During Nanda Devi Secret Spy Mission in 1965, a Joint Indo-US Team Lost a Nuclear Device with Five Kilograms of Plutonium in the Himalayas.
An intriguing story doing rounds online talks about Nanda Devi Secret Spy Mission of United States atop Himalayas. It reveals a Joint Indo-US Team Lost there a Nuclear Device with Five Kilograms of Plutonium. So, let us examine the details of the mission and the lost device along with its dangers.
Backdrop of the Mission
The mission goes back to the high time of Cold War between the Western and Eastern Blocs, when the world was struggling with economic crisis. Countries like China were trying to rise above all in power. Likewise, on 18th October 1964, China conducted a Nuclear Bomb test in Xinjiang region. At the time, America was not well-equipped with technology to find out the nuclear strength of China. It was the time when there were no satellites to monitor such developments from the sky. America was in fact going through tough time with Vietnam War and many of its missile technologies kept an eye on Russia.
After many discussions and criticism, then American President Lyndon B. Johnson gave permission for a secret mission to measure nuclear strength of China. They in fact wanted to check if there’s any threat from China to American interests in South Asia.
Nanda Devi Spy Mission in 1965
Central Intelligence Agency of America, CIA investigated into the matter and found India’s second highest peak Nanda Devi as the suitable place to carry on their espionage. Nanda Devi at 25,643ft (around 7815m) lies high in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal Himalayas, from where they could receive and hear the missile signals of China. After a bitter war with China in 1962, India agreed to assist America in installing a secret tracking device at Nanda Devi peak. Only CIA and Intelligence Bureau of India (IB) knew about the secret mission of America planning to install a Nuclear-powered Sensing Device atop Himalayas.
CIA took the help of some intrepid climbers from India and the US. They had to move a 56 KG tracking device running on Nuclear SNAP (Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power) Generator containing 5 KG Plutonium-238 onto the peak of Nanda Devi. Notably, the generator’s nuclear fuel consisted of seven Plutonium capsules, which came in a special container. Installing the device along with the necessary equipment atop Himalayas was a tough job. So, they did a trial run on 23rd June 1965 on Mount McKinley in Alaska.
The Indo-American team of climbers started the mission to Nanda Devi peak on 18th October 1965. However, at over 24,000ft altitude, suddenly they faced very bad weather when they were about 2000 feet below their destination. Temperature fell below minus 40 degree Celsius and it was difficult to take the device down in the hazardous condition. So, they decided to tie the device securely in between a mountain and come back later in next season to complete their mission.
Nuclear Device Went Missing
The team returned to base camp and some of them went up to the place again during next season in May 1966. They realized climbing Nanda Devi peak was difficult and decided to bring back the device and plant it on the neighboring Mt Nanda Kot at around 22,500 feet high altitude, where it can work without any risk. But to their shock, they found an Avalanche (snow slide) buried all trace of the station and the Plutonium device got buried in glacier thousands of feet below.
The team got scared if the mission will turn into any nuclear tragedy and possible contamination of environment. They also worried the region was close to region where Rishi Ganga river originates and merges into The Ganges, sacred for Indians.
CIA of America sent a search team to find the missing tracking device in Himalayas containing radioactive Plutonium. However, the ice-glacier Mountains were huge and the team could not succeed in clearing them. Even repeated searches did not help. After failed efforts, CIA aborted the mission altogether. However, in 1967, they successfully installed a second nuclear-powered listening device on the neighboring peak Nanda Kot. Notably, the CIA was not very straightforward and frank with the Indian government after the loss of nuclear device. It kept changing its version.