Secrecy is as secrecy does

Here’s a throwaway tiny piece of nuclear news from the February 1954 edition of Nucleonics, the world’s first nuclear trade journal, then in its infancy:

Nucleonics February 1954

India, a poor, undeveloped country, was setting up a swanky nuclear institute near Bombay. “A 1.2 Mev Cockcroft-Walton generator is operating,” the article informs us, “in temporary quarters of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in its new home near Colaba.” What is interesting is charismatic Nehru’s dedication “during ceremonies connected with the laying of the foundation stone for the institute’s permanent home.”

“In the belief that science does not flourish in an atmosphere of secrecy,” the reporter explains, “Prime Minister Nehru stated that there would be no secrecy about the peaceful atomic energy work of the institute.” There are two aspects of Nehru’s promise, one sinister (at least in my opinion), one almost surreal. First, TIFR, as is became known, was part of a three-decade effort to operate a “research” reactor, extract plutonium, and test a nuclear weapon, so yes, much of TIFR’s day-on-day work was theoretical and “peaceful,” but its overall purpose was anything but. And second, few countries in the world have had as stringent an “atmosphere of secrecy” as India. So much so that early in my research planning, I realized there would be no point in traveling to India for archival or interviewing work.