PK Iyengar, No 2 in Pokharn I, passes away

Mumbai: Former Atomic Energy Commission chairman PK Iyengar, who played an important role in the country's first nuclear explosion in 1974, died here this afternoon following a brief illness. He was 80.

"The end came at 3.30 pm at BARC Hospital here due to complications arising from lung infection," his son Dr Srinivas Iyengar told agency.

He is survived by wife, son and a daughter. Both the children are scientists.

A noted nuclear physicist and scientist, Iyengar was a recipient of Padma Bhushan and Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award.

A former secretary, department of atomic energy, (1990-93), Iyengar had a keen interest in developing indigenous experimental facilities such as neutron diffractometers and neutron scattering spectrometers.

Iyengar was one of the key figures in the Operation Smiling Buddha -- the first peaceful nuclear explosion at Pokhran on May 18, 1974 -- as second-in-command of operation leader Raja Ramanna.

After post-graduation in Physics from Kerala University, Iyengar started his career with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1952. Three years later, he joined the then Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay and was soon deputed to the Chalk River Laboratories of the Canadian Atomic Energy Establishment.

After returning from Canada, Iyengar built a number of experimental facilities, including neutron diffractometers and neutron scattering spectrometers around research reactors Apsara and Cirus. He was also involved in the design and setting up of the first fast reactor critical facility Purnima-I, which achieved its first criticality on May 18, 1972.

After holding several responsibilities at BARC, he became its director in 1984.

As director, one of his first responsibilities was to take charge of the construction of Dhruva reactor, the completion of which was then in question.

He provided a crucial leadership in resolving many technical challenges encountered in commissioning of Dhruva.

Some of the key positions he held included scientific adviser to Kerala government, member of board of the global technology development centre and president of the Indian Nuclear Society.

Interestingly, Iyengar was very critical of the Indo-US nuclear deal, on the ground that it was tilted in favour of the US.