Minatom confirms on-going program on subcritical nuclear explosions

Publish date: August 29, 1997

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russia may have performed a nuclear test on August 16, reported The Washington Times on August 28. Both the Russian Foreign Ministry and Minatom disclaimed the accusations on the same day.

–We do have information that a seismic event with explosive characteristics occurred in the vicinity of the Russian nuclear test range at Novaya Zemlya on August 16, said Ralph Alewine, director of Pentagon’s nuclear treaty programs office to The Washington Times.

–Russia complies with the declared moratorium on nuclear explosions and all the responsibilities arising from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, said Minatom press-spokesman Vladislav Petrov in an interview with Bellona Web.

–Current activities conducted on Novaya Zemlya test site do not violate the provisions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and are not accompanied by emissions of nuclear radiation. The seismic event detected on August 16, at 2:11 Greenwich time, is not related to Novaya Zemlya. It was a natural seismological activity at the bottom of the Kara Sea, reaching 1-2 points on the Richter scale, claimed Mr. Petrov.

The nuclear test site on Novaya Zemlya was closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the last test conducted on October 24 1990. It was reopened by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992. The infrastructure, with some 20,000 personnel on the test site, has remained intact.

When Bellona Web asked whether Russia is able to perform subcritical tests, like the one the US carried out in the beginning of July this year, Mr. Petrov stated that there is an on-going program in Russia aimed at mastering similar tests. He stressed once more, however, that there are no such activities carried out on Novaya Zemlya.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been signed by more than 140 nations, but has not yet been put into force. The Clinton administration plans to submit the treaty for Senate ratification in the near future.

Regardless of whether Russia performed a test on August 16 or not, the gap in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is obvious: The Treaty does not ban the development of nuclear weapons, but limits the yield of the explosions, making it possible to perform subcritical explosions without violating the Treaty. Thus, it allows the countries which posess nuclear weapons to continue their military nuclear programs.