On May 18, 1974, India tested its first nuclear device in the Pokhran desert in Rajasthan. The credit for this achievement goes to Raja Ramanna and his colleagues, as also to Bhabha, who laid the foundation for the country’s nuclear programme. This was, however, not Ramanna’s first success. He was also the man mainly responsible for designing and installing the country’s first series of nuclear reactors, Apsara, Cirus and Purnima. Ramanna was born on January 28, 1925, and had his basic education at Bangalore. He did his Ph.D. at London University. In 1949 he joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research as professor and subsequently headed the Nuclear Physics Division of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center. In 1966, after Bhabha’s death, he took over the task of building the country’s nuclear power potential.
The Pokhran nuclear test was Ramanna’s idea. Dynamite is generally used to dig canals and reservoirs, clear space for dams and harbours and even to make underground storehouses for nuclear wastes. For such purposes nuclear energy is not used because the explosion not only produces harmful radioactive fallout, but is also violent.
Ramanna thought of an underground nuclear test to find out how it would fare in place of dynamite. According to his estimation, the test has shown that nuclear energy can be tamed without any ill-effects. In addition, it will be chapter than dynamite in the long run. The test was indeed a big step forward in using nuclear energy for peaceful goals.
Ramanna’s fundamental contributions lie in the field of nuclear fission. He put forward a new theory to explain how heavy nuclei split and generate energetic nuclear radiation.
Besides nuclear physics, he is keenly interested in ancient Indian philosophy.