Friday 27 July 2007

Nuclear, anti-nuclear

The Sunday Observer, June 20-26, 1993
Our lonely nuclear high priests

Shivanand Kanavi

In a ceremony at Trombay on January 20, 1957, to name the first swimming pool type reactor, APSARA, Jawaharlal Nehru made some perceptive remarks. “I am happy to be here,” he said “not because I know very much about atomic energy or reactors, in spite of the numerous attempts Dr Bhabha and Dr Krishnan have made to educated me, but without understanding the intricacies of these mysteries, I hope I have some conception of the importance in this world of ours, of the release of this great power.”

“In the old days, the men of religion talked about mysteries. In ancient Greece, there were the mysteries. High priests who apparently knew about these mysteries exercised a great amount of influence on the common people who did not understand them. In every country that was so. The high priests in those days possibly dominated the thinking in many countries with their mysterious functions, ceremonies and rituals.”

“Now we have these mysteries, which these high priests of science flourish before us, not only flourish but threaten us with; and at any rate make us full of wonder or full of fear. Whatever it is, we have got these new mysteries of science, and of higher mathematics, which are unveiling various aspects of the physical world to us. No one knows where this will go.”

In a flash of brilliance, Nehru had captured the predicament of the common man when faced with the mysteries of nature and high priests of science –feeling both wonder and fear.

Our atomic scientists, who best represented the growth of science and technology in modern India, are no longer the unalloyed heroes they were in the fifties and sixties in the public perception. Why is this so? Have we come half circle from wonder to the fear that Nehru perceived?

From the euphoria of the fifties to anti-nuclear agitations and litigations of the eighties and nineties, a section of our intelligentsia seem to have made an about- turn. Some even sound like anti-science mystics. This phenomenon is worth investgating seriously. Otherwise, we will be lost in pro-nuclear, anti-nuclear dogma and rhetoric.
Pro- nukes call the anti-nukes irrational, stubborn, callous towards mass poverty-alleviation, radical chic and even agents of western imperialism who are trying to force India to go slow on its nuclear programme and eventually sign the hegemonistic nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The anti-nukes call the other side ivory-tower technocrats, science fundamentalists, reductionists (a new abuse), brainwashed by western concept of material progress etc. it is clear that the dispute has crossed limits of decency and has become a them and us confrontation

A good example is that of Dr Shivaram Karanth. More than four decades ago he compiled and published, at his own cost, a beautifully illustrated and lucidly written three-volume children’s encyclopedia called Bala Jagattu in Kannada and a two-volume science encyclopedia called Vijnana Prapancha .

It was a pioneering effort in popular science writing in Kannada. Today, Karanth, a Gyanpeeth laureate and a nonagenarian intellectual, is fighting a prolonged battle in the Supreme Court against the nuclear power plant at Kaiga, 60 Kilometeres from Karwar, in Karanataka.

These developments appear to have demoralized nuclear scientists and engineers. They have not come to terms with their transformation from heroes to villains, from nation builders to potential destroyers. I have seen bewilderment expressed in numerous conversations. More than the resource crunch, what seem have hit them is this fall from grace.
The Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor that is being installed in Kaiga has been developed by Indians and is a credit to their skills, it is much safer than the type that was used in Chernobyl. It uses natural uranium as against the enriched uranium that Western nation have refused to sell to India if it does not sign the NPT.

The Kaiga plant will produce 440 Mw of electricity to begin with and ultimately 1,400 Mw, shoring up the infrastructure in power-hungry Karnataka. The plant has enough in-built safety devices. Of course accidents can happen any were. The rain forest cut to clear the land for the project has been adequately compensated by reforestation both in Kaiga and in distant Chamarajnagar and Mandya. It is to be noted that the forest cleared is about five percent of what has been destroyed in 1,200 Mw Kalinadi hydroelectric project.

Taking note of all these factors, the Supreme Court in a recent judgment clubbed all the petitions filed against the Kaiga project together and dismissed them. The court has advised the Department of Atomic Energy that if it so desires, it can give a hearing to the petitioners’ grievance. The department has given the petitioners opportunity to prepare a brief using the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute(NEERI) report on environmental impact of the project if necessary and submit it for discussion.

Clearly, the Supreme Court verdict is a vindication of the stand of the nuclear scientist and not that of the anti-nuclear movement that had concentrated on the safety aspect and destruction of the rain forest in Kaiga. Has the issue been settled? It is doubtful. There may be agitation again. “Why is it that issues, which can be explained with facts and figures and reasoning are not understood by some of our intellectuals?” asked an exasperated nuclear scientist.
It could be pointed out to him that issues regarding waste disposal and even closing down the reactor after its useful life –normally 25 years- are still to be solved satisfactorily. Moreover why should people blindly believe the high priests of science? For example, did our framers know about the use of chemical pesticides for thousands of years? Then came the Green Revolution in the sixties and our agricultural experts from universities and agro-corporations taught our farmers the new technology.

About two decades later, a factory manufacturing pesticides in Bhopal leaked deadly methyl iso-cyanate and killed thousands in their sleep. Now how can you expect the common man to take your word for it? There is bound to be adverse reaction against science and technology. Some of it may be justified and a lot of it may be irrational fear. But the science establishment has not yet learnt to deal with it.

There are basically two reasons for this development and they have to be dealt with separately. One is the lack of information about science and technology among laymen, which naturally means increased effort in popularizing science. A number of organisations are finally realizing this.

The establishment of the Directorate of Environment and public Awareness within the Nuclear Power Corporation is an example of this. But the second reason is more complex and needs to be dealt with at different levels. That has to do with the alienation of the state and governance from the people. The marginalization felt today is so acute that anything that has to do with the government and comes from some office in New Delhi or a state capital immediately raises the hackles of many people.

The corruption, arrogance and later brute violence that is increasingly being associated with the state, repels many Indians. Scientists working with the government are tainted, by association with such an apparatus.

The solution is not within the ambit of scientists alone. It is an urgent national problem that requires effort from all of us. But scientists working in the government have to be more responsive to public opinion and do their best to win over their opponents. The haughty style of innuendo and ridicule and answering questions only when they are asked in the Lok Sabha has to change.

For example when I asked our nuclear scientists why they do not meet Dr Karnath and others and win them over, they had no answer. Their approach was limited to a few pamphlets, press statements and a debate five years back in Bangalore.

I think they should read Nehru’s speech carefully and emerge from their ivory towers.


The Sunday Observer, February 2-8, 1992
The Real Chanakya is lost in CHANAKYA, the TV Serial

Shivanand Kanavi

Many viewers are beginning to see red on seeing saffron in the popular TV serial, Chanakya. This, in turn, has sparked off a debate in the media about the serial’s historical authenticity. Some have voiced skepticism over whether a saffron flag had existed in the fourth century B.C. Others have implied that Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi, the writer-director-actor of the serial, is using it to propagate Hindutva.

The Controversy is unnecessary. The serial, set against a historical backdrop, is fictional. In fact, the controversy would not have arisen if Doordarshan had learnt a lesson from the dispute over the historical authenticity of The Sword Of Tipu Sultan, and made an announcement before every episode that the serial is fictional. But who was Chanakya or Kautilya? We know nothing about his personal life. We have some details about Chandragupta Maurya from Greek sources, who refer to him as Sandrokottos. But even these reports survive as fragmented quotations in other works- the original is untraceable. As D D Kosambi points out, as far as Chanakya is concerned, we only have legends fictionalized through the famous Sanskrit play, Mudra Rakshasa, written by Visakhadatta in the fourth century AD.

Today, all we know about Chanakya is only through his work, Arthashastra. This work was studied until the twelfth century and then was lost for many centuries. It was rediscovered in 1905, but only in parts. As R P Kangle, in his preface to Arthashastra – Part II (Bombay University Publication, Second edition, 1972) points out, no entire copy of Arthashastra has been recovered so far. The ancient Sanskrit used in the text is also open to many interpretations besides the copiers’ errors and interpolations. At the end of it all, Arthashastra is a treatise on political economy and does not say anything about the author direct. Thus anybody claiming to know about Chanakya the person should not be taken too seriously.

But having said all this, one cannot help but be impressed by the author of the Arthashastra. In fact, we have to be extremely thankful to him for providing invaluable information about the economy and politics of fourth century Magadh. He writes in a clear-cut, terse style with no scope for cant.

A quick glance at the Arthashastra yields rich insights into the state of Magadh. The title translates as “the science of material gain”. In the very first verse, the author acknowledges his debt to other ancient theoreticians and modestly says that he has done nothing more than compile and survey other masters’ views. He puts fourth the aim of the book as teaching the ruler “how to acquire and protect his Kingdom”.

The state Magadh appears very privileged indeed. It was the main land-clearing agency in the primeval forests surrounding pockets of population in the Indo-Gangetic plain and later also in the Deccan. It was the largest landowner and the principal owner of mines. Even a quick scan of the Arthashastra yields a rich insight into Magadh. After detailing all the precautions the ruler should take against corrupt state servants, Chanakya admits that it is as difficult to detect an official dipping into the state’s revenues, as it is to discover how much water has been drunk by swimming fish. The monarch, as he emerges in the Arthashastra, far from wallowing in luxury, was the most hard-working person in the kingdom, with his entire day strictly charted out with time set aside for sports, consultations with ministers and the head of the treasury and army, receiving secret reports from spies, interspersed by short spells of leisure.

Strife for the throne is treated as a minor occupational hazard of kingship. In fact, Chanakya quotes a predecessor’s axiom: “Princes, like crabs, are father eaters!” The Arthashastra never contemplates any interruption in the policy of state, no matter what happens in the palace. Externally the armed tribal oligarchies maintaining tribal exclusivity and some democratic traditions are considered serious obstacles to the absolutist state, both politically and ideologically. Ways to break up and subdue these tribal oligarchies are detailed in chanakyaneeti. Secret agents are not only used to spy on officials but also to monitor public pinion and even try to mould it through disinformation campaigns.

As far as the economy was concerned, Chanakya vigorously prompted direct settlements on waste lands and clearing forests for cultivation. Land was divided into leased land, on which taxes were collected, and vast crown lands, which the state cultivated. Productivity was a paramount consideration and if a lessee’s heirs did not cultivate the land properly then the lease was cancelled.

There was a form of social security for the aged, infirm, widows and pregnant women. The state maintained buffer stocks, not only of grain but also of essentials like timber, rope, tools, etc. to be distributed to the public during times of crises like famines or epidemics. Prostitution and wine production were legalised and taxed; in fact, there were separate ministries for them.

A more developed cash economy cannot be imagined. But all this was confined to the towns. The villages belonging to the vast crown lands were like camps of forced labour –increasing productivity was the only thing that mattered. The villagers were allowed no diversions of any kind.

The state also maintained a huge standing army estimated at half a million with handsome salary for the soldiers. But the cash was mopped up by the state by retailing the essentials to soldiers at inflated prices. The state monopoly in mining was crucial and Chanakya says, “the treasury is based on mining, army upon the treasury. He who has both can conquer the whole wide earth!”

In the event of financial emergency, methods similar to modern deficit financing was practiced. Chanakya also suggests alternative methods like state loans and National debts and even framing charges on rich merchants and making them pay in times of emergencies!

Chanakya certainly evokes interests among historians and students of political economy – but the Arthahshastra is of interest to students of Indian philosophy as well. In the very beginning of the Arthashastra, Chanakya enumerates what he considers as sciences worthy of being studied by the prince, who is training to be the future king. There he mentions philosophy; three (not four) Vedas, economics and science of politics as the four sciences to be studied diligently. In fact, he disagreed with the followers of Manu who regarded only the Vedas, economics and politics as the sciences. Chanakya extolled philosophy as the “lamp of all actions, support of all laws”.

But what is starling is what Chanakya considers as philosophy. He mentions only Samkhya, Yoga and Lokayata. Samkhya, it may be noted, is an intensely atheistic Indian trend which was naturalistic in outlook. Yoga here is not the Yoga of asanas but another name for Nyaya-Vaiseshika. This school extols doubt, debate, inference, syllogism and moreover, the atomic and molecular theory of matter. The third leg of his triad-- Lokayayata, is another name for Charvaka, a primitive materialistic trend. This trend was apparently highly respected by Chanakya, whereas later it was suppressed by followers of Manu. Lokayata now remains only in the polemics against it by its opponents and none of its works have been discovered. As Debiprasad Chattopdyaya noted, Chanakya while extolling philosophy and putting himself apart from the followers of Manu on this question, was actually extolling philosophy, in the broad sense of the term, and particularly those trends in Indian philosophy that had rational elements in them. Chanakya, thus, emerges from the Arthashastra as clear-thinking, bold, and rational theoretician.

Having said this, I would urge you all to watch the fictionalised Chanakya every Sunday morning and enjoy the histrionics of Chandraprakash Dwivedi and Co.

Thursday 26 July 2007

Amar Bose--A Portrait

Business India, January 22-February 4, 2001

In pursuit of excellence

Shivanand Kanavi

While we were preparing the list of hi-tech entrepreneurs in the US, and discussing optical networking, gigabit routers, switches, chips and software, it struck us: how could we forget the original Indian entrepreneur in hi-tech, Dr Amar Bose of Bose Corporation? Starting way back in 1964, when most present-day entrepreneurs were in graduate schools or even in high schools, Bose set up his company to produce speakers. The privately-held com­pany is considered the biggest audio brand in the world today, and its revenues are expected to cross a billion dol­lars this year. The name Bose is whispered in hushed tones by audiophiles. His speakers and audio systems are perva­sive and can be seen in NASA programmes, US Air Force, homes, stadiums, theatres and auditoria. However, very little is known of Bose, the man himself.

The media-shy Dr Bose graciously agreed to meet us for an interview and photo session at his headquarters in Framingham, Massachusetts. When we mentioned that we would be meeting Bose, Desh Deshpande told us: "I know very little about him and would love to read his story in Business India.” And Mukesh Chatter said: "That man is way up there. He is the dean of all of us."

Bose Corporations' headquarters, popularly called "the mountain", is on top of the now verdant dirt hill, created in the early part of the century, during the construction of the US highway system. It is a gleaming glass structure shaped like a, take your guess, an audio system. We entered it with certain awe, but we were pleasantly surprised to meet the legend, a friendly, informal and animated speaker. The 45-minute interview stretched to two-and-a­ half hours as he realised that we were as interested in his life story as in his research in statistical communication theory and acoustics at MIT.

Technically, Bose is not an India-born Indian-American, like most people we met, but his bonds with India and its struggle for independence are as strong as you can get. His father Noni Gopal Bose was a member of a revolutionary group, while he was studying physics in Calcutta University. Two weeks before his University examinations, the British police caught on to him. Luckily, Bose Sr. made a successful escape to the US in 1920 on a boat with no passport and $5 in his pocket, with the Special Branch hot on his heels. After coming to the US, Bose Sr. worked full-time with a New York-based revolutionary group headed by Dr Taraknath Das, mobilising moral and material support for India's struggle for indepen­dence. He married an American schoolteacher and settled down in Philadelphia. "In a sense, my mother was more Indian than me. She was a vegetarian and deeply interested in Vedanta and Hindu philosophy," says Bose. The connec­tion with Indian revolutionaries did not go away. Amar Bose vividly recalls the hush-hush meetings in his house and the visit by a person who had escaped the horror of Jalianwala Baug. The stories of British atrocities, which he heard from this visitor as well as from others, have left an indelible impression on him even 60 years later.

Bose's childhood in Philadelphia was not easy either. One pictures the deep south of US as the seat of racism and bigotry, but during the '30s and '40s, right in Philadelphia, the home of Bill of Rights, the Boses had to suffer intense racial discrimination and humiliation. "Nobody would rent a house for us. We had to send my mother house hunting. Every time we used to enter a restaurant we would keep on waiting and nobody would serve us. Finally my father would call the manager, the whole restaurant would suddenly fall silent and father would make a short speech: 'Sir, we are good enough to cook and wait and serve you. We are good enough to die for this country in the wars, but we are not good enough to pay and be served. Why is that?' Obviously, it was largely rhetorical and used to have no effect on the proprietor. We all used to then stand up and leave the place. My father never tried to say that he was not an African-American but an Indian. When I met Bill Cosby - he is also from Philadelphia - he said: 'What do you know about .racism? You grew up on the other side of the railway tracks.' I said, just hold on, and told him a few stories," reminisces Bose. "One cannot for­get that things were not as they are now. But all said and done, as far as recognising talent for what it is, there is no country like the US."

Bose showed a penchant for engineering pretty early in his childhood. He could not afford toys but he learnt to repair toy trains and started earning a little pocket money at the age of 13. During World War II, he started repairing radio sets and developed the largest network of radio repairs through small advertisements placed in different stores in Philadelphia. His brilliance in academics led to admission in MIT and later BS (1952), MS (1952) and DSC (1956) from the same institution. His actual thesis advisor was the legendary Norbert Wiener, but since Wiener was in Math­ematics department and Bose was registered in Electrical Engineering, another advisor Dr Y.W. Lee nominally filled in as his advisor.

After he finished his doctoral thesis and was waiting for an appointment in the EE department at MIT, for a faculty position, he got a Fullbright Fellowship. He chose to visit the National Physical Laboratory, Delhi and lecture on Sta­tistical Communication Theory, which was just being developed in the world. Since there was a month to leave for Delhi, Bose had nothing better to do and bought a so-called hi-fidelity system after checking out its technical specs. But when he played it at home he was terribly disappointed. Since he did have some free time on his hands, he decided to get to the bottom of the audio sys­tem. This led to mathematical calculations, redesigning electronic circuits and conducting actual experiments on people to see what they find pleasing to listen to. Then just before he went to Delhi, the chairman of the EE depart­ment casually mentioned, when Bose was corning out of the pool, that when he came back from Delhi, he would be given office and lab space. "I could not believe it. The uncertainty was over just like that, he had confirmed my appointment at MIT," recalls Bose. His days at NPL with its illustrious director, K.S. Krish­nan, a few lectures at the Indian Statistical Institute and discussions with P C Mahalnobis, a giant in statistical theory, are etched indelibly in Bose's mind.

After he returned to MIT from Delhi, the acoustics experiments were carried on in a corner of the lab as a skunk project. Finally, in 1964, he decided to commer­cialise his research and set up Bose Corporation. His first employee and the only one for more than a year, was Sher­win Greenblatt, a former student of Bose, who is now the company's president. MIT encouraged Bose to set up the company while continuing as faculty member of MIT. Till today, Bose teaches at MIT part-time and his course on psy­cho-acoustics - an area in which he holds many patents ­is one of the most popular electives there.

Bose holds the company 100 per cent. When asked why he has not taken it public he said: "As far as employees are concerned, we pay them top­ of-the-line salaries as deter­mined every year by an outside consultant, so they do not feel the absence of stock options. I myself don't need the cash. In fact, every dollar of profit made in the company has been ploughed back. Moreover, taking it public will mean others telling us how to spend our dollars in research, whereas some of the research pro­jects we are working on will take decades and some may not even be completed. I am sure we could not have taken up such projects if we were not free to do what we want to."

Clearly, knowledge creation is what excites Bose. We could see that in the sparkle in his eyes and the alacrity with which he jumped up to explain technical points about wave guides, normal modes and spherical speakers or a subtle point about non-linear systems. But this acade­mic engineer has taken up commercial challenges as intellectual challenges and either licked the competition or created totally new technologies. The way he conquered the Japanese market is an abject example to American corporations who constantly wring their hands about 'fortress Japan'. When he found that passenger cars were being given lousy audio systems, he studied the interior of every car model and designed the audio system for each interior. He spent over $13 million on R&D before he could sell a single system to GM. Today he occupies the throne in car audio market with Mercedes Benz, Accura, GMC, Nis­san, Mazda, Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti, Oldsmobile and Ponti­acs flaunting custom-made Bose systems. His latest product, which has taken American homes by storm, is an ordinary alarm clock radio, with a CD player in it. Usually alarm clocks are considered a necessary evil in a bedroom. One feels like throttling them early in the morning, but to the owners' surprise Bose wave radio incorporated the new wave guide technology and reproduced sound as well or better than the much larger and more expensive audio sys­tems in the drawing rooms. When Bose realized that retail­ers may not do justice to this product, he directly sold it to consumers and made it a great success.

To use a cliché, Amar Bose is 71 years young. He simply oozes energy, visibly cringes if anybody calls him an icon but jumps up to the blackboard and waves his hand all over the room if you discuss physics.

His two grown-up children have clearly shown no intention to run their father's business. Son Vanu 35, an MIT alumnus himself, has an IT company which is selling the concept of Software Radio and daughter Maya, 34, is a chiropractor.

When told that his systems are very popular among the audio cognoscenti in India, his eyes go damp and he says: "I wish my father were here to see it".

Nuclear Engineering--PHWR

BUSINESS INDIA, October 7-20. 1996

Nuclear Heart Transplant

The heart of the 16-year-old Rajasthan-II reactor is being removed and replaced by a more robust brand new one, in a marvel of nuclear engineering

Shivanand Kanavi

In 1967, when Dr Christiaan Barnard conducted the world's first successful human heart transplant in South Africa, he created history. The engineers of Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) are carrying out another type of heart trans­plant at Rawatbhatta, by changing the coolant channels of the nuclear power reactor. Thereby, they hope to extend the life of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Sta­tion-II (RAPS-II) by roughly 30 years.

On successful completion of the job to take roughly three years, NPC would have also mastered a new proprietory technol­ogy, developed indigenously at a highly competitive price. Thereby posing seri­ous competition to the Canadians in the international reactor services market for Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR).

Nuclear heart surgery involves a great deal of analysis, design, precise planning, skill as in human heart surgery and in addition great radiation risk too, if mis­handled. Hence, to appreciate the com­plexity of the operation, it will help to know how the workhorse of the Indian nuclear programme - the 210 MW PHWR works.

PHWR produces power by bombarding neutrons on natural uranium (99.3 per cent U238 and 0.7 per cent U235). The right neutron speed can split the uranium nucleus into two nearly equal halves, releasing energy and more neutrons than consumed in fission. The released neutrons are slowed down through a series of collisions with deuterium in heavy water without being absorbed, much like a sprinter is slowed down while passing through a crowd.

Ordinary water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, whereas heavy water is made up of deu­terium - a heavier isotope of hydrogen - and oxygen. The resulting compound is about 10 per cent heavier than ordinary water and hence the name. While ordinary water absorbs neu­trons thereby stopping the reaction, its heavier cousin does not do so. This prop­erty of heavy water makes it a good 'moderator'.

With more neutrons released than consumed by fission, a chain reaction sets in. Neutron absorbers like cadmium are used to strike the right balance between neutron release and absorp­tion rates, thereby prevent­ing a run away reaction leading to a nuclear explo­sion, while still sustaining enough of the reaction for power production.

Uranium mined by the Uranium Corporation at Jaduguda, Bihar and converted into 'yellow cake' is refined and converted into fuel bundles by the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad. These fuel bundles are placed in coolant channels made of zirconium alloy which is almost transparent to neutrons. Pres­surised heavy water flows through the coolant channels and carries away the heat produced during nuclear fission. The hot heavy water at 270 degree celsius then transfers the heat to ordinary water in the steam generator. The steam thus produced then turns a conventional tur­bine-generator producing electricity.

The coolant channels are housed in a cylindrical steel vessel called the calan­dria. The calandria contains heavy water which acts as a moderator. The two ends of calandria are cov­ered by nearly a metre thick steel end shields housing a lattice of 306 coolant channels. The entire reactor is inaccessible and is in a metre thick con­crete vault, once the reactor starts up. All defuelling and fuelling has to be done through remote control. Thus unlike a conventional power station, any minor repair later, is a herculean task and needs careful planning and execution.
The boiling water reactor technology developed in the US by General Electric, Westinghouse, etc, needs enriched ura­nium requiring expensive enrichment processes. The PHWRS developed by Canada as pointed out earlier, use natural uranium. Moreover, Canada offered the technology at very attractive terms and even showed willingness to involve Indi­ans to some degree in developing and sta­bilising the design.

However, Pokharan in 1974, exploded all international nuclear co-operation with India. Canadians even abandoned RAPS-IT halfway. There was an embargo placed on all nuclear-related sales to India and every wheel had to be painstak­ingly reinvented by the Department of Atomic Energy and then taught to the Indian industry.

Today a veritable nuclear industrial infrastructure has been built. Industries like L&T, Walchandnagar, Bhel, Machine Tool Aids & Reconditioning, KSB Pumps, etc, are doing high precision fab­rication of end shields, calandrias, coolant channels, fuelling machines, steam generators, pumps and other sub­systems for the PHWRS.

The technological embargo, however, led to another serious problem. There was a fracture in a coolant channel in the reac­tor at Pickering Unit-II, Canada, in August 1983. Such a fracture leading to what nuclear engineers call a 'loss of coolant accident' is every reactor opera­tor's worst nightmare, as it might lead to 'core melt down' and a serious nuclear accident as in the Three Mile Island in the US or even worse. Some readers might also remember the Hollywood version of loss of coolant accident in Jane Fonda & Jack Lemon’s China Syndrome.
Fortunately, the loss of coolant in a PHWR does not lead to a core melt down. It is one of the inherent design superiori­ties of PHWR. But due to the embargo, Indians, who were using the same design in Rajasthan, were denied detailed knowledge of the accident, its cause and the remedial actions taken. They had access only to some general discussion in international conferences.

While some problems are expected due to ageing, after 30 years of run­ning the reactor, it was significant that the accident at Pickering occurred after only ten full operating years. The accident at Pickering, however, alerted Indians and some design modifications were made in all reactors after Rajasthan I & II and Madras I &II. In Kakrapara II, Kaiga-I &II and RAPS-III & IV a new zirconium alloy with an addition of 2.5 per cent niobium was used for coolant channels. The new alloy has vastly better characteristics than the earlier zircolloy-2 and should give no problem for 30 years.

However, such a coolant channel frac­ture could still occur at RAPS-I&II and MAPS-I&II, which use the old design. Hence they were closely monitored. To take remedial action, NPC set up a core group of engineers called Coolant Chan­nel Replacement Group to work out the entire details of an exercise to replace all the 306 coolant channels in the older designs starting with RAPS-II.

NPC engineers in Bombay and on site at Rawatbhatta have risen up to the task admirably and are today probably the most excited group in the entire DAE. In fact, V.K. Chaturvedi, the project director at Rawatbhatta has become a legend of sorts with his hands-on leadership. The best place to meet him is not his residence or office but the reactor site itself where he is found at all odd times.

In a record time of four months they have already cut and removed all the 306 coolant channels at RAPS-II and sealed the highly radioactive channels in a spe­cially constructed underground concrete mausoleum. According G.R. Srinivasan, director environment and public aware­ness at NPC, "The task has been carried out with a surprisingly low radiation exposure to personnel, well below safe levels, a fact which has amazed many."

Canadians had done the same, taking longer time and using advanced remote controlled equipment. It was rumoured internationally that either Indians cannot develop the technology or they will use crude and callous methods and expose their personnel to heavy doses of radiation. The achievement of the coolant channel replacement group led by R.C. Arya, director, reactor services and the on-site team led by Chaturvedi, increases in significance in this background.

If everything goes well then even fit­ting the new channels will be finished between December 1996 and September 1997. They would then have completed the entire project, from defuelling to handing over for start-up within 36 months, as opposed to 44 months taken by the Canadians.

This has commercial implications. The Canadians spent nearly $300 million whereas the Indians would spend $72 million to do the same. With PHWRS operating in South Korea and Argentina there is a good opportunity for the Indians to offer coolant channel inspection and replacement services at highly competi­tive rates.

The genesis of the coolant channel problem, lies in a confluence of factors. These pressurised tubes are separated from the calandria tubes by a concentric gap of 8 mm. The separation is main­tained using two garter springs kept at certain intervals. While the heavy water in coolant channels is at about 270 degree celsius, the calandria tubes are sur­rounded by the moderating heavy water at 70 degree celsius. Due to vibration within the tube the springs in the old design, tend to move from their positions leading to lack of support at certain portions of the coolant channel. The weight of the fuel bundles (uranium is heavier than gold!), thermal stresses and irradiation, lead to sagging of the coolant channels.

In the extreme conditions existing inside the coolant channel, minute amounts of heavy water break into deu­terium and oxygen. Normally zirconium forms an oxide layer by combining with oxygen while deuterium is released as gas. But tiny amounts of deuterium are also absorbed by zirconium forming a brittle 'hydride'. This deuterium pie is so slow that one need not worry about it for 30 years.

However, if the sag in the coolant channel leads to contact with the colder calandria tube then the cold spot devel­oped at the point of contact leads to accu­mulation of deuterium in the zircolloy at that point. This can lead to blistering and even a possible fracture, as it happened in Pickering Unit-II. Niobium-stabilised zirconium however has much less deu­terium pick up and better thermal creep characteristics. Thus the replacement of old channels by the new niobium-sta­bilised zirconium alloy channels with four tight fitting garter springs, which will not move easily, will prevent sagging and add another 30 years to reactor life provided all other systems continue to work well.

Nuclear Power Corporation today has under 2,000 MW of gen­erating capacity. For NPC to gener­ate funds through internal accruals for further expansion it needs a minimum of 5,000 MW of generat­ing base. At a crucial phase in NPC'S evolution, funds from the Central government have slowed down to a trickle with extreme short sightedness. With no interna­tional institution like World Bank ready to fund nuclear power, the NPC has been left high and dry. Since building a new power plant is always very expensive, every megawatt squeezed out of existing old plants at a marginal cost, is heavenly light for NPC and a power-starved India.

Shishunal Sharieff Saheb

The Weekend Observer, 25 July 1992

Kabir of Karnataka

The nineteenth century saint Sharieff Saheb of Shishunal, though born in a devout Muslim family was well versed in Veerashaivism and had a Brahmin, Govinda Bhatt as his guru. He left a legacy of hundreds of mystic poems in Kannada and more importantly a tradition of samanvaya—harmony.

Shivanand Kanavi

SHARIEFF in Persian means one with lofty ideals and high culture. Perhaps with prescience Imamsaheb, a humble and devout peasant, and his wife named their belated off spring thus. Born in Shishunal a small village in Dharwad district of Karnataka, in 1819, Sharieff Saheb in his seventy years of life ingested all that is lofty in the culture of Karnataka. Its tradition of harmony, of the protestant Shaivaite culture of the Veerashaiva saints of twelfth Century, of the Vaishnavaite dasas of sixteenth century and a great poetic heritage compris­ing 'high' poetry of Pampa and centuries of oral folk poetry of Sarvajnya and others. The first available work on poetics and criticism in Kannada belongs to the tenth century.
Sharieff left behind him hundreds of poems expressing his spiritual anguish, critical and ecstatic comments on different faiths and spiritual contempor­aries and most importantly his message of different spiritual paths leading to the same end. He did not write them down. Those who heard them have jotted down a few for posterity but most of them are still sung in the villages of Karnataka purely based on the memory of a people.
Sharieff spent his childhood surrounded by the love and affection of his parents and discussions with his father on the importance and meaning of Namaz, nature of Allah and whether he is listening to our prayers only in a mosque, etc.
After the fall of the Peshwas in 1818, the East India Company amalgamated this region into the Bombay presidency. One thing that was common to all these rulers was the utter neglect of education in the region. The burden of mass education was largely borne by schools run by Veerashaiva religious institutions.
Imamsaheb entered his son in one of them. Seeing his eagerness the teacher introduced him to the vast Veerashaiva literature. At this stage Sharieff showed interest in Vedic studies and his father entered him in a Vedic school run by Govinda Bhatt in a temple in a near by village where he was taught Vedas, Upanishads, Smriti, Ramayan-Mahabharat, Puranas etc. Later he independently stud­ied the Koran and the Hadith.
Even though equipped with such a rich background in religious studies at a tender age Sharieff was a normal young man actively interested in the activities in his village and surroundings.
Taking advantage of a new scheme of partial support for local schools, announced by the newly formed Board of Education in the -Bombay presidency, Sharieff successfully mobilised the village elders to start a school in the backward Shishunal. He taught all that he had learnt from various teachers in his childhood to the children of his village. Soon he took initiative in starting similar schools in the surrounding vil­lages and became popular as 'Sharieff Master’.
In his reformatory enthusiasm one of the cultural events that came to his notice was the celebration of Mohurram in the area. It had two characteristics. Firstly it was celebrated by the two major local communities, Muslims and Veerashaivas, to­gether in very real display of brotherhood. Secondly the par­ticipants often used to forget the religious significance Mohurram as homage to the martyrdom of Hazrat Hussain and his followers in Karbala nearly fourteen centuries ago at the hands of the tyrant Yezid. Instead, it used to degen­erate into raucous revelry.
Sharieff got down to changing the situation. He wrote the story of Karbala in a popular folk form riwayat and choreographed a group dance to go with it using the folk form of hejjemela. His riwayats became immensely popular though at times he cried in anguish in his poems that people still did not understand the significance of Mohurram.
When he came of age, his parents arranged his marriage with a girl, Fatima, from a nearby village. The couple lived happily and soon there arrived a baby girl. Sharieff lost himself in domestic bliss and responsi­bility of farming to provide for his family.
But great distress soon befell him in wave after wave. First his parents died of old age. Then his dear daughter fell victim to cholera. This was followed by the death of his heart broken wife.
Now Sharieff was left with no one dear in his life. Shaken by his misfortune, he reflected on the fragility of human life. His early interest in spiritual questions led him to seek a way out of the misery through a spiritual pilgrim's journey that took him back to his teacher of childhood, Govinda Bhatt. Govinda Bhatt was delighted to accept him as his shishya, despite acute peer pressure and threats of excommunication.
Guided by his guru, Sharieff soon started having mystical experiences. He sought wisdom and mysticism wherever it came to his notice among his contem­poraries in North Karnataka. Along with spiritual wisdom came the unstoppable flow of religious poetry, which to this day is sung in the villages of Karnataka.
In simple rustic Kannada, Sharieff commented on the hy­pocrisy among followers of vari­ous religions who do not under­stand the tenets of their religion but engage in empty rituals while leading lives of deceit and hedonism. He wrote number of poems on the need for self restraint and detachment.
At the ripe age of seventy when he had spent his life in progressing poverty and hunger Sharieff decided to end it in a yogic fashion and surrounded by people he went into trance and never regained conscious­ness.
On his death there arose a dispute regarding his funeral, both Hindus and Muslims claim­ed him as their own. Finally realising the message of his life, both communities jointly organised it. There was reading of the Koran as well as Hindu scriptures. There was Allah ho Akbar as well as Har Har Mahadev. Since then his grave is visited by both communities. While on the left Muslims per­form Namaz, on the right Hindus perform pooja and arati.
People come in thousands to pay respects to this Kabir of Karnataka. On new moon days and Mondays during the month of shravan and during the relig­ious fairs in his honour, his songs are sung by numerous folk singers.
In the cool shade of neem trees and fragrant jasmine the spirit of Sharieff, the spirit of communal harmony and toler­ance flourish.

A Tribute--Stephen Hawking turns 50

The Weekend Observer, 22 February, 1992
Hawking, God and the Big Bang

Shivanand Kanavi

Physicist Stephen Hawking, well known for his contribution to the theory of black holes and even better known as a science communicator, just completed fifty. Crippled by ALS or motor neuron disease that has confined him to the wheelchair, Hawking has lately lost his ability to speak and write as well and communicates through a computer which synthesises speech and helps him write. Though he is being helped by the wonders of the micro-chip, it should be remembered that he was given two years to live, by doctors, 29 years ago! This brilliant physicist completing 50 is a celebration of human grit and an occasion of joy for all.
Hawking’s “A Brief History Of Time”, an international best seller, is a model of science communication. He conveys in the book, the evolution of man’s understanding of the macrocosm and the microcosm in lucid terms and addresses himself to the questions “Where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end? If so, how?” On his fiftieth birthday, the ultimate tribute has been paid to Hawking’s communicating abilities. Now, nestling along side paper back pulp from Jackie Collinses, Jeffrey Archers, Sidney Sheldons et al, one can find, “A Brief History of Time” on the pavements of Mumbai’s Flora Fountain.
While discussing the present day understanding of universe, its structure, evolution and ori­gin Hawking examines many times the role of God, if any, in it. Till the nineteenth century all things heavenly: sun, moon planets, stars and all things earthly: animals, plants and earth itself were looked upon as given, and not as products of a long evolutionary pro­cess. Not that there was no speculation regarding it, but there was no scientific evidence for it. In the mid nineteenth century, evidence accumulated towards Biological and Geological evolution which were a big blow to scriptures of various religions that had spoken about genesis of earth and creation of all plants and animals by God, more or less suddenly. To allow for some historical development of mankind the Church in Europe had even fixed 4004 BC as the date of creation. However in the 19th century, scientific evidence showed up a time lapse of millions of years for the evolution of different species of plant and animal life including man, showing natural laws in action rather than the hands of a creator.
Stellar evolution from gaseous Nebulae had been hypothesised by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, however there was no direct evidence of evolution of universe itself. It was the discovery by Edwin Hubble in 1929 that galaxies are moving away from each other that led to the acceptance of the theory of expanding universe. But an expanding universe presupposed that matter and energy were expanding in all directions after originating at a point. Thus the name Big Bang was given to a theory that explained the expansion of universe, as due to the very creation of universe at a point billions of years ago. Then came in 1965 the discovery by Penzias and Wilson that weak electromagnetic radiation filled the space and it was not coming from any source, but it was just there, in the background! This is known as Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. They received Nobel Prize for its discovery in 1978. Since Big Bang theory had predicted that some of the energy released during the creation would still be around, as weak electromagnetic radiation, this discovery thereby established the Big Bang theory.
According to the "hot Big Bang model", the history of universe in brief runs like this: at the Big Bang itself the universe is thought to have had zero volume and so to have been infinitely hot. But as the universe expanded, the tempera­ture of radiation decreased. One second after the Big Bang the temperature was ten thousand million degrees. This is about a thousand times the temperature at the centre of the Sun. At this time the universe contained mostly photons - packets of electromagnetic energy, electrons and neutrinos -extremely ­light and weakly interacting particles and their corresponding anti-particles viz. positrons and anti-neutrinos, together with some protons and neutrons.
About hundred seconds after the Big Bang, the temperature would have fallen to a billion degrees centigrade. At this temperature protons and neutrons would fuse to produce Deuterium or heavy Hydrogen nuclei, which in turn will fuse to form Helium nuclei and small amounts of Lithium and Beryllium.
After that, for another million years universe would have just expanded. Once the temperature had dropped to a few thousand degrees, electrons and nuclei would start combining to form atoms. In regions where matter was denser than the average, gravity would start coming into play. Thereby leading to the formation of galaxies, like our own Milky Way.
As time went by, Hydrogen and Helium gas in the galaxies would break into small clouds that would collapse under their own gravity and start the formation of stars. As these clouds contracted, temperature of the gas would increase until it became hot enough to start nuclear fusion reactions. Some would use up their Hydrogen in only about 100 million years, contract further and convert Helium into heavier elements Carbon and Oxygen. Then the central region of the star would collapse to a super dense Neutron Star or even a Black hole & the outer cloud would be blown away in a Super Nova explosion. Our own sun is a second or third generation star, formed some 5 billion years ago out of the debris of Super Novae. Small amounts of heavier elements in the debris collected together to form the planets round the sun.
This extremely brief and sketchy outline of evolution of the universe, might have many gaps but generally seems to agree with all observational evidence, that we have today.
What happened at the Big Bang, or before it? Physicists say these questions cannot be answered in the present model. Big Bang represents a critical point in the theory. At that point certain quantities like density become infinite, certain others like volume become zero, or in mathematical terms, Big Bang represents a singularity in theory. For the same reason we cannot extrapolate the model backwards in time to the period before Big Bang. Though the Big Bang model satisfactorily explains the observed data so far, scientists do not like infinities appearing in theory. Thus, attempts are on, to avoid the Big Bang singularity. Hawking himself has worked on one such attempt where there is no singularity. But in this model we have to give up our present concept of time. Here, time has to be treated as any other space dimension or in mathematical terms we have “Euclidean space-time”, where as theories like relativity treat time as different from space.
So far, the predictive capacity of various cosmological models is extremely limited. This is natural, when even basic data regarding distances of various galaxies from ours, the rate of expansion of the universe and the total matter in the universe etc. is still not available. Any way, till more observational data is available, may be from the Hubble Space Telescope launched through the Space Shuttle we have not much to chose from one model from the other. They explain the expansion of the universe and the left over, premordial Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.
As we see, there is little scope for God in this scheme of things. In fact, once the scientists took on the job in earnest of observing nature and discovering laws of nature, they rejected the view that every thing goes according to the leela of an all powerful, eternal, all perfect, unlimited God. The laws of nature according to which matter seems to interact and develop, our understanding of which is developed and improved upon as new data and new phenomenon are found, seem to circumscribe the “unlimited” “all powerful God”.
Thus started the view that God started off everything, and decreed the laws, which, then took over the running of the universe. Many scientists in Europe accepted this type of eclectic outlook known as deism. Issac Newton was one of them. He discovered the law of gravitation and described planetary motion accurately but assumed that God started it all or in philosophic terms God was the “efficient cause” of the world, or the “first impulse”. Later developments in science described the evolution of the earth, the biological world, the origin of species, and even gave insights into bio-molecular origin of life itself. Thus there developed an agnostic view among most scientists who refused to take a stand on existence of God, but said “we don’t have any proof of his existence or non-existence”. The famous French mathematician Laplace, is supposed to have presented the theory of solar system in the court of Napoleon Bonaparte and then when Napoleon noticed the absence of divine intervention in Laplace’s theory, he is said to have boldly replied “but I have no need for that hyopothesis”!
Strangely the evidence in fa­vour of Big Bang, has given fillip to the religious minded, who say "God created the universe at the Big Bang!”

Book Review: Communism 1989-1991 --By Hardial Bains

The Weekend Observer, ‘Books’, 15 February 1992

Darkness before a new dawn

Shivanand Kanavi

“Socialism came into being despite all the objections of the old world, when it was ushered in, it was contested, and finally socialism went into retreat. Inspite of the clouds, we still glimpse the light of the people’s aspirations: their deep longing for democracy. All those who are calling for their political rights and economic well-being, opposing the use of force in the solution of conflicts between nations, and demanding the protection of environment, cannot be part of the night.”

With these optimistic words the author Hardial Bains starts his book Communism 1989-1991.

The two years 1989-1991 have been tumultuous. They have witnessed the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union: even the state of USSR has collapsed, and has been replaced by CIS, while some former constituents have seceded; the Cold War has ended. These developments which have had profound effect on the whole world are bound to have deep effect on the Communist movement itself.

At this juncture a book written by a person who for the last over twenty years has been the first secretary of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), naturally arouses a lot of interest, Though he has been a prolific writer, to the Indian readers he is mainly known through his earlier book, Call of the Martyrs – On the Present Crisis in India and the Situation in Punjab (1985). It was not only an important contribution to the analysis of the Punjab problem but also contained a very interesting Marxist evaluation of the Bhakti movement, as a revolutionary democratic movement with a religious form.

The author says he was dissatisfied with the Social Democratic approach which considers socialism as merely state intervention in the economy, achieved by constituting the government through the electoral process and without touching capitalism in anyway. He is also dissatisfied with the pro-Soviet parties which presented Soviet Union as the model of socialism even when it was oppressing its own working people and the nations within its boundaries, and had turned its allied countries into satellites. They in fact revised the principle that each country must chart its own course and instead said other countries had only “limited sovereignty”. Such parties when asked about problems in domestic or foreign policy of the USSR at best said, “What problems? Or worse, called you “anti-Soviet”, “CIA agent”, etc. Many such parties, especially in the West, have gone over from ‘because it is socialism it can have no problems’ position to ‘because so many problems emerged, it is socialism which does not work’!

The author’s view is that while the rapid development in USSR, in the economy, industry, agriculture, science, technology, fine arts etc. in just two decades after the revolution was a great defeat of fascism, and support for the anti-imperialist struggles all over the world, which inspired such non-communists as our own Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore to speak of the “dawn of a new civilisation”. However, in the post- World War II years complacency, and bureaucracy set in, socialism went into retreat. While Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev and his successors including Gorbachev played important positive or negative roles in these developments; the author does not get involved in either glorifying or decrying any individual but tries to find objective reasons for the retreat of socialism.

The author calls for a serious summation of the experience of socialism and highlights the need to work out solutions to the problems facing us, whether it is recurring recession, degradation of the environment, democracy, or use of force in resoling international problems. In the changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe, he sees the democratic urge of the people of these countries, as the motive force, and though their struggles are being hijacked by demagogues who are pushing the Western narrow minded formula that ‘Democracy = Free Market Economy + Multi-party Elections’ in the most undemocratic way; he feels that the measures being taken now will not satisfy either the material or political demands of the people.

He makes a very important point, “the debate should be how a problem is to be solved, not which system is best. The latter would be a debate of which the working people have no direct experience. The problems they face are quite well known to them, while the debate about systems will be abstract”. The latter type of debate will also keep tensions brewing, and can lead to war as well. He gives the example of the Gulf War, where the immediate task was to oppose the use of force in settling the problem. But what was said and done was that: “I don’t like such and such system. Let’s go and blast that country.” There was no concern for war and it simply became how best to blast the place!

Essays like ‘Matter‘ stand out for their readability despite treating such a complex philosophical subject as the relationship between matter and consciousness. The author has developed, a dialectical style so to say, where he starts with an idea moves away from it and comes back to it again and again, and each time he has taken the reader forward. Today, when instant pop-history is passed off as ‘Current History’, this book is one of the few exceptions of serious analysis.

The jacket design is tastefully done, depicting a Canadian wild flower which grows and glows with intensity in inhospitable terrain.

While the book does not answer many of the questions the author has raised, it is a welcome contribution to the effort to overcome the present theoretical impasse.

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Charvakas and Bhakti movement

The Sunday Observer, June 1993
The Charvaka lesson for modern-day radicals

Shivanand Kanavi

All those who are trying their best to build a mass movement for democracy and social justice in Indian can not get very far in national politics, unless they learn from the failure of the materialistic Charvakas and turn for inspiration to the spiritually-minded Bhaktas who nevertheless touched the hearts and minds of the people and achieved deeper social change. A thorough objective assessment of our philosophic and cultural traditions is a must to move towards developing Indian social theory to deal with our reality.

To recapitulate briefly, the Charvaka, also known as Lokayata trend in Indian philosophy is very intriguing to say the least. It is an ancient trend which is mentioned with respect in old Pali Buddhist tests. Chanakya considered it as a necessary part of a princes’ education in philosophy in his Arthashastra (4th Century BC). After that, one rarely hears of it except in polemics of its opponents. To this day no authentic Charvaka text has been found which can tell us something about this intellectual tradition and its chief architects. The conception handed down by its opponents is that it was mainly an epicurean outlook that revelled in hedonism and vulgar materialism.

But reading the polemics of its opponents, one realises that it was a serious materialist philosophy. It denied the existence of the soul, the creator and the other world. If claimed that perception was the only source of knowledge and denied the place of inference, though some researchers have pointed out that Charvakas did not rule out all inference but objected to inferring the supernatural from natural phenomenon. It claimed that everything in this world including consciousness is a product of material elements. Today many people who feel oppressed by the domination of the highly theistic Vedanta at the cost of all other atheistic trends in Indian philosophy are pleased to see such a potentially scientific trend exist in ancient India.

The question that has bothered many is how this trend died out. Apparently the law givers like Manu passed strictures against this and other nastika trends, that is trends which denied the supreme position of Vedas. Thus it is said that extra-philosophic reasons were responsible for the disappearance of this materialist trend. I feel that besides the extra-philosophic sociological reasons, there were inherent weaknesses in Charvaka that led to its marginalisation and eventual demise.

Firstly the debate whether matter is a product of consciousness or the other way around, that is the debate between philosophic idealism and philosophic materialism, was a dry metaphysical debate for many. In the absence of any deep understanding of the laws of the material world in the then prevalent society this was inevitable.

The exploitation of this condition of human ignorance by priests is a different issue and aroused indignation among the common folk. At this juncture a trend which just asserts that everything is material could not find much support, though its critique of priests was accepted and became a part of the folklore. Thus while the priests, the caste system and oppressive social inequality needed questioning the questioning of a personal God along with it was not acceptable to the people. This led to Charvakas not being able to effect any radical change in the society at large.

Another trend that requires serious study is the Bhakti movement. In medieval India the Bhaktas appeared at places as individuals and at others as groups and movements as in the case of Veerashaivaas of 12th century Karnataka or Sikhs of 16th century northwest India. They proposed an intensely personal God and proclaimed that they could attain salvation from the world through devotion to this personal God. This may not sound very radical but they used the same platform of Bhakti to oppose the caste system, the priests, social inequality and oppression of women.

Though it was largely aimed at social reform at times they also took a political stand that it is just to oppose an oppressive state. This appealed to the sentiments of the common people. The Bhakti movement till today inspires many social reform movements. Bhakti movement also expressed itself in beautiful songs and poems. In fact the vachanas of Veerashaiva saints of 12th century constitute some of the best poetry in free verse in modern Kannada literature. Many an Indian language reached maturity and grandeur during the Bhakti movement. Millions of people till today sing the songs of Bhaktaas.

I think here in lies a serious lesson for the radicals of our day. If we do not understand the psyche of our people we cannot communicate with them and cannot truly build a mass movement for change even if we are articulating the grievances of the people with utmost personal honesty and integrity. So allegorically speaking, the question before all those wanting fundamental change in the socio-economic system in India towards greater democracy and social justice is whether they want to be Charvakas and get marginalised or they want to be Bhaktas who achieved far deeper change.

Of course this would require far more serious study of Indian philosophy, culture to gain insight into that elusive but real thing called Indianness. In other words it would require the development of Indian theory. If it sounds sacrilegious to some people to talk of Indian theory then let me remind them that while the Greeks called insight into the world around them as philosophy – love of wisdom, the Indians called it darshana – revelation. That is Indians conceived of nature unfolding itself and revealing itself. This rules out dogma. After all if nature reveals itself this way then there is no other choice. Now if the reality of Indian society demands its own social theory then all our prejudices cannot stop it.


The Observer of Business and Politics, May 1993
The man who showed the rainbow

Debiprasad Chattopadhyay wrote profusely on materialist and atheistic trends in Indian philosophy and their link with the history of science in India.

Shivanand Kanavi

PROFESSOR Debiprasad Chattopadhyay who passed on May 8, 1993 at the age of 75, belonged to a generation of Marxist scholars like D D Kosambi who tried to apply Marxist method to study Indian history, philosophy and culture. This was both his strength and weakness.

Professor Chattopadhyay was a prolific writer. Besides a large number of research papers in academic journals he also wrote a number of monographs for the layman. His style though at times repetitive was very lucid to the reader the enthusiasm of new discovery by the author. His Lokayata: a study of ancient Indian materialism blended scholarly research into this ancient materialist trend in Indian philosophy with readability. Particularly significant were his insights into tantra as having originated in magical rituals with naive materialist intent in primitive agricultural society.

His monumental work History of Science and technology in ancient India Vol I and II were again scholarly and could be read with profit if the reader had a little patience. His discovery of scientific method in the approach of the ancient saga Uddalaka Aruni of the Chhandogya Upanishad is conveyed with great enthusiasm and thoroughness. He also argued that Uddalaka’s approach was much more mature than the ancient Greeks like Annagoras and who should hence be considered as the father of modern scientific method. He battled continuously against Euro-centric prejudices of many a science historian. He also traced the later development of Uddalaka’s method in the atomists of Nyaya-Vaiseshika and still later in the great Ayurvedic traditions of Charaka and Sushruta.

Indian Atheism, what is living and what is dead in Indian philosophy, In defence of materialism in ancient India were the more popular expositions of his views on Indian philosophy. In these books he battled against the dominant view among orientalists and indologists from Max Mueller to Radhakrishnan that Indian philosophy is basically spiritualism and Vedanta is the last word. He tried to show the rainbow in Indian philosophy and infact made the startling assertion that not only Lokayata but Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Samkhya are also atheistic besides Buddhism and Jainism. Though this looked as aswing from the traditional orientalist view to the other extreme, he argued his thesis with great care and conviction as he realised that his views will not be easily accepted. The main weakness in his thesis was not that these trends in Indian philosophy were atheistic, at any rate in their origin, but the explanation for the fact that they either vanished later or changed their form to some sort of theism. Professor Chattopadhyay’s argument that the social strictures passed by law givers like Manu etc led to the disappearance of Lokayata is highly unsatisfactory. It fails to look at the weaknesses in Lokayata itself which become more obvious when we see the success of Bhakti in gaining widespread acceptability while fighting against social injustice, casteism and absolutist dogmatic attitude towards scriptures. It is clear that Bhaktas had a far more dialectical outlook towards the times they lived in as opposed to the mechanical materialism of Lokayata.

Though Chattopadhyay was a soldier for atheism he did not fail to recognise the role religion played in what V Gordon Childe called the ‘first urban revolution’ – the rise of colonies of artisans and priests – cities and the use of religious superstition to appropriate surplus from peasants so that technology can grow! His book, Religion and Society that came out of a series of endowment lectures he gave in Calcutta University has argued his case eloquently. He along with Kosambi tried to do to Indian history and philosophy what Gordon Childe and Needham and George Thomson had tried to do to the ancient Babylonian, Mesopotamian, Chines and Greek Societies.

His interpretation was refreshing in an atmosphere where religiosity, reverence and subjectivism were more dominant than objectivity. More so, when students of ancient Indian history face the uphill task of reconstructing it with hardly any reliable sources. His bold questioning of certain theses of orientalism will always find him a place in Indian intellectual milieu. The weakness in his Marxism of course as in most other Indian Marxists is the mechanical approach that led him to look for categories of idealism and materialism everywhere without looking at Indian specificity.

At the time of his death he was editing a eight volume series called Global Philosophy for Everyman. While most of the volumes of the series have been only tow of the three volumes he was supposed to write. As usual his style in this series was polemical and accessible to the general public.

Social Darwinism-Comment

The Observer of Business and Politics, 10 September 1992

Why Social Darwinism is wrong

Shivanand Kanavi

Let the fittest survive. This is the slogan that is fashionable nowadays and is being applied indiscriminately. But leave alone the moral questions, applying a theory that explains the development and evolution of the animal kingdom, viz the theory of natural selection or Darwinism, to social development is not even based on any deep understanding of social dynamics or biological evolution itself.

Modern view of evolution is that differences in organisms come about through chance genetic mutations but only those that have the requisite characteristics to survive in the prevalent environment thrive while others become extinct. This process carried out through millions of years has produced various species that can thrive in the earth’s biosphere. Their environment not only consists of the elements of nature but also other species. The struggle is mainly between the species and the elements of nature and then come the factors of inter-species struggle, the predator-prey balance etc.

With the evolution of homo sapiens we have a species which has been described variously as thinking, conscious, etc, but perhaps the most distinct feature of homo sapiens is the tool-making ability. Biologists and anthropologists have emphasised the development of a moveable thumb that facilitated man in holding a tool as a factor as important in human evolution as the development of his train itself. This tool-making character has made a world of a difference between man and the other species. While all other species had to adapt themselves to the natural environment, man fashioned nature to satisfy his needs.

Further development of man has depended on his energy being less and less spent on satisfying his basic needs. With better technology yielding higher productivity, he could spend more and more energy on other intellectual pursuits. Now we have the danger of man’s effort to extract more and more from nature, without taking long term effects into account, leading to ecological destruction and eventually to a threat to man himself. Thus, the fact of man affecting his natural environment and not just natural environment affecting man, is the first distinctive feature that we have to take into account.

While increasing the productivity in extracting food and other needs from nature, mankind for the first time faced the problems associated with surplus. Division of labour was imperative for further growth of surplus and thus the distribution of existing surplus became an important social question. As Gordon Childe has pointed out through his archeological researches, religion and magic played an important role in organising the division of labour between food producers, artisans and the priests that acted as overseers and organisers of society, leading to the first urban revolution. The development of the state – a separate body with an armed apparatus – institutionalised the division of labour and the distribution of surplus came next.

When these conditions led to the overall development of society the majority of its components accepted it, but when the order did not suit large sections of society the more powerful among the discontented mobilised the rest of the discontented to change the prevailing order. In the ancient society man was faced with a combination of natural and social causes that determined his condition, over which he had no control nor did he have a clue about their working. The concept of fate – another word for inexplicable reasons for your condition – was strengthened. With the development of man’s knowledge of both nature and society a homocentric view exemplified by the French encyclopaedists emerged.

The dialectic between fate and anthropo-centrism, necessity and freedom has been one of the fundamental philosophical problems explored by the Bhagvad Gita, ancient Greeks, the encyclopaedists and the Marxists. Anyhow, the underlying assumption in today’s society is that man consciously tries to change the social condition of his being. This is the second important feature that characterises human development.

Thus, we are dealing with here a species whose evolution towards excellence is not governed by ability to adapt himself passively to the environment depending on genetic accidents as in the case of other species. Social Darwinism thus can not provide a clue to human development. In today’s world, it is cruel and ill-informed indictment of the poor and the underprivileged to say that their condition is bad because that is what they are fit to be.

If the state does not intervene in favour of the aspirations and needs of the majority of people, and concerns itself only with the interests of the rich and the powerful then it loses its raison d’etre. It is natural that sooner or later the discontented will try to overthrow the status quo and the state that upholds it.

Origin of the Universe-Ancient Indian theories

Sunday Observer, 26 April, 1992

Within the terrible womb of Kali

Shivanand Kanavi

Stephen Hawking mentions in his A Brief History of Time that in 1981 the Catholic Church organised a seminar on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants of the seminar were granted an audience with the Pope, who told them that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang, but they should not enquire into the Big Bang itself, because that was the moment of creation and therefore the work of God!

What happened at the Big Bang or before it? Physicists say these questions cannot be answered in the present model. The Big Bang represents a critical point in the theory. At that point certain quantities become infinite, certain others become zero, or in mathematical terms the Big Bang represents a singularity in theory. For the same reason we cannot extrapolate the model backwards to the period before Big Bang. Though the Big bang model satisfactorily explains the observed data so far, scientists do not like infinities appearing in theory.

Thus attempts are on to avoid the Big Bang singularity. Hawking himself has worked on one such attempt called the ‘no boundary model’, but in this model we have to give up our present concept of time. Here time has to be treated as any other space dimension or in mathematical terms we have “Euclidean space-time”.

But the predictive capacity of various cosmological models is extremely limited. Even basic data regarding distances of various galaxies from ours, the rate of expansion of the universe and the total matter in the universe is still not available. Till more observational data is available, maybe, from the Hubble Space Telescope or the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope near Pune, we have not much to choose from one model or the other, which predict the expansion of the universe and the leftover primordial Microwave Background Radiation.

How did ancient Indian philosophers view the creation of the universe? While the various theistic cosmogonies of the Puranas and other Vedic literature are know, what are not so well known are the equally ancient atheist explanations of the origin of the universe.

In his book Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye says that he once mentioned to Stephen Hawking the Kali myth in Hinduism – “the terrible one of many names whose stomach is a void and so can never be filled, whose womb is giving birth forever to all things”. He then tried to draw a connection between Kali and black holes. Hawking snorted : “It’s fashionable rubbish. People go over board on Eastern mysticism simply because it is something different that they have not met before. But as a natural description of reality, it fails abysmally to produce results... If you look through Eastern mysticism, you can find things that look suggestive of modern physics or cosmology. I don’t think they have any significance”.

If one tries to find scientific theories in ancient philosophy or myths and legends, then one would be disappointed unless one looks for space travel, nuclear weapons etc in the Ramayana, Mahabharat as some try desi versions of an Erich von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods) type of mumbo jumbo.

But ancient Indian philosophy is not homogenous in content. There are theistic, super-theistic and atheistic trends in it. Moreover proto-scientific elements can be found in the naturalist and observational approach of some of them towards their hypotheses. This is far more important than the hypotheses themselves. The atheistic explanations later became part of definite schools of philosophy to such an extent, that different schools having divergent world views and some times having their own quaint metaphysics like Samkhya, Lokayata, Purva-Mimamsa, Buddhism, Jainism and even early Nyaya-Vaiseshika, that is, almost all schools of Indian philosophy except Vedanta and later Nyaya-Vaiseshika shared one common element – their enthusiasm for nirisvaravada or atheism !

As Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya has pointed out, one of the earliest references to atheistic cosmology is in a strongly theistic Svetasvatara Upanishad placed roughly before the sixth century BC. In it, the author mentions seven atheistic alternatives for the “fist cause”: 1) kala (time), 2) svabhava (inherent nature), 3) niyati (fate), 4) ydrachha (accident), 5) bhutta (elements of matter), 6) prakruti (female principle, primeval matter), 7) purusa (male principle)

The first alternative – that time is the first cause of the universe – seems to have been associated with some ancient astronomers, but in subsequent developments this did not find any serious adherents. Similarly the alternatives of fate, male principle and accidentalism also did not have much of a future.

However the explanations of svabhava, bhuta and prakruti are most interesting both in their scientific orientation and deep influence on Samkhya, Lokayata, early-Nyaya-Vaiseshika and even Buddhism.

As Gunaratna, the great medieval Jaina logician, explained: “The naturalists claim as follows: By svabhava is meant for transformation of objects by themselves – because of their inherent nature. Everything that exists comes into being because of svabhava is meant the transformation of objects by themselves – because of their inherent nature. Everything that exists comes into being because of svabhava. Thus for instance earth is transformed into pot and not cloth... form the threads is produced cloth and not pot. Such regular occurrence cannot happen without the operation of svabhava. Therefore everything is to be finally viewed as due to svabhava. So it is said:

‘Who makes the thorn sharp?
And the beasts and birds so varied?
All these come into being from svabhava.
There is none whose desire forms them;
What is the use of postulating his effort?”

As Hiriyanna comments, “svabhavavada or naturalism recognises that ‘things are as their nature makes them’ traces all changes to the thing itself...Hence according to svabhavavada, it is not a lawless world in which we live; only there is no external principle governing it. It is self-determined and not undetermined.” Thus in svabhavavada, a protoscientific theory, we have the early recognition of law of nature.

Svabhavavada was recognised as the mechanism of origin of universe by Lokayatas who considered everything to be made up of elements of matter or bhutas. Samkhyas who spoke of prakruti or pradhana or female principle or primeval matter transforming itself into everything in the universe also adopted svabhavavada.

Even the early-Nyaya-Vaiseshikas, the atomists, also drew on svabhavavada to explain atomic combination. Only while discussing foetal development, due to lack of development of embryology. Gautama, one of the early atomists, spoke of the adrishta (unseen) as also an active element, besides the atoms. This unseen is not to be seen as God but as material force, as elsewhere the atomists cite the case of water rising up the plants and needle being attracted by the magnet as examples of the unseen.

Out of the two theistic philosophies Vedanta showed unconcealed contempt towards logic and the technique of debate. The only concession made by Samkara in Advaita Vedanta was that logic was alright so far as it agreed to rationalise scriptural declarations- as embodied in the Upanishads – a view strikingly resembling the warning given by the Pope to Hawking and other participants in the seminar on cosmology in 1981.

However, the other theistic school of later-Nyaya-Vaiseshikas tried their utmost to provide serious, logical, inferential proofs about God as the nimitta karana or efficient cause of the universe. Thus all the medieval atheists belonging to Budhism, Jainism, and Purvamimamsa concentrated their energies on demolishing the later –Nyaya Vaiseshika inferential proofs. These proofs were based on examples such as : While clay (matter) is necessary for making a pot, the clay by itself does not become a pot but needs a potter. This God, is required to put the atoms (which he did not create) together and create the world. Sophisticated arguments were worked out by the atheists to show the fallacies in this inference.

It is interesting to note that the only serious theistic philosophers themselves took recourse to God, only to provide the “first impulse” for the formation of the primeval dyad; diatomic molecule in modern parlance. From the all powerful creator of all beings, God is thus reduced to the role of a cosmic potter (brahmanda kulala) who does not even create the clay but only puts it all together!

This turn towards theism among the atomists seems to be a compromise with the prevailing religious pressure. A phenomenon we are all too familiar with in Indian scientific circles even today. Of course, one should also recognise the low level of understanding in those days about the laws of combination of atoms and that they had to rely on primitive technological examples from pottery, weaving or masonry.

Hawking does not seem to be aware of the nuances of ancient Indian philosophy. It is another matter that with the overwhelming presence of millions of gods, idealist metaphysics all around and the fact that these proto-scientific theories could not develop their potential due to mainly sociological and political reasons, that many Indians themselves are not aware of it.

Monday 23 July 2007

Fast Breeders, Indo-US Nuclear Deal and all that....

BUSINESS INDIA June 4, 2006 Energy
Nuclear husbandry
After 20 years of hard work, India has reached the cutting edge of fast breeder technology. There is also encouraging news about discovery of new deposits of uranium

Shivanand Kanavi

Fast breeders have entered journalistic and parliamentary lexicon in the last one-year or so. A parliamentarian, dazed by the sudden influx of nuclear physics in the central hall of the Parliament, did not want to be left behind in the sound byte game and said, “We must protect our fast breeders; after all, that is how we became one billion strong”! Be that as it may, the fast breeder technology, in its essence, is more than 50 years old. Most people do not know that the firstever kilowatt of power from a nuclear reactor, anywhere in the world, came in 1951 from a fast breeder reactor, E B R-I (experimental breeder reactor) at Idaho Falls, USA.

So, what are these new-fangled objects, the fast breeder reactors? If we care to struggle with a little bit of nuclear physics, we might profit from it. Here are a few simple incentives to cross the knowledge hump.

The prototype fast breeder reactor under construction at a furious pace in Kalpakkam is scheduled to go commercial in 2010. “It will produce 500 M W o f power and we are committed to sell this power at the rate of Rs3.20 per unit to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, four years hence,” says R. Prabhakar, technical director, B H A V I N I, a subsidiary of Nuclear Power Corporation, set up to harness fast breeder technology for power production. This is to be contrasted with the fact that the current tariff from Ratnagiri Gas and Power Company (resurrected Dabhol Power, built by Enron) is Rs7.50 per unit! No doubt, once arrangements are made to burn gas rather than the expensive naphtha, power from Dabhol, would be cheaper - but it won’t be Rs3.20 per unit in 2010!

According to S.C. Chetal, who heads the reactor engineering group at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), the two fast breeder reactors of 500 M W each, which are expected to come on stream in Kalpakkam by 2014, are being configured to produce power at the rate of Rs2.00 per unit (in today’s constant rupee terms). “We are doing our best to demonstrate that fast breeders are not only necessary for energy security but are also an economically viable technology for power production”, adds Chetal.

You want one more dollop of nuclear enthusiasm, then take this! “India’s total power production today is 1,10,000 M W. The potential power from the fast breeder cycle is 5,50,000 M W. This is a conservative estimate, the real optimists rate it as 8,00,000 M W. And all this with India’s own existing low quality deposits of uranium and without importing a single tonne of uranium from Canada, Namibia, Niger, Australia or any other country, assuming, of course, that they want to sell it to us”, says Baldev Raj, a leading metallurgist, who leads fast breeder research in India as director, IGCAR.
All this is not pulling a fast one on behalf of fast breeders, but a product of simple physics and arithmetic. In the power reactors currently in use at Rawatbhatta, (Rajasthan), Kalpakkam (TN), Narora (UP), Kakrapar (Gujarat), Kaiga (Karnataka) and Tarapur (Maharashtra), only 0.7 per cent of the fuel can be burnt to produce electricity.

That is because natural uranium mostly contains U238 and only 0.7 per cent of U235. It is only U235 that can be split using a slow neutron beam, producing enormous amounts of heat, to boil water, generate steam and run a turbine like in any other power station. Whereas U238 is not fissile, however, some of U238 converts itself into plutonium (Pu239), if exposed to fast neutrons. This new element, Pu239, can be easily burnt to produce power or to make nuclear weapons.

India invested, way back in the 1960s, in B A R C, to develop the technology to reprocess spent fuel rods from power reactors and extract plutonium from it. “The arithmetic is simple. If we mix 25-30 per cent of plutonium with U238 and expose it to fast neutrons in a reactor, then plutonium will burn and give us about 20 times more power than the natural uranium reactors now in operation. Meanwhile, some of the U238 in the fuel would absorb some fast neutrons and get converted again into plutonium. Since roughly 1.1 kg of plutonium comes out of the spent fuel due to this conversion, for every 1 kg that was initially put in the fuel rod, such reactors are called breeder reactors. Since fast neutrons are used to trigger the chain reaction, such reactors are called fast breeder reactors,” explains Baldev Raj.

Additionally, if we cover the reactor core with a blanket of either U238 or thorium, then this blanket captures some of the fast neutrons coming out of the core, which would have escaped and been wasted. On reprocessing this irradiated blanket, we could recover either Pu239 or U233. Thus originated Bhabha’s nuclear road map for India; to first master the natural uranium reactors, produce power, reprocess the spent fuel and recover plutonium from it. Burn this plutonium in fast breeder reactors produce more power. Reprocess the spent fuel and the blanket of U238 and thorium, obtain more Pu239 and U233. Burn the new U233, along with a mixture of thorium, in another set of power reactors and so on, achieving nirvana of electrical power.

Limited resources used
As a scheme on paper, it was simply brilliant! It made use of the limited resources of Indian uranium did not get involved in the expensive uranium enrichment technology, as Iran is doing now. Instead, it used the expertise of nuclear chemists and chemical engineers to develop the plutonium recovery technology from spent fuel rods and invested in developing the fast breeder and the thorium technology.

However, two major hurdles confronted the plan. One, all those who were investigating the fast breeder technology, such as the US, the UK, Germany, France and Japan lost interest in it for various reasons. Firstly they had abundant supply of cheap uranium from Canada, Namibia, Niger and Australia; secondly, the US started actively discouraging it, since US feared that plutonium recovery technology would spread among a host of countries, when plutonium is the preferred bomb making material. Till recently, the US was successful in persuading other countries from developing fast breeder technology any further.

Russia and India are the only two countries, which have decided to continue on the path. Of course, with today’s nuclear renaissance, many countries want to revive their fast breeder programmes. Russia has a working fast breeder reactor B N600, and is engaged in now designing even more powerful fast breeder reactors. In India, the initial work on fast breeders started in early 1970s, at Kalpakkam, with a little help from France. However, after the peaceful nuclear explosion experiment, in 1974 (Pokhran-I), France withdrew all co-operation in nuclear technology and so did Canada, the US and the rest of the world.

One could utter ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’, an oxymoron if there was one, with a straight face, because no matter what the US, Canada, France, Russia, etc, say now, back in the 1960s and 1970s, the same word was very legit. According to data available up until 1988, 115 peaceful nuclear detonations were carried out, in what was once Soviet Union. Nuclear explosions were used for the creation of water reservoirs, canals, mines and gas reservoirs, among other things. They were also employed for extinguishing gas fires and for seismic research. The US started its ‘peaceful nuclear explosion programme’, way back in the 1950s, as part of Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ proposal. Named Project Plowshare, it was publicly announced on 6 June 1958. The name Plowshare had its origin in the Bible:

And they will have to beat their
swords into plowshares and their spears
into pruning shears. Nation will not lift
up sword against nation, neither will
they learn war anymore.
- Isaiah 2:4

Between 1957 and 1973, as many as 27 experiments were carried out, in the US, using a total of 35 nuclear devices. A formal treaty, ‘Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty-1976’, was signed by Gerald Ford and Leonid Brezhnev, which came into force in 1990, whose text could be easily accessed from US government websites.

What was hailed as a peaceful initiative of nuclear weapon states was, however, decried as a rogue act, when India conducted its experiment in 1974. The result was a complete unilateral cessation of co-operation on civilian nuclear technology with India and, in fact, all high-tech cooperation with India in general.

So, is it fair to call our nuclear scientists Jurassic, autarkic, isolationist, xenophobic, nuclear hawks, etc, as some ‘instant experts’ do in their columns and TV sound bytes?

But in all these lost decades (three to be exact), the Indian nuclear scientists at Kalpakkam and elsewhere had to toil to produce everything themselves; they could not buy what a Japanese or French fast breeder technologist could buy easily from the open market. But they rose to the challenge, ignoring constant needling from ill-informed sections of the media that India’s nuclear programme was a white elephant. They converted adversity into an opportunity, thought out of the box and innovated. Thus, the Indian fast breeder test reactor, (FBTR) which became operational in 1985, became the first reactor in the world to use uranium and plutonium carbide fuel. In the process, they also learnt how to use liquid sodium as a coolant – an admittedly difficult technology. Moreover, a host of industrial vendors were handheld and primed to produce high-quality nuclear equipment, machined to high precision, within tough deadlines.

Today, after 20 years of experiments, they have not only confidently designed a 500 M W prototype fast breeder reactor, but unlike most prototypes, have actually put their reputation on the line and committed to produce commercial power at a reasonable rate for the grid. This reactor will use uranium and plutonium oxide fuel, which will give even more power than the earlier carbide fuel.

If the Bush-Manmohan Singh deal goes through, the US Congress and the nuclear suppliers group agrees to conduct nuclear commerce with India and looks at India ‘as a partner and not a target’, in the words of our foreign secretary, then the cost of power from the Indian fast breeder reactors and other power reactors will come down even further, due to lower international prices of uranium.

However, there is a feeling in some quarters of the US Congress that India is desperate to get imported uranium and this lever should be used to renegotiate the Bush-Manmohan Singh deal and introduce clauses, which will restrict any strategic space for India and cap its nuclear arsenal. This seems to be based on half knowledge and bluster rather than ground reality.

Today, India has mastered producing nuclear power at 220 M W, based on a Canadian design, and 540 M W, based on fully Indian design. In fact, Indian reactors are now being souped-up to produce 700 M W. Our fast breeder will go online in three years, taking us to the very cutting edge. It is to be noticed that our scientists achieved all this on pitiful government salaries, whereas I am sure that these brilliant engineers and scientists would have made millions of dollars in the greener pastures of Silicon Valley, as many others, whose success we toast, did!

When the hunt began
As for the uranium deficit, way back in 1948, the hunt for uranium and other nuclear minerals had begun. The task was handed over to D.N. Wadia, FRS, an outstanding geologist and fossil expert. Thus were discovered the first deposits of uranium in Jharkhand and vast deposits of thorium in the beach sands of Kerala.

There are currently several mines working in Jharkhand, producing adequate quantity of uranium. However, the cost of producing the ‘yellow cake’ (nuclear jargon for high-quality natural uranium) in India is considerably higher than in Australia or Canada, because of poor metal content. Indian ore from Jharkhand has less than 1 per cent uranium, while Australian and Canadian ore have about 20 per cent metallic content. But more deposits have been discovered in Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh.

To augment its own efforts at finding new uranium deposits, Anil Kakodkar, head of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, announced in a conference on uranium mining (organized recently by Uranium Corporation of India and attended by a large number of international companies), that the department of atomic energy (D A E) would welcome private sector participation in uranium prospecting. He confirmed that such a move does not need any amendment to Atomic Energy Act.

Recently, akin to the arrival of monsoon to parched lands of the subcontinent, has come the news that, in certain parts of Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, geologists have found areas with tremendous promise, as they have the same geological features as the uranium-rich areas of Australia and Canada. The atomic minerals division of D A E, a product of D.N. Wadia’s pioneering work, is excited.

If anybody in India or the US have an impression that India is desperate to make a nuclear deal with the US and the nuclear suppliers group and its arms can be hence twisted to accept any further changes to the Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement, then they are mistaken. Kakodkar is obviously not a desperate man, ready to conclude a deal at all costs.

Perhaps Condoleezza Rice had such factors in mind, when she addressed the US senate’s foreign relations committee, on 6 April. She warned against deal-breaking amendments, saying: “We better secure our future by bringing in India into the international nonproliferation system not by allowing India to remain isolated for the next 30 years, the way it has been for the past 30. We are clearly better off having India most of the way in, rather than completely out”.