilities
in fusion research.

The IEER report also makes a reference to half a dozen countries
that have either laser or particle beam facilities that are
partly devoted to the study of Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF).

"In some cases, these facilities are fairly small such as the
single beam facilities in India, South Korea and Israel," it
said. The report also suggests that India and Israel may have
used research done at these facilities in designing their

India is now expanding its fusion research infrastructure. An
innocuous sentence in the Department of Atomic Energy's latest
annual performance budget states that the Indore-based Centre for
Advanced Technology (CAI) is developing a four-beam highpower

India will have some catching up to do with the advanced
countries on fusion research.

"There is a paucity of the kind of resources that would be
required for such research," Iyengar said over the phone from

Analysts here say that instead of arguing about the CTBT, India
should be putting real money and effort on fusion and other
weapon research that is permitted by CTBT.

Over the long term, mastery over pure fusion may be the password
for entry to the new global game that is permitted by
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

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