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A nuclear interaction
K. Subrahmanyam Posted online: Tue Sep 07 2010, 02:46 hrs
When I think of Homi Sethna, my mind goes back 31 years to the day in early April 1979 when I flew down to
Mumbai to hand over to him a sealed cover containing the handwritten minutes of the meeting of the Cabinet
Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) signed by the cabinet secretary, Nirmal Mukarji. It was in my handwriting and
had one sentence: “The Cabinet, having considered the issue, gave appropriate directions to the Chairman, Atomic
Energy Commission.”

Two days earlier the CCPA under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Morarji Desai considered the report of the
Joint Intelligence Committee, of which I was the chairman, setting out its assessment that Pakistan was on its way to
produce a nuclear weapon with enriched uranium obtained through the centrifuge process. Though I was the
additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat and the official minutes writer, I was not present in that highly
hush-hush meeting. Apart from the five cabinet ministers, the prime minister, Foreign Minister Vajpayee, Defence
Minister Jagjivan Ram, Home Minister H.M. Patel and the Finance Minister Charan Singh, only three officials were
present. Mukarji, V. Shankar, secretary to the PM, and Sethna, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
After the meeting, Mukarji dictated the minutes to me to be put on file to get approved by the PM. Though Morarji
Desai, according to Mukarji, was against initiating any action and he was supported by Vajpayee, the other three
ministers wanted the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to commence research for a weapon. After Morarji Desai
approved the minutes, Mukarji instructed me to deliver the handwritten minutes personally to Sethna in Mumbai.

My second major interaction with Sethna was when he proposed the appointment of Dr Fareeduddin as director of
the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Because of the personal differences that developed between Sethna
and Raja Ramanna after the Pokharan test, the latter (who was director, BARC) came away from the DAE and was
appointed scientific advisor to the defence minister. Sethna wanted to fill up the vacancy. When the matter was
considered by the cabinet’s appointments committee, V. Shankar, the secretary to the PM, expressed his
reservations and suggested that the department be reorganised. Prime Minister Morarji Desai then directed that the
matter be examined by a committee chaired by Dr Atma Ram, then director-general of the Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research (CSIR) and a close personal friend of the PM, the cabinet secretary and the AEC chairman.
Since they were busy, the matter was remitted to be considered and reported by a representative each of the
cabinet secretary and the AEC chairman. The cabinet secretary nominated me and Dr Sethna suggested
Subramanyam Siva, who had long been secretary to Dr Bhabha and himself. When the report was to be finalised, I
sought a separate interview with Sethna. Since the two of us were privy to the information that the department had
been directed to commence research on the weapon, I asked Sethna whether it would not be more appropriate that
he held the post of BARC director, to lead the programme himself instead of pushing Fareeduddin for the post,
especially since he was not a physicist. He accepted my point. The post of BARC director lay vacant when Indira
Gandhi, on her return to office in 1980, transferred Ramanna back to the DAE.

My third major interaction with Sethna resulted in Morarji Desai having to reverse one of his stands. On one of my
visits to his office, I asked Sethna whether he was happy with the PM’s decision to discuss with the Americans their
proposal on examining the feasibility of the full scope safeguards to the Indian nuclear programme. Sethna said he
was totally opposed to the idea and it was not an American proposal but one initiated by the PM’s secretary, V.
Shankar. I pointed out that the PM had told Parliament that it was an American proposal and there was no harm in

1 of 2 9/13/2010 12:15 PM
file:///F:/Sethna/A nuclear interaction.htm

India discussing it with the US. Sethna pulled out of his file the fax message from the Americans, which referred to
the full scope safeguards discussion as Shankar’s proposal and proceeded to outline the US point of view. When I
asked, Sethna readily gave me a photocopy of the document, which I then showed the cabinet secretary, Nirmal
Mukarji. He took it to Morarji Desai and told him that he was in danger of being accused of misleading Parliament by
presenting it as an American initiative. That put an end to further discussions on full scope safeguards with the
Americans.

The writer is a senior defence analyst express@expressindia.com

2 of 2 9/13/2010 12:15 PM
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'An outstanding nuclear engineer & a great patriot'


Ronen Sen, Sep 7, 2010, 03.04am IST

The demise of Dr Homi Sethna marks the end of an era. He was the last of the great pioneers of our atomic energy programme. He was hand-picked by Dr Homi
Bhabha to serve as his principal deputy, and act as head of the atomic energy organisation during his absence.

After the tragic death of Homi Bhabha in an aircrash, Dr Sethna implemented his vision of India emerging as one of the few countries in the world, and the first
country in Asia, with full nuclear fuel facilities. I had the privilege of working closely with Dr Sethna in the 1970s, in the years following the unilateral abrogation of
the Tarapur agreement and the global isolation we faced in the wake of our first nuclear test in 1974.

I witnessed his inspirational leadership during this period which motivated our scientific community to rise to the challenges and successfully pursue our atomic
energy programme. I will cherish warm memories of Dr Sethna not only as an outstanding nuclear engineer but as a great patriot whose paramount goal was to
promote India's national interests.

(The writer is a former Indian ambassador to the US)

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1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:16 PM
Architect of India's 1st N-test dies in Mumbai - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/6509476.cms?prtpage=1

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Architect of India's 1st N-test dies in Mumbai


Srinivas Laxman, TNN, Sep 7, 2010, 03.07am IST

MUMBAI: One of the guiding lights of India's first nuclear test, Homi Sethna, died on Sunday at his Walkeshwar home after a prolonged lung
ailment. He was 87.

Sethna triggered the exploitation of nuclear materials in the country, and was one of the luminaries behind Pokhran 1 in 1974. After retiring as
AEC chairman in 1983, Sethna served briefly as chairman of Tata Power and as director on the boards of Tata Sons, Bombay Dyeing and a few
others.

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1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:19 PM
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Dr Homi Nusserwanji Sethna passes away


By Frontier India | September 8th, 2010 | Category: People | No Comments »

Dr Homi Nusserwanji Sethna who was responsible for developing the first spent fuel
reprocessing plant in Asia and played a major role in India’s first successful nuclear tests at
Pokhran in 1974, passed away yesterday.

The Prime Minister in a condolence message scientist’s son Shri Rustam Sethna wrote “Dr.
Sethna was a brilliant nuclear scientist and an exceptional human being. His contribution to the
development and production of nuclear materials and thereby to the country’s efforts to build
energy security is immense. He was a pillar of India’s nuclear energy programme in the early
years.”

Dr. Sethna was a nuclear scientist and a chemical engineer. His hard work helped in
establishing first ever India reprocessing plant in 1959. Plutonium for the Indian peaceful
Nuclear Explosion in 1974 was extracted from this plant.

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1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:20 PM
The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Nation | First N-test captain dead file:///F:/Sethna/First N-test captain dead.htm

| Tuesday , September 7 , 2010 |


IN TODAY'S PAPER Front Page > Nation > Story
Front Page Print
Nation This
Calcutta
Bengal First N-test captain dead
Opinion OUR BUREAU
International
Sept. 6: Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, former Atomic Energy Commission chairman and the
Business guiding force behind India’s first nuclear test, died at his home in Mumbai last night, aged
Sports 86.
Entertainment
Sudoku Sethna had plunged into India’s nuclear programme as a chemical engineer tasked with
extracting nuclear materials from Kerala’s sands, but eventually steered it through its most
Crossword
difficult years after India’s first nuclear test in 1974.
Jumble
Gallery He was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1972 to 1983 — his
Horse Racing tenure the second longest after Homi Bhabha’s — when western countries snapped
Travel nuclear ties with India and denied equipment and materials to its nuclear effort.

WEEKLY FEATURES The technology denials began disrupting construction schedules for nuclear power
Knowhow stations in Rajasthan and Chennai, and caused operational problems for the US-made
Jobs reactors in Tarapur.
Telekids
“While he was under pressure to explain the delays and difficulties the programme faced,
Personal TT he, by and large, shielded others from criticism,” another former AEC chairman, M.R.
7days Srinivasan, said.
Graphiti
Sethna was also among a small but influential group of former nuclear scientists who had
CITY NEWSLINES objected to certain aspects of the India-US civil nuclear agreement in 2006 and forced the
Centre to toughen its negotiations. Sethna built India’s first plutonium plant, which yielded
material that went into the 1974 explosion.
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1 of 2 9/13/2010 12:34 PM
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NetIndian News Network


Mumbai, September 6, 2010

Former Atomic Energy Chief (AEC) Chairman Homi Nusservanji Sethna, who was credited with being the driving force
behind India's first nuclear test at Pokharan on May 18, 1974, passed away at his Malabar Hills residence here late last
night after a prolonged illness.

The end came around 2315 hours yesterday, sources in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) said.

He was 86. He is survived by his son Rustam and daughter Meher Dadabhoy. The funeral will take place tomorrow,
they said.

The DAE said Dr Sethna was an eminent chemical engineer who made vital contributions to nuclear materials
development and production over the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

Born in 1924, Dr Sethna did his schooling at the St. Xavier's High School at Fort in Mumbai and obtained B.Sc. (Tech)
degree from the University Department of Chemical Technology, Bombay University in 1944 before going to study at
the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in the United States for the MSE degree in 1946.
Dr.Homi N Sethna

He worked for the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in the United Kingdom for some time before returning to India in 1949 and joining the Atomic Energy Commission.

His first major assignment there was the construction of a plant for the extraction of rare earths from monazite at Alwaye in Kerala in 1952, followed by a plant for producing pure
thorium nitrate at Trombay in 1955. The commissioning of the Uranium Metal Plant (1959) and Plutonium Plant (1964) at Trombay and Jaduguda Uranium Mill (1966) were
regarded as very creditable achievements that followed in quick succession. All these were the first of their kind in the country.

Dr Sethna was Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) during 1975-72 when the plan for the construction of India's largest research reactor, Dhruva, was
conceived.

During his tenure as Chairman of AEC from 1972-83, the peaceful nuclear experiment (PNE) at Pokhran was successfully carried out at Pokhran in the Rajashtan desert on May
18, 1974.

This resulted in the isolation of India from the rest of the world in the field of nuclear science and technology, but Dr Sethna steered the country's atomic energy programme
through this difficult period with elan.

It is during this period that the indigenisation of the pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) technology was successfully carried out by the DAE.

"He had a remarkable grasp of details across a range of technology," the DAE said in a statement. "Dr Sethna will always be remembered in the DAE family as an excellent
engineer, a leader and a great visionary," it added.

The Government honoured him in 1975, along with two other top scientists, Dr Raja Ramanna, who later became AEC Chairman, and Dr Nag Chaudhari, head of the Defence
Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) with the Padma Vibhushan, the nation's second highest civilian award.

NNN

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1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:36 PM
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‘A man of true courage in face of crisis’


Kavitha Iyer Posted online: Tue Sep 07 2010, 01:26 hrs
Mumbai : Former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar led a cross-section of nuclear scientists,
corporate leaders and diplomats in paying tribute to former AEC chairman Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, who died on
Sunday night, saying he was a “man of true courage in the face of crisis”.

Sethna, 87, died in Mumbai following a prolonged illness. It was during his tenure as AEC chairman that India’s first
peaceful nuclear test was conducted in Pokharan in 1974.

Having been associated with the very first step towards exploitation of nuclear material in India in 1949 — Sethna
was responsible for setting up the Rare Earths Plant in Alwaye, Kerala. In 1959, he joined the Atomic Energy
Establishment in Trombay, now known as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and was responsible for designing
and building the plutonium plant in Trombay.

“He was a rare leader, one who thought far ahead. Name any important thing in Indian nuclear science and he has
had a role to play. You need plutonium for fast reactors and for the strategic programme, and it was Sethna who
built India’s first plutonium plant in Trombay,” Kakodkar said.

Another former AEC chairman P K Iyengar remembered Sethna as having a “pragmatic approach to our capabilities”
especially during the trying phase between 1970 and 1985. “Sanctions had been applied, collaborations stopped, the
French, Canadians and Americans had walked out. But projects that had been undertaken had to be completed,”
said Iyengar.

According to former Indian Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, who played a key role in the negotiations of the
India-US Civil Nuclear deal, Sethna’s sometimes gruff demeanour “concealed a warm and caring heart”.

Sethna’s career began as a trainee at ICI, Manchester, under the Tata-ICI scheme and after his retirement from the
government, he went on to serve as the chairman of Tata Power. Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata said Sethna had
played an important role in the development of the nation’s nuclear capability.

Sethna’s last rites will be held on Tuesday.

1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:37 PM
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Homi Sethna helped India weather a prolonged nuclear winter


storm
C. Raja Mohan Posted online: Tue Sep 07 2010, 08:34 hrs
New Delhi : An era in India’s nuclear history has come to a close with the passing away of Homi Nusserwanji Sethna
last night in Mumbai.

A chemical engineer who built the most critical elements of India’s nuclear weapons programme, Sethna will be long
remembered as a flamboyant leader, a pioneer of modern India’s advanced technological development, and as a
man who protected the nation’s nuclear options at one of its most difficult moments.

Sethna’s career in atomic energy began in the late 1940s, when young Indians dared to dream about “big science”
and “complex engineering.”

It was a time when only a few rich and powerful nations could think of building nuclear energy and space
programmes.

With little experience and limited resources, Sethna and his band of atomic scientists showed, armed only with
commitment and imagination, that India could catch up with the big powers in the mastery of frontier technologies.

Young Sethna was in charge of two crucial building blocks of India’s nuclear programme. One was the Canada India
Reactor (CIRUS), built during the late 1950s and the other was India’s first reprocessing plant completed in the mid
1960s.

CIRUS provided the technological basis for the first stage of India’s nuclear power programme based on natural
uranium reactors. The second gave India the capacity to produce plutonium, without which there would be no nuclear
weapons programme in India.

By the time he passed away at 87, Sethna saw the wheel of India’s nuclear fortunes turn the full circle. The 1950s
and 1960s were heady decades, when Indian atomic scientists made big strides at home and benefited from the
“scientific internationalism” of the era.

After May 1974, when India demonstrated its nuclear capability in the Pokharan desert, India had to endure more
than three decades of nuclear isolation. As India debated the historic nuclear civil nuclear initiative with the United
States during 2005-08, Sethna lent his influential voice.

Only days before he passed away, the parliament approved the nuclear liability legislation that opened the doors for
the renewal of India’s full-fledged nuclear engagement with the world.

Inheriting the leadership of India’s atomic energy establishment after the untimely demise of its founder Homi Bhabha
and his able successor, Vikram Sarabhai, Sethna steered India’s nuclear wheel through some of the most exciting
and demanding years of India’s nuclear history in the 1970s and 1980s.

Along with the Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Raja Ramanna and B. D. Nagchaudhury, who then
headed the Defence Research and Development Organization, Sethna received the Padma Vibhushanfor organising

1 of 2 9/13/2010 12:38 PM
file:///F:/Sethna/Homi Sethna helped India weather a prolonged nuclear...

Pokharan-I.

As the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Sethna became the face of India’s nuclear aspirations and the
toast of a proud nation in the mid 1970s. But as the world started targeting the Indian nuclear programme, he had to
confront the full force of international sanctions.

As the world cut off atomic cooperation, denied fuel to its power plants, choked off spare parts, prevented the Indian
scientists from even attending academic seminars, and sought to roll back India’s nuclear weapon capability, it was
Sethna’s burden to cope.

That he helped India weather this prolonged storm, kept India’s programme to produce nuclear electricity going
under the most difficult circumstances, and protected India’s nuclear weapon options, was perhaps the greatest
contribution of Homi Nusserwanji Sethna.

2 of 2 9/13/2010 12:38 PM
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Homi Sethna, nuclear legend, passes away


Srinivas Laxman, TNN, Sep 7, 2010, 03.09am IST
MUMBAI: Former Atomic Energy Commission ( AEC) chairman and one of the guiding lights behind India's first nuclear test, Homi Nusserwanji Sethna,
died on Sunday at his Walkeshwar residence after a prolonged lung ailment. He was 87 years of age.

Sethna passed away on Sunday night, surrounded by some of his family members, around 11.15pm. His funeral will take place on Tuesday morning at Parsi
Tower of Silence in Malabar Hill. Sethna's family has made allowance for non-Parsis to pay their respects to the legend between 8 and 9am on Tuesday,
after which the Parsi ceremonies would begin.

A pillar of India's nuclear programme, Sethna's career started neither in a laboratory nor a workshop, but in the swimming pool of the Wellington Club near
Haji Ali.

Legend goes that legendary nuclear scientist Homi Bhabha met Sethna while the two men were enjoying a swim at the club circa late 50s.

His talk with Sethna impressed Bhabha so much that he invited the young man to his office. The next day, a brief interview later, Sethna was offered a job.

Those who worked with Sethna recall that he was a taskmaster, an extreme disciplinarian and a stickler for cleanliness who could be extremely brusque at
times.

The discipline, not surprisingly, was most visible on the days he helped India conduct its first nuclear test in 1974 at Pokhran.

P K Iyengar, a key member of the team that conducted the blast, told the Times of India on Tuesday that Sethna and Raja Ramanna, the architect of the
Indian nuclear bomb, were at ground zero, supervising the arrangements.

"Sethna actually came to Pokhran 48 hours before the experiment. He was in New Delhi meeting officials. Some officials at the Prime Minister's Office
office wanted the test to be delayed," recalled Iyengar. "Sethna telephoned us at Pokhran and explained the situation. We said we cannot stop the test at
this stage. He then met Mrs Gandhi who gave the go-ahead."

During their meeting, Sethna reportedly told Gandhi: "I am pushing in the device (bomb) tomorrow and after that do not say remove it because I cannot.
You cannot tell me to stop."

"Go ahead. Are you frightened," she replied.

"I am not. I am only telling you there is no going back now. That is all," he said.

On the day of the test, Sethna said to his colleagues: "Whose head will be chopped if the test fails?" Iyengar replied: "If the law of physics works, no head
will be chopped."

The test conducted successfully, Sethna sent a coded message to Gandhi," saying "Buddha Is Smiling".

The test, however, created a fissure between Ramanna and Sethna, with both claiming credit for the bomb project. Their little battle even split the country's
nuclear fraternity, with engineers openly supporting Sethna and scientists backing Ramanna.

During this period and later, Sethna's wife Gul stood by him. A doctor by profession, Gul passed away last month.

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1 of 2 9/13/2010 12:52 PM
DNA: Sci/Tech - ‘Nation has lost a nuclear energy stalwart in Homi N S... http://www.dnaindia.com/print710.php?cid=1434499

http://www.dnaindia.com/

‘Nation has lost a nuclear energy stalwart in Homi N Sethna’

DNA / Mihika Basu / Tuesday, September 7, 2010 1:42 IST

Stating that the sudden demise of Homi N Sethna, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), as a
great loss to the country, the Indian scientific community said the “courageous” scientist was responsible for steering the
nuclear programme after the death of Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai.

An eminent chemical engineer who made vital contributions to nuclear materials development and production over the
entire nuclear fuel cycle, Sethna died on Teachers’ Day on September 5.

“He was a living example to many of us and I was quite close to him. He has guided me on several occasions. After I
became the AEC chairman, he gave me plenty of tips. All of us benefited from his leadership and it’s a big loss to the
nation,” said Anil Kakodkar, former AEC chairman. Calling him a leader of a “different kind”, Kakodkar said that “he led
the country’s plutonium programme which was huge as far as India is concerned”.

Srikumar Banejee, AEC chairman, also called his demise a huge loss not just to the national, but “also to the
international community”. “He was a stalwart in nuclear energy, both nationally and internationally. After Homi Bhabha,
he was the chairman of the AEC for the longest period and was one of the pioneers of India’s nuclear programme,” said
Banerjee.

Sethna was the director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Barc) from 1966-72, when the plan for the construction of
India’s largest research reactor, Dhruva, was conceived. And it was during his tenure as AEC chairman (from 1972-83)
that the peaceful nuclear experiment at Pokhran was successfully carried out in May 1974.

URL of the article: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_nation-has-lost-a-nuclear-energy-stalwart-in-homi-


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1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:54 PM
HindustanTimes-Print file:///F:/Sethna/Pokhran-I scientist passes away.htm

Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times


Email Author
Mumbai, September 07, 2010

First Published: 02:37 IST(7/9/2010)


Last Updated: 02:39 IST(7/9/2010)

Pokhran-I scientist passes away


A nationalist who was wary of the US, a no-nonsense man and a bold and quick decision-maker.

This is how colleagues described 86-year-old Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, the man behind India’s first peaceful nuclear test in Pokhran in 1974 that
brought in the era of international sanctions on the nuclear technology regime.

On Sunday night, the former atomic energy commission (AEC) chairman, Sethna, passed away at his Malabar Hill residence after a prolonged
illness.

His funeral will take place at Doongerwadi Tower of Silence on Tuesday.

Sethna was responsible for spearheading the country’s nuclear programme after the death of nuclear scientists Homi J. Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai
and went on to set up India’s first plutonium plant at Trombay in 1964.

Wary of the US after the Pokhran test, former AEC chairman Anil Kakodkar who described Sethna’s death as a personal loss to the country said:
“He was very apprehensive of the Americans and cautioned us during the Indo-US nuclear deal. But it was an important piece of advice.”

Scientists remembered him as having handled post Pokhran sanctions extremely well when the Americans stopped fuel supply to the Tarapur
Atomic Power Station.

“On one hand, we were pressing for our legal rights as per the contract with the US. And on the other hand, we also had to continue power supply,”
said Kakodkar.

“He gave outstanding leadership to the atomic energy programme during this crisis. He finally managed to get the French to supply fuel.”

Sethna’s tenure as chairman for almost 12 years from 1972 to 1983 was the longest after Homi Bhabha.

“And those were the formative years for the establishment. His outstanding contribution to reprocessing of spent fuel which was used for the
Pokhran I nuclear test cannot be forgotten,” said Srikumar Banerjee, present AEC chairman.

“He had a nationalist outlook,” said former AEC chairman P.K. Iyengar adding that Sethna in 2005 had said that rather than signing the Indo-US
deal, India should sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the country could walk out in case of disagreements.

“It’s turned out to be true. It is 2010 and we have not got a single reactor and will not for the next 10 years,” said Iyengar who worked with Sethna
for 35 years.

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© Copyright 2009 Hindustan Times

1 of 1 9/13/2010 12:57 PM
President, PM condole Homi Sethnas death (Second Lead) http://www.prokerala.com/news/print.php?id=165360

President, PM condole Homi Sethnas death (Second Lead)


Tue, Sep 7 2010 21:15 IST | 97 Views
Original Article : http://www.prokerala.com/news/articles/a165360.html

New Delhi, Sep 7

President Pratibha Patil Tuesday said India had lost "a true patriot" while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Homi Sethna as the "pillar of Indias nuclear
energy programme" as they condoled the death of the eminent nuclear scientist.
"Dr. Sethna played a crucial role in the successful conduct of Indias first peaceful nuclear test in 1974," Patil said in her condolence message.
"His contributions to development of nuclear energy for peaceful purpose were very important. In his passing away we have lost a well-known nuclear scientist and
a true patriot,” she said in a statement issued here.
The prime minister mourned the 86-year-old former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairmans death and described him as the "pillar of Indias nuclear energy
programme".
Sethna died at his Malabar Hills residence in Mumbai Sunday night. His last rites were performed Tuesday.
In his condolence message to the nuclear scientists son Rustam Sethna, Manmohan Singh said: "It is with great sorrow that I learnt of the sad demise of your
father, Dr. Homi Sethna. Dr. Sethna was a brilliant nuclear scientist and an exceptional human being.”
"His contribution to the development and production of nuclear materials and thereby to the countrys efforts to build energy security is immense. He was a pillar of
Indias nuclear energy programme in the early years," Singh said.
The prime minister said that in his long and illustrious career, Sethna had served the government and many other institutions with great distinction.
"He was widely respected and admired and had the ability to inspire young scientists to give their best in the national cause. His lifes work is a saga of dedication,
brilliance and patriotic public service," Singh said.
Recalling his long and fruitful personal association with the scientist, the prime minister said that he "benefitted greatly from his deep knowledge, insight and vision".
"He has left behind a void that would be very difficult to fill. In this hour of bereavement, please accept my heartfelt condolences. May God give you the strength to
bear this irreparable loss. I offer my deepest prayers for peace of the departed soul," Singh said.
Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan also expressed grief at Sethnas demise and noted that the scientist was responsible for developing
the first spent fuel reprocessing plant in Asia and played a major role in India’s first successful nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1974.
"Due to the pioneering work of personalities like Dr. Sethna, India proudly stands upright in the field of nuclear energy,” Chavan added.

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The man who dared to dream


Meena Menon and T.S. Subramanian

Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, who passed away on Sunday night, will be remembered for his
boldness, and as a man who was not afraid to do things.

Virtually encapsulating his achievements and qualities, Dr. P.K. Iyengar, former Director
Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), who worked with Dr. Sethna, told The Hindu on Monday:
“He was the one who dared to put Indian technology in nuclear science to this level. He was
not afraid to do things for the first time. He believed in self-reliance and never asked for
favours. He went ahead in areas in which information and technology were denied. He made
plutonium in 1964 and he was not afraid of politicians. He never asked for obligation or
favours. He was a great Indian technologist and worked all his life in India.”

Dr. Sethna, who was Chairman AEC from 1972 to 1983, had the second longest tenure, next
to Homi Bhabha, and was a pioneer in several aspects of India's atomic energy programme.
He made a critical contribution to nuclear materials development and production over the
entire nuclear fuel cycle.

He was born on August 24, 1923 and did his B.Sc. (Tech) from the University Department of
Chemical Technology, University of Bombay, in 1944 and did his M.S. in the University of
Ann Arbor, Michigan. After working with Imperial Chemical Industries in the U.K., he
returned to India in 1949, inspired by Dr. Bhabha's call for Indian scientists to return.

Dr. Bhabha hand-picked him in 1949 to head Indian Rare Earths at Aluva, Kerala, which
would separate rare earths from monazite. This marked the beginning of the exploitation of
nuclear material in India. In 1959 he joined the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay,
now the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), as Chief Scientific Officer. He later
became Director of the Engineering Group with the responsibility for the designing and
construction of the plutonium plant at Trombay and concurrently of the Uranium Mill at
Jaduguda in Bihar. He was Director BARC from 1966 to 1972.

Dr. Sethna pioneered reprocessing technology in India and played a crucial role in the
designing and setting up of the first plutonium separation plant at BARC. This plutonium went
into the making of the nuclear device that was tested in on May 18, 1974 at Pokhran. India's
first nuclear explosion, the Peaceful Nuclear Experiment, took place when Dr. Sethna was
AEC Chairman.

He was project manager of the 40-MWe Research Reactor Canada India Research US
(CIRUS) during its formative years in 1956-58. He was responsible for the development of
mixed oxide (MOX) fuel as an alternative fuel for the enriched uranium fuel for the
American-built reactors at Tarapur when the U.S. reneged on its commitment to supply
enriched uranium for these reactors in the aftermath of India's PNE in 1974.

Dr. Sethna was opposed to the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and said India would be better off

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signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which permitted the exit of any signatory-
nation, rather than the nuclear deal with the U.S. that would bind the country in perpetuity.
Press reports said he felt that what Dr Manmohan Singh was about to sign was worse than
joining the NPT regime.

M.R. Srinivasan, former Chairman AEC, told The Hindu: “When the nuclear debate began in
our country, he was at an advanced stage of retirement, but he believed that India should
move ahead, and at the same time not compromise its position He had a very broad sweep of
the many facets of technology. While chemical technology was his forte, he encouraged
aspects of basic Chemistry and newer facets of technology, for example laser technology. He
had a strong interest in material areas, especially corrosion and high temperature materials. I
recall, when he was the Chairman of the Board of Governors of IIT Bombay. He took a
regular interest in issues related to quality of curriculum and encouraged research and
development.”

Dr. Sethna imbibed some of Dr. Bhabha's aversion to bureaucracy and red tape and was
deeply inspired by him. He maintained a hectic work schedule even when debilitated by
illness. In “Musings of Dr. Sethna,” in a brief recorded meeting with Professor A.K. Grover of
the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in 2009, Dr. Sethna said his contact with
the late Dr. Bhabha [in the TIFR] was more peripheral than anything else. “For instance, he
would ask me, what I thought of Mr. A or Professor B or whatever it is and I had to tell him
frankly, what it was.”

Dr. Sethna was on the Research Advisory Committee of the Planning Commission in 1998. He
was conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan and won a
number of other awards and honours, including the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Memorial Award
in 1960 and the Sir Walter Puckey Prize by the Institution for Production Engineers. He was a
member of the New York Academic of Sciences. From 1966 to 1981 he was member of the
scientific advisory committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He was
chairperson, Tata Electric Companies, and Director Tata Sons. He was a member of the Royal
Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the United Nations Scientific Advisory
Committee and other organisations.

He was Sheriff of Mumbai in 1991. In September 2009, Dr. Sethna was involved in a spat with
former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam over the Pokhran test. Dr. Sethna had asked politicians
to keep out of science and not interfere in scientific matters. In an interview in 2006 to
rediff.com, Dr. Sethna, lively as ever, had said they belonged to Dr. Bhabha's school of
thought and Dr. Bhabha had taught them to be ageless.

Srikumar Banerjee, Chairperson, Atomic Energy Commission, recalled how Dr. Sethna
displayed leadership qualities when the Canadians abandoned the construction of the second
pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan in the wake of the
PNE. “When the Canadians went away in 1974, we had to take up the development of the
PHWR on our own. Under his leadership, a standardised model of the indigenous PHWR was
evolved,” Dr. Banerjee said.

Anil Kakodkar, former Chairman AEC, described Dr Sethna as “a no-nonsense person” who
gave “bold and courageous leadership to the DAE during several times of crisis.” When the
Tarapur fuel supply from the U.S. was interrupted in 1974, there was an “angry” school of
opinion that said India should press for its legal rights to get the enriched uranium from the
U.S. “Sethna showed tremendous courage at that time, preparing the country for alternative
fuel supply. The French stepped in and gave us enriched uranium. If that had not happened,
Dr. Sethna was getting ready with his MOX programme to run the Tarapur reactors on MOX
fuel. We got the supply from France and we also developed the MOX fuel.”

2 of 3 9/13/2010 12:59 PM
Sethna a pillar of India’s nuclear programme: PM | Politics http://www.printfriendly.com/getpf?url=http://www.indiatalkies.com/2...

Sethna a pillar of India’s nuclear programme:


PM | Politics
New Delhi, Sep 7 – Calling Homi Sethna a ‘pillar of India’s nuclear energy
programme’, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday in a condolence
message praised the eminent scientist for his immense contribution to the
country’s energy security.

‘Dr. Sethna was a brilliant nuclear scientist and an exceptional human


being,’ Manmohan Singh said in a message to the nuclear scientist’s family.

‘His contribution to the development and production of nuclear materials


and thereby to the country’s efforts to build energy security is immense.
He was a pillar of India’s nuclear energy programme in the early years,’
said the prime minister.

‘He was widely respected and admired and had the ability to inspire young
scientists to give their best in the national cause. His life’s work is a saga of
dedication, brilliance and patriotic public service,’ he said.

The 86-year-old Sethna, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, passed away at his Malabar
Hills residence in Mumbai Sunday night. His last rites were performed Tuesday.

The legendary nuclear scientist played a pivotal role in India’s first peaceful nuclear explosion of May 18,
1974, called the Smiling Buddha, or Pokhran-I.

Recalling his personal memories of the iconic nuclear scientist, the prime minister said he ‘benefitted
greatly from his deep knowledge, insight and vision’.

He has left behind a void that would be very difficult to fill, the prime minister said.

IANS

Posted by

Lakshit

on Sep 7th, 2010 and filed under

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Sethna, the man who made Buddha smile, no more - The Economic Times file:///F:/Sethna/Sethna, the man who made Buddha smile, no more.htm

Wed, Sep 08, 2010 | Updated 11.21PM IST

7 SEP, 2010, 02.18AM IST,ET BUREAU

Sethna, the man who made Buddha smile, no more

MUMBAI: Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, the nuclear scientist who made ‘Buddha smile’ in 1974, died at his Malabar Hill residence on Monday. He was 86. His funeral
will take place on Tuesday at the Doongerwadi Tower of Silence.

Sethna is credited with setting up the country’s first plutonium plant at Trombay over 50 years ago. A former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC),
Sethna was the force behind the country’s first nuclear test that made the world sit up and take notice.

A tough taskmaster, Sethna took over as chairman of the AEC and principal secretary to the Government of India following the death of Homi Bhabha and Vikram
Sarabhai. He was entrusted with the job to execute the unfinished agenda envisioned by Bhabha.

A nuke scientist and a chemical engineer, Sethna played a lead role in establishing India’s first reprocessing plant in 1959. It was plutonium from this plant that
was used for the 1974 nuke test at a time when the country was under tremendous pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by the US.

Through his persuasion of prime minister Indira Gandhi, he successfully executed the first peaceful nuclear explosion project at Pokhran on May 18, 1974, along
with his colleagues Raja Ramanna and P K Iyengar.

Born on August 24, 1923, in Mumbai, Sethna completed his graduation (BSc Tech) from University of Mumbai and did his MSE at the Michigan University. He
received Honoris Causa from various Indian universities, including IIT, Delhi, in 1992.

A fearless, ‘no-nonsensical’ man, Sethna carried on with the nuclear programme in the challenging backdrop of sanctions imposed on India and a technological
denial regime.

His colleagues fondly remember him as a patriot who always upheld the honour and integrity of the country. Sethna joined ICI in Manchester as a trainee under
Tata-ICI scheme and came back to India to join Indian Rare Earth (IRE) in Kerala, a PSU, which was at the forefront of exploitation of nuclear materials in India.

Consequently, he completed the construction of the thorium plant at Trombay and the plant for production of nuclear grade uranium metal.

A Padma Vibhushan awardee, he also had the assignment of project managership of a 40-MW research reactor (CIRUS) during its formative years during the
period of his directorship at IRE.

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Stalwart of India's nuclear programme, Homi N


Sethna, passes away news

06 September 2010

Mumbai: Former Atomic Energy


Commission (AEC) chairman and the
architect of India's first 'Smiling Buddha'
nuclear test, Dr Homi Nusserwanji
Sethna, passed away at his Malabar
Hills residence here after a prolonged
illness, family members said.

December 1974: Prime minister


Indira Gandhi visits Pokhran where
India's first nuclear explosion took
place in May 1974. She is flanked by
KC Pant (left) and Atomic Energy
Commission chairman HN Sethna
(right).
He was 86 and is survived by a daughter
and son.

Sethna passed away on Sunday night at around 11.15pm. His funeral will take
place on Tuesday at the Doongerwadi Tower of Silence.

Dr Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, to give him his full name, was a nuclear
scientist and a chemical engineer who was the primary and central figure in
India's civilian nuclear programme.

"Sethna was a good and

1 of 3 9/13/2010 1:03 PM
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energetic engineer, always willing to take risks and built India's first
re-processing plant in Trombay. He had a dare devil attitude and never waited
for bureaucratic processes to get the establishment work done," PK Iyengar,
former AEC chairman, said.

Dr. Sethna began his career in the year 1947 as a trainee with ICI, Manchester
under the Tata - ICI Scheme. In 1949, he joined Indian Rare Earths Ltd, where
he was given the full technical responsibility for setting the Rare Earths Plant
at Alwaye in Kerala which marked the beginning of exploitation of nuclear
material in India.

He also served as Director of the Engineering Group at Atomic Energy


Establishment at Trombay (now Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) with the
responsibility for designing and construction of the Plutonium Plant at
Trombay in 1964 and Uranium Mill at Jaduguda in Bihar in 1967.

He served as secretary and principal secretary to the Government of India and


chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1972 to 1983.

He was also the project manager of a 40 MW research reactor supplied by


Canada, called the CIRUS-in 1956-58.

Dr Sethna was the guiding force behind the first peaceful nuclear explosion,
'Smiling Buddha' conducted on 18 May 1974.

In 1975, he, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Raja Ramanna
and Nag Chaudhuri (head of the DRDO) received the Padma Vibhushan -
India's second highest civilian award.

Dr Sethna did his schooling from St Xavier's High School, Fort, Mumbai and
higher studies at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. He was formerly
chairman of Atomic Energy Commission.

He received the Padma Shri in 1959, the Padma Bhushan in 1966 and the
Padma Vibhushan in 1975.

Dr Sethna held B.Sc., B.Sc. (Tech.) degrees from Bombay University and
M.S.E. (Michigan); F.A. Sc., F.N.A., F.I.E., M.I.E.

He was conferred with Honorary Doctorates in science by several universities


in India and also from IIT, Bombay and Delhi, apart from an honorary
doctorate in law by Bombay University.

During the span of his career, Dr Sethna chaired various eminent organizations
and corporate bodies too numerous to mention.

He was also conferred with memberships of various learned societies viz.


Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Indian Academy of
Sciences, The Institution of Engineers (India), Indian National Science

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Academy, Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers, Aeronautical Society of


India etc.

Dr Sethna served as the member of the research Advisory Committee of the


Planning Commission, Member of the Court of the Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore, Member of Court of University of Hyderabad and Member of
Board of Trade, Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Government of India
amongst other bodies and trusts.

3 of 3 9/13/2010 1:03 PM
The day India 'arrived' on global stage - India - The Times of India file:///F:/Sethna/The day India 'arrived' on global stage_files/login_stat...

Printed from

The day India 'arrived' on global stage


TNN, Sep 7, 2010, 03.06am IST
MUMBAI: Thirty-eight years ago, after addressing the convocation at IIT-Bombay, Indira Gandhi and Homi Sethna, the chairman of Atomic Energy
Commission, flew to BARC at Trombay.

Legend goes that BARC scientists mistook Sethna's wife Gul for Mrs Gandhi and gave her the red-carpet treatment. But on that momentous day, that wasn't
the biggest surprise in store for the prime minister.

After visiting various facilities at India's top nuclear weapon complex, Sethna took Gandhi to his office and pulled out from his desk a model of India's first
atomic bomb. "Oh, this is what it looks like," an impressed Gandhi reportedly exclaimed. Encouraged by the initial response, Sethna tried another gambit.
He sought her permission to conduct a nuclear test. Gandhi told him to keep the bomb ready and wait for the green signal. The scientists rightly sensed that
it was her way of saying 'go ahead'.

After a few rough rounds of discussions where some bureaucrats opposed the defiant step, the government slated the test for May 18,1974, and chose the
Pokhran in Rajasthan as the test site. Complete secrecy was prescribed.

Days before the test, R Chidambaram, a member of the bomb-making team, took the device in an army truck from Mumbai to Pokhran, while another
member, P K Iyengar, brought a component in a vacuum flask as hand luggage on a flight. On the historic day, a countdown was held for the benefit of
photographers. Moments before the blast, a palpable silence fell over the room; everyone feared the test had failed. But then, the earth "rose up as though
Lord Hanuman had lifted it", Raja Ramanna, described by many as the architect of the bomb, recalled in his autobiography.

The test had succeeded. Not even American spy satellites could spot it.

After the test, Sethna, covered in dust, went to a nearby field telephone operated by the army and called up the PMO. But before he could convey the news
to P N Dhar, then principal secretary to PM, the telephone failed. A senior army official, then, hurriedly escorted Sethna to an army telephone exchange.
This time, Sethna forgot Dhar's number. When he finally got through to the PMO, his words were: "The yield is expected to be over 10 kt. There was no
venting at the site."

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When the Buddha first smiled


Inder Malhotra Posted online: Fri May 15 2009, 00:23 hrs
BY the start of May 1974, India was in the grip of a scorching summer of discontent though worse was to follow a
year hence. The afterglow of Indira Gandhi’s tremendous triumph in the 1971 general election and the country’s
brilliant victory in the Bangladesh war the same year had vanished. Monsoons had failed again. The economy was in
a shambles. However, it was the corruption and arrogance of her inner circle that had fed popular anger. Gujarat’s
Nav Nirman, followed by the more formidable J.P. movement (so named after its sponsor, the highly respected
Gandhian, Jayaprakash Narayan), was climaxed by a nationwide railway strike with the avowed objective — in the
words of its leader, maverick Socialist George Fernandes — of “starving the country”. Indira Gandhi decided to
crush it ruthlessly.

It was in this sombre atmosphere that in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) on May 18 something startling happened.
A huge, restive crowd at a bus stop, vainly waiting for transport of any kind, suddenly burst into cheers. News had
just come in that India had conducted an underground nuclear test that morning at a place called Pokhran in distant
Rajasthan. This reaction was symptomatic of the ecstatic welcome most Indians gave their country’s entry into the
Nuclear Club.

The sensational news was a complete surprise to everyone, including the peeved nuclear powers that had failed to
detect the underground explosion. India insisted that the event at Pokhran was a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE) —
both the United States and the Soviet Union had been conducting several of these — although there is no difference
in the PNE technology and that for exploding a nuclear weapon.

Two separate and interconnected reasons led to Indira Gandhi’s resolve to conduct the test although its roots really
went back to her father, Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. It is difficult to think of another person so thoroughly opposed to
nuclear weapons as he. Yet all through his life — since 1946 indeed — he also held steadfastly to the policy that
India must develop the technology to build these weapons, should the need arise, especially if others refused to
abjure them. (With the solitary exception of Morarji Desai in 1977, all Nehru’s successors have broadly shared this
approach.).

Against this backdrop, the first reason for Pokhran-I burst into the open within five months of Nehru’s death. On
October 16, 1964 China’s first nuclear bomb went up at Lop Nor. Coincidentally, Nikita Khrushchev, who had denied
China a nuclear weapon design, went down in Moscow on the same day. In New Delhi, K. Subrahmanyam, the
country’s premier security analyst, then a deputy secretary in the defence ministry, sent a top-secret note to the
defence secretary suggesting that a committee, headed by the legendary Homi Bhabha, should devise India’s
response to the Chinese challenge. In the ministry of external affairs, K. R. Narayanan, then director, China (later
President) also advised the government to “exercise the nuclear option”. If a personal note is permissible, a week
ahead of them, in The Statesman (October 9) I had pleaded for an Indian nuclear weapons programme because the
“mushroom cloud was about to appear on the Himalayas.”

For his part, Bhabha made no secret of his conviction that India could produce a nuclear bomb in 18 months at no
more than Rs. 30 lakhs each. Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and other political leaders were not yet
prepared to go that far even though pressure within the Congress party to go nuclear was on the increase. K. C.
Pant, later defence minister, and Krishan Kant, later vice-president, were principal advocates of nuclear weapons.

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What Shastri did authorise, however, was a Subterranean Nuclear Exploration Project (SNEP). It did not make
headway because of deaths in quick succession of both Shastri and Bhabha. Like Shastri, Indira Gandhi also wasted
some time in the meaningless search for a “nuclear security umbrella” by the two superpowers.

Profound foreign policy and security developments during 1971 — Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China and his
subsequent warning that in case China became involved in the crisis in Bangladesh, India should not expect American
support; the signing of the Indo-Soviet treaty Indira Gandhi wasn’t enthusiastic about until then; and above all,
America’s dispatch of the Enterprise-led nuclear task force to the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh War —
became the second and clinching reason for taking the plunge. Indira Gandhi’s numerous critics have roundly blamed
her for conducting the test for purely political reasons. Nothing cam be farther from the truth. At the time of Pokhran-I
she was doubtless beleaguered. But she had authorised the test in September 1972 when her popularity was at its
peak.

As the news of detonation spread, in distant Washington, Denis Kux, officer in change of the India desk at the state
department, prepared a scathing draft criticising the “Indian test”. But Kissinger, then in the Middle East, toned it
down, arguing that the Indian explosion was an “accomplished fact” and “public scolding” would only “add to US-India
bilateral problems”. However, this did not prevent the US from imposing the harshest sanctions on this country.

Details of the long and secret decision-making process cannot be discussed in available space. But a crucial meeting
just before the PNE deserves a mention. The issue was whether to go ahead and “push the button”. According to an
account by Raja Ramanna, the mastermind of the venture, two of Indira Gandhi’s top advisers, P. N. Haksar and P.
N. Dhar, were opposed to it, and wanted it postponed. Homi Sethna, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission,
offered no opinion. D. Nag Chaudhuri, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister started weighing pros and cons but
was cut short by the prime minister. “Dr. Ramanna,” she said. turning to him, “please go ahead. It would be good for
the country”. The next morning “the Buddha smiled”.

Her critics have a point when they say that, faced with furious international reaction, especially from the US and
Canada (the latter had provided the Cirus reactor at Trombay), she “developed cold feet” and did not follow up on
Pokhran-I. Consequently, there was a gap of 24 years between Pokhran-I and Pokhran-II. But that’s a different
story.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

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OBITUARY

The nuclear man


T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
in Chennai

Homi Nusserwanji Sethna (1923-2010) boldly steered the Department of Atomic Energy
through turbulent times.
AP

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the site of the first nuclear test at Pokhran, in December
1974. She is flanked by Homi Sethna (right), then Chairman of the AEC, and K.C. Pant,
Minister for Energy.

“MY dear fellow, you are taxing my memory!” remonstrated Homi Nusserwanji Sethna jocularly
on the evening of September 18, 2008. But his memory was razor-sharp and he recalled important
events in the history of India's atomic energy programme with clarity, even people's names with
their initials. This reporter had gone to meet him in his spacious flat in Mumbai, to get his
reminiscences of Homi Bhabha, whose birth centenary was to be celebrated the following year.

It soon became clear that Sethna loved telling stories, especially about what transpired between
him, when he was Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi in the hours immediately before and after India exploded its first nuclear device at Pokhran
on May 18, 1974; about how Bhabha offered Sethna, on the edge of Willington Club's swimming
pool in Bombay (Mumbai), a job in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE); and about how
Bhabha first wanted Sethna to attend the International Atomic Energy Conference in Vienna in
January 1966 but eventually went himself, brushing aside his mother's premonition, only to die
when his plane crashed on Mont Blanc.

After Bhabha, Sethna, who died on September 5 at the age of 87, was the longest serving AEC
Chairman; he held the post for 11 years from 1972 to 1983. Sethna was earlier Director of the
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay, from 1966 to 1972, when the plan for building
India's largest and the most sophisticated research reactor, Dhruva, was conceived. He boldly
steered the DAE during some of its most turbulent phases in the wake of India's peaceful nuclear
experiment (PNE) of 1974. (There followed embargoes that the DAE had to face. The United
States reneged on its agreement with India to supply enriched uranium as fuel for 30 years for the
U.S.-built reactors at Tarapur in Maharashtra. The Canadians abandoned the construction of the
second Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan. The French

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walked out on the construction of the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) at Kalpakkam in Tamil
Nadu.)

Sethna pioneered the reprocessing technology in India and built the first plant at Trombay to
reprocess plutonium. It was this plutonium that went into the making of the nuclear device that was
tested in 1974.

The book entitled Atomic Energy in India, 50 years, authored by C.V. Sundaram, L.V. Krishnan
and T.S. Iyengar and published by the DAE in August 1998, places the importance of this
plutonium-reprocessing plant in the proper perspective. It says: “Known as Project Phoenix …it
became one of the most important landmarks in the Indian programme, that this plant entirely
designed and built by Indian engineers, under the leadership of H.N. Sethna and N. Srinivasan,
could be completed and commissioned by mid-1964. With this, India became one among the five
countries in the world (the others being the U.S., the U.K., France and the former Soviet Union)
with demonstrated capabilities in the advanced technology of nuclear fuel reprocessing and the
recovery of plutonium.”

Anil Kakodkar, former AEC Chairman, described Sethna as “a no-nonsense person” who gave
“bold and courageous leadership to the DAE during several times of crisis”. When the U.S. stopped
supplying enriched uranium fuel to the two reactors at Tarapur in 1974, Sethna, Kakodkar said,
“showed tremendous courage…, preparing the country for an alternative fuel supply. The French
stepped in and gave us the enriched uranium. If that had not happened, Sethna was getting ready
with his MOX [mixed oxide] programme to run the Tarapur reactors on MOX fuel. We got the
supply from France and we also developed the MOX fuel.”

Srikumar Banerjee, AEC Chairman, praised the leadership qualities that Sethna demonstrated when
the Canadians stopped building the second reactor at Rajasthan. “When the Canadians went away
in 1974, we had to take up the development of the PHWR on our own. Under his leadership, a
standardised model of the PHWR was evolved,” Banerjee said.

Sethna, who was born on August 24, 1923, took the B.Sc. (Tech) degree in chemical engineering
from the Department of Chemical Technology, University of Bombay, in 1944. He acquired an
M.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbour, U.S., in 1946. He first
joined Imperial Chemical Industries, and then the DAE in 1949.

During the interview, Sethna himself popped the question: “I was recruited, do you know where?”
and answered it thus, “Willington Club swimming pool! [Laughs.] Do you know how it happened?
The argument was on how to make alcohol, absolute alcohol, on a big scale. You have alcohol and
when you distil it, you go up to 90 per cent, to 96 per cent [purity]. How to cross over from 96 to
100 per cent? For that, when you add benzene or any petroleum product, you get a low-boiling
mixture of three things – alcohol, water and benzene. Bhabha said there was no such thing.

“I said, ‘Look, this is a book. And I gave him my book.' He said, ‘Shall I keep it?' I said, ‘It is a
bloody valuable book. It is not available. It cost me $8 and that is a lot of money.' That was the
beginning of the relationship between Bhabha and me....”

But how was Sethna recruited to the DAE? This was his reply: “Wait a minute. Then came the
question…. Where to give this fellow a start if he were to be brought in? Bhabha was no fool. He
caught hold of a lawyer, J.D. Choksi, who was a director of Tata Sons. So they formed a company
called, the Indian Rare Earths. I was one of the first recruits. The other recruit was suggested by
K.S. Krishnan. He too had a foreign degree. I was a graduate of Michigan University…”

Sethna and his wife, then newly married, stayed in Kochi at a hotel owned by Spencer's. From
Kochi, he would go to Alwaye (Aluva) where the IRE plant was to come up. The design of the IRE
plant was provided by a French company called Societie de Terre.

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“But once the plant started production, came the trouble,” said Sethna. “First, nobody would buy
the rare earths.” This was because the Second World War was over. It looked as if the extracted
rare earths would have to be dumped in the sea. But on his insistence, the thorium that was
extracted was dried, packed in steel containers and stored in godowns.

“Then, all of a sudden, rare earths boomed,” Sethna said. “Optical glass etc…. We spent Rs.1 crore
on that plant. Within six to eight months, we made a profit of a crore of rupees… Then the U.S.
came in and said they would like to buy thorium as thorium nitrate. We put up a thorium plant in
Bombay and made thorium nitrate, where the Yanks would come, do the analysis, etc… It took a
year and a half to fulfil their orders. By that time, everything was up in Alwaye and we were
happy.”

As a logical consequence of the IRE plant and the thorium plant , Sethna went on to build the
Uranium Metal Plant at Trombay (1959). His next challenging assignment was to build the
Plutonium Plant, again at Trombay, which his peers considered to be an outstanding achievement.
A DAE note says, “This remotely operated, highly instrumented plant was designed and
constructed entirely by Indian scientists and engineers under Sethna as the project engineer.
Besides, it was completed on August 1, 1964, within the original estimated cost and scheduled
time.”

He then went on to build the Jaduguda Uranium Mill, now in Jharkhand, to produce yellow cake
from natural uranium.

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'He visualised a powerful India': Rediff.com India News file:///F:/Sethna/He visualised a lively picture of a powerful India.htm

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rediff.com News Business Movies Sports Get Ahead 'He visualised a lively picture of a powerful India'

January 27, 2006 18:37 IST

Dr Homi Sethna, former chairman of the Department of Atomic Energy, may be in his eighties, but his vitality and liveliness make an immediate impression.
Equally surprising is the busy schedule he continues to maintain.

"W e belong to Dr (Homi) Bhabha's school of thought, you see. We are disciplined to take up any challenge. Dr Bhabha taught us to be ageless. So here I am,
working more than 12 hours a day, pooh-poohing failing health," he explains, reading your mind.

W hen Dr Homi J Bhabha set up India's [ Images ] Department of Atomic Energy as well as the Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he
personally selected a team to work with him. Dr Sethna, a chemical engineer, was hired along with Dr P K Iyengar, Dr Vasudev Iya and Dr Raja Ramanna.

Dr Sethna and his team led by Dr Ramanna worked on Project Smiling Buddha, that led to India exploding its first nuclear device on May 18, 1974 at Pokhran in
the deserts of Rajasthan [ Images ]. He was awarded a Padma Vibhushan in 1975. After his retirement from the Government of India, Dr Sethna has been closely
associated with several Tata companies.

Says Dr Sethna, "Talking about scientific experiments of our time won't be an easy task. I am an old man with a failing memory. In fact, I can't even recall my career chart these days. I won't be able to
give you any periodic account of events. For, time has erased the dates from my mind. W hatever I say will be an old man's way of recounting the past."

To mark Dr Bhabha's 40th death anniversary, Dr Sethna spoke to Senior Assistant Editor (Features) Indrani Roy Mitra about the father of India's nuclear programme, punctuating his tribute with
thoughts on the progress of science in modern India.

What was Dr Bhabha's vision?

We won't do justice to Bhabha's memory if we assess him as a scientist alone.

Rather, he was a visionary, who dreamt of India gaining self-reliance through progress in the field of nuclear power.

He was a dreamer, who visualised a lively picture of a powerful India, rich in scientific knowledge, and fearless in making experiments.

Science, especially nuclear science, was not exactly Bhabha's passion. It was his way of life.

What do you feel was his most important contribution to science?

Bhabha was the architect of nuclear science in India. I am too small a person to talk about his contribution to science.

As students, we admired his Cascade Theory of Electron Showers, which he presented with (German-Irish scientist) (Walter) Heitler in 1937. It is called the Bhabha-Heitler Cascade Theory, hailed as an
indispensable part of physics. The theory explains the process of electron showers in cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays are fast-moving sub-microscopic particles. They comprise protons, electrons and gamma rays. When some of them approach the earth and enter its atmosphere, they collide with atoms in
the air, which in turn give birth to new nuclear particles.

Bhabha's theory explains the processes and effects of this reaction. It is considered a pioneering work to (bring) understanding to one of the most baffling mysteries about cosmic rays.

Apart from this, Bhabha left his mark in the elementary particles and quantum theories as well.

Bhabha was the first to realise that the consumption of energy in the world is on the increase. Naturally available resources of energy, like coal and oil, are on the wane. To counter this, he declared that
atomic energy is the only foundation for the progress of industries in India. He suggested a method of producing electricity by nuclear methods.

'Bhabha wanted India to be a Nuclear Weapons State'

Bhabha established two great research institutions -- the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay, which after Bhabha's death was renamed the Bhabha
Atomic Research Centre.

What was his style of functioning like?

Working with Bhabha was quite an experience. To him red-tapism stood for immobility and bureaucracy for inertia. W hile doing elaborate experiments, he ensured that none of the mandarins meddled
with his progress.

With astuteness and brilliance, Bhabha had evolved a unique system of work wherein scientists working with him and under him could act freely and fearlessly.

A system of government figured low in his dictionary and scientific excellence always topped his agenda. If he had to work with bureaucrats, he made them follow his mind. Such was his organisational
skill.

Hom i Bhabha, 40 Years On

Dr Bhabha was known for his patriotism and his belief in India. How did it reflect in his work?

The early atomic age of India -- the 1960s -- was a period of transition. At that time Bhabha gave a clarion call to young scientists who were staying abroad: Return to the Motherland.

Many young scientists listened to his call and came to work under him. Today many of them are among (our) reputed scientists. Bhabha took personal care to provide the necessary amenities to them.
He inspired his team members and gave them the freedom they needed to pursue their work.

He gave them every opportunity to grow. He thus succeeded in building up a team of excellent workers.

What does India owe Dr Bhabha?

On May 18, 1974, India conducted its first nuclear explosion for peaceful purposes, at Pokhran in Rajasthan to emerge the world's sixth nuclear power. The other five countries with nuclear know-how
then were the USA, Russia [ Images ], Britain, France [ Images ] and China.

India owes this achievement to Bhabha. It was he who put India on the world map of nuclear science. The seeds of India emerging into an important nuclear power were sown by Bhabha.

Did he put India on the right track?

Bhabha ushered India into a world of scientific independence.

He uncovered India's nuclear energy potential and showed it to the world. Thanks to his experiments and tireless efforts, India is fast emerging as one of the most important nuclear powers of the
contemporary world.

There is hardly any nuclear problem at present which we cannot solve. W e are very much at par with France and China. W e are on the right path of scientific progress and if everything goes well, we will
surely supersede our competitors.

On the 40th death anniversary of Dr Bhabha, let us get together to pay respect to Dr Homi Bhabha [ Images ], one of the greatest scientists the world has ever produced.

Photograph: Dr Homi J Bhabha at an international conference in Geneva


Photograph courtesy: Homi J Bhabha: Architect of Nuclear India by Dilip M Salvi, Rupa & Co.

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