Address by the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Founder’s Day Function of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC)
It is a pleasure to be with you at this prestigious centre of scientific research.
Celebration of your Founder’s Day with awards for excellence is an apt tribute to Dr. Homi Bhabha, who is often called the father of India’s atomic energy programme.
Dr Bhabha was much more than that. He was a brilliant scientist and an outstanding science administrator. But most of all, he was a pioneering visionary, who understood the importance of indigenous scientific research for self-reliant development.
Visionaries like Bhabha have shaped the scientific temper of our country. India is today at the forefront of the Knowledge Revolution – which drives the New Economy. For this, we owe a huge debt to the excellence of our scientific and technical personnel. Much of this talent finds its way abroad. From the Silicon Valley to Microsoft, from biochemistry to robotics – expatriate Indian scientists and engineers are present in every corporate organization and in every field of research.
We need to retain some of these skills in our country for our own accelerated progress. That is why I am happy that we have today honoured scientists and engineers who have made special contributions to our atomic energy programme. I am also glad that the Indian Nuclear Society awards have covered a wider domain of research. I congratulate the recipients of the BARC and the INS awards. Recognition is an important motivating factor; so are opportunity and rewarding professional avenues. The Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet – headed by our Principal Scientific Adviser, Dr Chidambaram – has been considering how to optimise the benefits to the country from its scientific research institutions. It should also tackle the challenge of recruiting the best scientific talent into our research institutions and retaining them there. We have to nurture an environment, which encourages the innovative spirit and welcomes creative ideas.
In this context, it is heartening to see that so many young students participated in the DAE essay contest. They are our future scientists and engineers. They will become our Ambassadors, carrying the message of science-based development to various parts of our country.
India’s atomic energy programme started here in Trombay about half a century ago. It has come a long way since then. The various institutions of the Department of Atomic Energy have notched up stellar achievements in basic research and technology development. They have commercialised a wide range of developmental applications.
Radiation technology has developed high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties of rice, jute, pulses, groundnuts and mustard. The Trombay black gram and groundnut varieties are now cultivated all over the country. Radiation processing has also emerged as an important technology for preservation of agricultural commodities, sterilization of medical products and upgrading of food hygiene. Cereals, pulses, vegetables and dry fruits can be preserved by this method. The Krushak plant at Lasalgaon will use gamma radiation to prolong the freshness of onion, which is the region’s most important agricultural product. By increasing the shelf life, this would help to maintain onion prices at lower levels. As everyone knows, the price of onions can even bring down a government in our country!
The Medical Cyclotron, which has just been inaugurated, has important applications in cardiology, neurology and oncology. The Nuclear Desalination project has a direct link to supply of clean drinking water to our coastal areas. The Cirus reactor refurbishing has granted a further extension of life to India’s first nuclear research reactor. These and hundreds of other innovations have strengthened the develop mental dimension of our atomic energy programme. It is important to recognize their value to society. We emphasize this, because in some circles abroad atomic energy seems to raise only visions of the atom bomb or of nuclear war. Ever since our first nuclear tests in 1974, we have been denied technologies and products on the unfounded suspicion that they may be applied to a weapons programme.
These technology-denial regimes have irritated us; they have also retarded our progress. But they did not stop us. They brought out the best in us. Our scientists in atomic energy, space and other high technology areas achieved success after success with indigenously developed expertise. As so many times before in history, we proved that sanctions do not devastate a society. They spur it on to greater heights of innovation and achievement. Our atoms for peace programmes continue to flourish and expand.
The most imperative developmental application of atomic energy today is for nuclear power. It is a sad fact that India’s per capita energy consumption is among the lowest in the world. Power shortages constitute an important infrastructural hurdle to our rapid economic development. It is well known that nuclear power is one of the most environment-friendly forms of energy. It is a cleaner energy alternative to fossil fuel. It is more cost efficient in the long term. At present, nuclear power meets just 2% of our overall electricity needs. This will have to change soon.
We have eight nuclear power plants under construction, which will add around 4000 Megawatts to our installed power capacity by 2008. We have an even more ambitious target of generating 20,000 Megawatts of nuclear power by the year 2020.
We will apply our indigenous financial and technological capacities to meet this objective. At the same time, we welcome participation of other countries in these major projects. While inviting foreign partners to join us in this important development sector, we urge them to dispel any misconceptions about our nuclear
weapons programme. We have been transparent about it. The reasons for our nuclear testing in May 1998 are well known. We emphasise our nuclear doctrine of minimum credible deterrence. Our nuclear weapons programme was developed totally indigenously. It did not violate any of our international obligations. It is limited in scope.
Our nuclear power programme has an entirely different development objective. We have repeatedly said that every cooperation project in nuclear power would be open to international safeguards. We would urge the high priests of non-proliferation to look around and tackle the clandestine and illegal development and transfer of nuclear and missile technologies, rather than targeting countries, which have played by the rules. They might then be persuaded to look at atomic energy in India as an engine of growth and progress, and not through the prism of nuclear weapons.
At the Rio Summit ten years ago and more recently at the Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg, the world reiterated its determination to curb emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, which degrade our environment and play havoc with our climate systems. Even as I speak here, Environment Ministers of the world are gathered in Delhi to discuss action to promote the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. It is truly ironic that we are lectured on our moral obligations
to clamp down on emissions, while being denied international technological cooperation for the one alternative, which achieve this without penalising our development.
I would like to urge our scientists and engineers to continue on the path of innovations and inventions, which have taken our atomic energy programme to this advanced stage. I hope the Fast Breeder Reactor can be commercially exploited soon. I hope that you will achieve early success in the viable generation of nuclear energy from thorium. This would be a major technological break-through for India, which has some of the largest reserves of thorium in the world.
All of you here are the inheritors of a great legacy. It is in your hands to carry that tradition forward. You must continue the pursuit of excellence. Your work must always remain relevant and responsive to national needs and aspirations. It should aim to keep India at the cutting edge of science & technology. The support and best wishes of the nation will always be with you in these endeavours.