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Indian Scientists Hit by Bomb Sanctions

NEW DELHI--Indian and Pakistani scientists are beginning to pay a price for last May's atom bomb tests--a price that many believe is unfairly penalizing civilian science. Individual U.S. agencies have begun suspending all interactions with scientists from a long list of Indian and Pakistani research institutions, denying entry to some and questioning the status of others already in the United States, restricting the exchange of lab materials, and canceling ongoing projects.

About half a dozen Indian scientists say they have been prevented in recent weeks from participating in international events in the United States. The list includes Rajagopala Chidambaram, chair of India's Atomic Energy Commission and vice president of the International Union of Crystallographers, who was scheduled to speak at last weekend's meeting of the union in Arlington, Virginia. A U.S. embassy spokesperson here explains that "visa procedures [are] under review as a result of the nuclear tests."

At least one U.S. scientific agency--the Department of Energy (DOE), which runs the U.S. nuclear weapons program--is also taking a hard line. DOE has drawn up a list of more than 65 Indian and Pakistani research institutions covered by the suspension, including all of India's civilian nuclear centers and the Indian Space Research Organization. Meanwhile, DOE spokesperson Carmen MacDougall says the agency is reviewing "half a dozen" foreign scientists now at DOE labs to see whether they should return home.

Moreover, some exchanges of laboratory materials appear to have been affected. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has cited the bomb test sanctions in refusing to send out a rabies virus clone.

Despite these setbacks, most Indian officials seem confident that their country can ride out the storm. "The new round of sanctions can easily be brushed aside, as India has literally grown up in this atmosphere of technology denials," says Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, secretary of the department of scientific and industrial research. But others warn that Indian science will suffer if kept in isolation for long. One engineer worries that civilian research will pay a heavy price for what he calls "the romantic indulgences of a few nuclear scientists."