On This Day In History: May 18, 1974 –India becomes nuclear power with operation ‘Smiling Buddha’

On this day, May 18, 1974, India successfully conducted its first atomic bomb test at the army base at Pokhran in Rajasthan. The operation ‘Pokhran-I’ was undertaken by the code name ‘Smiling Buddha’ and was carried out under the supervision of several key Indian Army generals.

After winning the war against Pakistan in 1971, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt the need to make India a nuclear power. On 7 September, 1972, she gave verbal authorization to Indian scientists to manufacture nuclear device and prepare it for a test. Till that time, only the permanent members of the United Nations possessed nuclear weapons which were United States, France, China (the Republic of China), Russia (Soviet Union) and United Kingdom.

After the orders of Indian Gandhi, the preparations for making India a nuclear power began. The practical work of engineering the paper design for the operation ‘Smiling Buddha’ started. Works for locating, surveying, and preparing a suitable test site also started. The information of the operation was kept a secret due to international pressure by permanent members of United Nations against any country practicing nuclear test.

The government employed about 75 civilian scientists for the project. Indian scientists like Raja Ramanna, Basanti Dulal Nagchaudhuri and Dr. Nagapattinam Sambasiva Venkatesan played a key part for completing the operation. The DRDO Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) in Chandigarh developed and manufactured the high explosive implosion system, which was tested on May 18, 1974, thereby making India the sixth nation in the world to become a Nuclear power.

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