Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The atomic secret of Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi is unfortunately being featuring in the news at the moment…

Nanda Devi: Hopes fading for eight missing climbers

But there was a time when the location was relatively unknown, yet was the subject of a story that would have probably have made even more headlines back around 1965 than it is making today.

NEW DELHI: Even as the world celebrated the golden jubilee of the human conquest of Mount Everest, a legendary Indian mountaineer and a CIA expert have come out with an authoritative chronology of how nuclear devices were planted atop high Himalayan peaks to monitor Chinese nuclear tests in the 1960s.

In an explosive book ”Spies in the Himalayas”, the mountaineer, Capt Mohan Singh Kohli, who had led these expeditions to Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot and other summits between 1965 and 1968, and CIA expert Kenneth Conboy chronicle the planting of nuclear-powered monitoring devices by the CIA with the help of intrepid climbers from India and the US.

That was the time when there were no satellites to monitor such developments from the sky.

One of the devices, which could not be planted atop Nanda Devi summit due to bad weather and was left cached on the mountain for the next expedition, went missing.

This caused serious concern about possible radioactive contamination of the environment and, in particular, the River Ganges.

Repeated searches could not retrieve the device which still remains missing, the book, published by Harper Collins, and said, adding that tests done subsequently at different spots indicated there was no cause for alarm.

The highly sophisticated and top-secret mission was kept under wraps for 38 long years, barring a “partial and inaccurate leak” made to a US magazine in 1978, which rocked the Indian Parliament at that time.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Foreign Minister, declared in London on April 30, 1978, India would recover the nuclear device. To pacify agitated MPs, Vajpayee also made statements in Parliament.

A high-powered committee of scientists, including Dr Atma Ram, H N Sethna, M G K Menon, Raja Ramanna and Dr Saha, was set up to study and assess the risk of the missing device on Nanda Devi, the book said.

While CIA refused to comment on the news, US Congressmen asked then President Jimmy Carter to conduct an investigation.

Kohli also participated in the famous sailing expedition ”Ocean to Sky” in 1977 on the Ganga against the currents. The expedition, led by Sir

Edmund Hillary, was among other things reportedly intended to monitor radioactive contamination on the river as a fallout of the missing nuclear device atop Nanda Devi.

The book also mentions several interesting developments in that period, relating to these expeditions and the plans to install the nuclear monitoring devices.

These included unauthorised climbing of Nanda Devi twice, capture of an Indian Special Frontier Force commando by the Chinese in Tibet, the appearance of an American spy plane U-2 in India on a secret mission, use of the world famous Huskie aircraft for high altitude search up to 22,500 feet and Kohli”s seven close brushes with death.

The legendary Indian mountaineer, along with co-author Conboy, also recalls the involvement of leading intelligence officials, nuclear scientists and dare devil pilots of US and India and the CIA experts who participated in this unusual expedition.

CIA nuclear device atop Himalayas

Another article from the same source…

NEW DELHI: Soon after China detonated its first atom bomb in 1964, CIA tried to plant a nuclear-powered surveillance device atop Nanda Devi to spy on the communist nation.

Though the secret mission failed and the device was lost there, it created ripples in the Indian establishment 12 years later.

The espionage mission remained top secret till April 1978 when a news report published in a US magazine “Outside” claimed that the US intelligence agency had sent a team to set up a remote sensing device atop 25,645-foot mountain in the Himalayas in 1965.

But bad weather halted them 2,000-feet short of the summit and forced them to abandon the 125-pound device containing plutonium 238 that can remain radioactive for about 500 years. When the team returned to the site a year later, the device could not be located.

After a short-term “feckless effort”, the US government gave up its search for the device. Instead, the CIA covertly placed a second snap generator on another mountain, Nanda Kot, in 1967. After serving the agency’s purposes, it was also abandoned a year later, the report had claimed.

The revelations sparked a huge uproar in the country and even forced then foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to say the episode might damage the “recently improving” ties between the two countries, according to recently declassified external affairs ministry documents.

The documents, available with National Archives, show how the Indian embassies abroad, especially in the US, had become active and kept on sending notes explaining how the issue was being played up by the media there.

At the time of this discloser, foreign ministry officials here were apparently unaware of the fact that the Nanda Devi mission was actually a joint collaboration between India and the US, according to the declassified documents.

CIA tried to plant surveillance device atop Nanda Devi

I’ve gone with somewhat longer than usual quotes from the source since I note that nearly all the other accounts I have bookmarked since coming across this story about 10 or so years ago have largely evaporated from the net.

Nanda Devi uncredited image

Nanda Devi uncredited image

The image came this info:

In addition to being the 23rd highest independent peak in the world, Nanda Devi is also notable for its large, steep rise above local terrain. It rises over 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) above its immediate southwestern base on the Dakkhni Nanda Devi Glacier in about 4.2 kilometres (2.6 mi), and its rise above the glaciers to the north is similar. This makes it among the steepest peaks in the world at this scale, closely comparable, for example, to the local profile of K2. Nanda Devi is also impressive when considering terrain that is a bit further away, as it is surrounded by relatively deep valleys. For example, it rises over 6,500 metres (21,300 ft) above the valley of the Ghoriganga in only 50 km (30 mi).

No wonder they thought of installing a surveillance device powered by similar technology to a space probe there!

The only surprising aspect I note is placing something in that environment, and expecting it to stay there.

I’ve also seen other stories claiming contamination (but none with real evidence), which seems rather unlikely given the construction of such devices. But then again, this was ‘new’ technology in those days, so it’s reasonable to assume the hardware may not have been built in the robust manner seen today.

It may even have just been cobbled together.

I wonder if it might have been copied from a Soviet design?

The Russians were always less squeamish about using nuclear power for remote applications, and used nuclear generators to power remote lighthouses, and have nuclear-powered ice breakers sailing in freezing waters to this day.

02/06/2019 Posted by | Cold War, Lost, Surveillance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nucleus – National nuclear archive opens in Wick

When I first saw news of proposals for the creation of a national nuclear archive at Wick, I really thought there was a chance the anti-nuclear loonies would try to block it, with their usual mindless knee-jerk reaction to ban anything nuclear regardless of what it may be.

However, it looks as if things managed to progress quietly, and undisturbed, with a similarly quite quiet announcement that the archive had opened.

A national archive for the civil nuclear industry has opened on the north coast of mainland Scotland.

More than 70 years’ worth of information and up to 30 million digital records are to be stored at Nucleus in Wick, Caithness.

They include papers, photographs and plans from nearby Dounreay, as well as Harwell in Oxfordshire, Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia and Sellafield in Cumbria.

Nucleus will also store local archives dating back to the 16th Century.

Via National archive for nuclear industry opens in Wick

Even better, when there is a depressing lust for overseas architects to be awarded Scottish projects these days, I recall this one was awarded to Edinburgh architecture practice Reiach and Hall, with this sketch of the proposed design shown back in 2009:

Nucleus nuclear archive building sketch Reiach and H all

Nucleus nuclear archive building sketch Reiach and H all

15/02/2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Hunterston and Torness open for public tours

Described as being the first time they will have opened their doors to the public since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the US, the nuclear power stations at Hunterston and Torness will be opening visitor centres for the public, and making tours of the plant available.

While they expect the majority of these tours to be taken up by schools and educational groups, members of the public will be able to visit by appointment.

The Hunterston centre is the first to be opened by operator EDF Energy at one of its UK plants, and is expected to see some 3,500 visitors per annum. They will be given guided tours and be able to interact with displays in the centres, which open between 09:00 and 16:00. Torness should open later in 2012.

No great surprise that it didn’t take long for the anti-nuclear crazies to crawl out of the sustainable woodwork, and use the opportunity to dish out their usual rhetoric.

Hunterston and Torness nuclear plants reopen to public

The decommissioned Hunterston A facility can be seen centre right, while Hunterston B is visible in the top right. Hunterston B is due to be decommissioned in 2016 (at the time of writing), and has the capability to power approximately one million homes. Together with Torness, the two power stations have supplied more than half of Scotland’s electricity demand during their lives.

I’ve never visited a nuclear power station, but I did manage to get into Torness many moons ago, when were responsible for maintaining much of their (non-nuclear) test instrumentation.

I only made the one trip there, to check on out engineers’ work, and being there was a bit odd in some respects. While there was a touch of enhanced security at the door, there was very little to suggest anything out of the ordinary while moving around the non-nuclear part of the facility. However, it was quite a different matter whenever you approached the working area of the station, and you were left in little doubt that you were being closely watched, and that there was a fairly fine line that you were not allowed to cross. It was well identified with signs, and security.

And I declined to test it. Even just stopping walking to take a closer look for a moment look didn’t seem like a good idea, since you stood out like a sore thumb as a badged visitor.

Hunterston A and B

Hunterston A and B © Copyright Kenneth Hall

05/09/2012 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fifty years since Dounreay generated nuclear power

According to the archives, it is now fifty years since the reactor at Dounreay in Cathness first went critical, and electrical power was genereated on November 14, 1949.

This was an event of further significance, as it was also the first time that nuclear power would be generated using fast breeder reactor technology. The great dome at Dounreay had been constructed to contain the results of any mishaps. Fast breeder technology was new and untested. Unlike gas or water cooled reactors, the nuclear core was taken past the point of simple criticality to generate heat, and operated at a much higher power level, such that the uranium fuel was converted, or bred, into plutonium, and giving the the fast breeder its name.

In order to harvest the heat of the intensified reaction, it was necessary to replace the more usual gas or water cooling with something that could carry more heat energy. This was achieved using a liquid metal known as NaK, an alloy of sodium and potassiu, of which the Dounreay reactor contained almost 170,000 litres. Although effective at controlling the intense heat, the alloy is toxic and poses a serious risk to health. It also ignites on contact with air, and reacts violently with water.

However, such reactors are extremely compact, and prove useful for nuclear power vessels, and explains the development of the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment next door.

The former nuclear reactor site is being restored by Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), which has just been taken over by Babcock International Group, a move which marks the end of the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s presence at Dounreay after 55 years, and also completes the privatisation of the entire workforce at the site.

The DSRL site contains numerous archives relating to the Dounreay, including documents, photographs, and videos, such as shown below:

09/11/2009 Posted by | Cold War, Naval | , , | Leave a comment


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