Koodankulam: A Secret Annexure in the Indo-Russian Agreement for a Nuclear Submarine?

V T Padmanabhan

We have been wondering what is there in that sealed cover handed over to the Court on KKNPP petitions.  Details are there in the following paragraph from an article written by Prasun K.Sengupta.  The paragraph shows that there was an annexure with the inter governmental agreement on KKNPP which dealt with the nuclear submarine project.  Our campaign now is against a seemingly unsafe machine, located in an unsafe area without adequate fresh water.  The nuclear submarine and such complicated matters are of the concern of the disarmament community.  The government should have no problem in sharing the agreement sans the details on  submarine and other exotic items.

The second paragraph shows how our brilliant BARC scientists discovered and invented many things other than the submarine technology during three decades and also why and how our friend Dr Subbarao was persecuted..


It was more than two decades ago that India embarked on a R & D technology demonstration project termed the ATV. As far back as the mid-1970s, a small unit called Project 932 was constituted by the IN under a Commander-rank officer under the aegis of India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)—its task: to develop feasibility of a small PWR which could fit within a submarine hull. This project moved slowly and with mixed results, with less than enthusiastic support from the Navy’s hierarchy. The DAE’s Trombay-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1976 began work on designing a generic, miniaturised PWR. Altogether, four different types of designs were considered. The first, a water-cooled, water-moderated reactor, used 248 fuel assemblies as its core. The fuel was cermet in zirconium cladding. However, this design was rejected in late 1976, while the second was discarded in 1979, and the third in 1981. The BARC had shelved the first three PWR designs because of engineering objections from the IN. In 1980, it nearly came to a dead halt. Until then, it was not at all clear whether India’s first nuclear submarine would be a SLBM-firing one and, least of all, whether nuclear-tipped SLBMs were on the horizon. Again, the then IN Chief, the much-admired Admiral Ronnie Pereira, felt that nuclear submarines were premature—therefore the IN should learn to walk (by licence-building diesel-electric submarines) before running. So, instead of the IN heading the ATV project, the project took off in 1984 under the DRDO and got off to a magnificent financial start as all their projects do. With an immense amount of money—not always accounted for under a visible public head—and with the ‘secret classification’, the project had complete autonomy. Later on, this secretiveness may have been the cause of the huge time overrun—as the then IN Chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat accused in 1998, only to lose his post in the scandalous manner of his sacking. The IN hierarchy was overjoyed that a nuclear submarine was being built—but less happy that it was a SLBM-firing one. Like navies the world over, it knew only its maritime strategy well, but ignored its nuclear strategy. An IN officer working in the project (Captain Subha Rao), not a nuclear reactor engineer but one who had acquired deep knowledge in this field on his own, persuaded the then Navy Chief that the DAE’s PWR design was seriously flawed. The matter was taken up with the then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Dr Raja Ramanna—a distinguished nuclear scientist himself—but without resolution. The result was that the 932, already on slow march, ground to a halt. Capt Subba Rao, who had questioned the PWR design, subsequently left the IN and, whilst en route to the US, was arrested at Mumbai airport for possessing highly classified literature which later turned out to be all in the public domain. He spent some years in prison, argued his own case before the court and was honourably acquitted in 1987, with strictures passed against the DAE. By 1989, a full-fledged organisation had been put in place with outlying units at Kalpakkam (under the DAE for the PWR’s design) and fabrication and Hyderabad (for developing auxiliaries and systems).

India then entered into an agreement with the erstwhile USSR for developmental and design assistance for a nuclear-powered submarine. The Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that India and Russia Atomstroyexport signed on November 20, 1988 for the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) officially involved the construction of two 1,000MWe  Russian VVER-1000-type light water reactors (at a cost of US$3.5 billion) at Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu State. However, a secret annexure of this contract also called for Moscow to offer its ‘consultancy’ and ‘vendor-development’ services, along with the supply of two KLT-40C reactor mock-ups (built by Afrikantov OKBM and designed to deliver 23.5 propeller mW from the 82.5mW reactor and using 20-45% enriched uranium-aluminium alloy, clad in zircaloy), their related heat exchangers and steam generators, plus their detailed engineering drawings off-the-shelf. Concern AVRORA Scientific and Production Association Join Stock Company was contracted for supplying the computer-aided design of engineering documentation, while Kaluga Turbine Works was to transfer the production technologies for the steam turbine and turbo-generator and heat-exchanger. The pressure vessel for the KLT-40C-derived PWR was to be 4.6 metres high and 1.8 metres in diameter, enclosing a core 1 metre-high and 1.2 metre in diameter. Long-term integrity of the compact reactor pressure vessel was meant to be maintained by providing an internal neutron shield (all these only arrived in late 1998). These propulsion systems, however, were not brand new, but were originally designed for usage on board civilian ice-breaking ships. In addition, Moscow insisted that such hardware be used for replication only, and be integrated with the propulsion system on-shore, and not be installed on any shipborne platform. Adoption of this approach meant that while Moscow was not violating its obligations made under the NPT and START-2 nuclear non-proliferation and arms reduction treaties, it was, on the other hand, helping the DRDO and the DAE to overcome the R & D ‘know-how’ challenges by leapfrogging straight ahead to the ‘know-why’ stage. Due to the subsequent break-up of the USSR and the emergence of Russia as the ‘successor state’, negotiations over the KKNPP and ATV project had to be redrafted from 1993 onwards. Disagreements over financing and credit continued to be a sticking point until June 21, 1998 when the then Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeniy Adamov and India’s then Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman, Dr R Chidambaram, signed a final agreement. Despite such delays, the BARC had by late December 1995 made considerable progress in the design of a 600-tonne pre-test capsule made of titanium that was fabricated in 1994 by Mumbai-based Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd’s Precision Equipment Division.

See the original article by Prasun K.Sengupta  HERE.

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