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Action Alert - Russian nuclear weapons test

Peace Movement Aotearoa

PO Box 9314, Wellington. Tel (04) 382 8129, fax (04) 382 8173,

Issued 28 September 1998

Kia ora,

Well, they're all at it now ... for some months there have been rumours of an impending Russian nuclear weapons test (see for example PMA alert on 31 August 1998).

We seldom get precise details (such as confirmed dates) on Russian nuclear weapons tests - and often don't receive confirmation of them until sometime afterwards. All there is to go on is this Washington Times article forwarded to us from the US on Friday.

It came with the comment that the coverage was totally unbelievable - given that the US was due to do its own nuclear weapons test on Saturday ( and did) - but there was no mention of that fact anywhere in the Washington Times ... The whole article is quite bizarre - all these concerns about Russian nuclear weapons development, which could of course equally apply to the US programme.

If you wish to protest about this test, then please contact :

a) the Ambassador of the Russian Federation - Mr Sergei Belyaev, 57 Messines Road, Karori, Wellington. tel (04) 476 6113, fax (04) 476 3843.

b) Jenny Shipley and Don McKinnon and ask them to contact the Russian ambassador to ask his goverments to stop the planned test - Prime Minister's office tel (04) 471 9998; fax (04) 473 7045; Don McKinnon's office tel 471 9999; fax 471 1444 or write to them at Parliament Buildings, Wellington (no stamp needed).

c) Contact your local MP and ask them to contact Jenny Shipley, Don McKinnon and the Russian ambassador.


Russia preparing blast in Arctic, satellite shows

By Bill Gertz
September 24, 1998 front page

Vehicle activity photographed recently by a U.S. spy satellite indicates Russia is preparing to set off an underground blast at a remote Arctic nuclear-testing site, The Washington Times has learned.

Test preparations at the Novaya Zemlya Island test site were detected over the past several weeks by a National Reconnaissance Office satellite, said intelligence officials familiar with a secret report on the activity. The report was circulated to senior government and military officials last week.

"We have observed activity at the Russian nuclear-test range at Novaya Zemlya suggesting nuclear-related experiments are under way," a U.S. intelligence official said.

The intelligence officials said the test preparations include vehicle activity near a deep hole at the island site.

Trucks carrying filler material were photographed unloading around the mouth of a shaft. The activity is similar to late preparations for an underground nuclear blast.

Most underground tests involve putting a nuclear device connected to long cables at the bottom of a deep shaft, then filling the hole with rock or concrete. The device is detonated and sensors measure the effects. The data is used for developing nuclear warheads or testing the reliability and safety of existing weapons stockpiles.

The intelligence official said the latest activity spotted at Novaya Zemlya may be related to the July announcement by a Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official that Moscow would conduct "subcritical" nuclear weapons tests in the next several months.

Subcritical tests are explosions that do not always involve a nuclear blast. The United States, which also conducts such tests, considers them legal under the pending Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

A nuclear test would break Moscow's self-imposed testing moratorium that began in 1990 and would contradict Russia's commitment to the Test Ban Treaty. As a treaty signatory since Sept. 24, 1996, Moscow is expected to refrain from any activities that would undermine the treaty, even though it has not been formally ratified or formally gone into effect worldwide.

Mikhail Shurgalin, a Russian Embassy spokesman, said he was unaware of the activity on Novaya Zemlya. But he said Moscow is abiding by its testing moratorium. "The policy is full compliance with the moratorium," he said.

The test preparations have raised new suspicions among some U.S. intelligence officials that the Russians are engaged in a covert nuclear-testing program.

White House, State Department and CIA spokesman had no immediate comment.

Clinton administration officials in the past have sought to play down evidence of Russian nuclear testing because of concerns it would complicate efforts to win Senate ratification of the Test Ban Treaty.

Republican aides have said the underground nuclear explosions set off by India and Pakistan in May had made it unlikely the treaty would be ratified.

Previous Russian testing incidents also have raised fears among members of Congress that U.S. aid to Russia for disarmament could be helping Moscow build new nuclear arms. Moscow recently tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations national security subcommittee, questioned Moscow's testing activities in 1996.

In response to a suspected nuclear blast that year, Mr. Young said, "I would be concerned about what their intent might be."

He said he would oppose using U.S. funds to pay Russia for weapons dismantling if the tests are being used to modernize or develop new nuclear arms.

The test preparations identified this month are not the first time questions were raised about nuclear weapons-related activities near Novaya Zemlya.

In January 1996, U.S. intelligence agencies recorded what was believed to be a small nuclear test in northern Novaya Zemlya. William Perry, then the defense secretary, said at the time that government analysts were divided on the issue, with some convinced a small test was carried out and other saying the evidence was inconclusive.

Then, on Aug. 17, 1997, a suspicious "seismic event" was detected near Novaya Zemlya that led the U.S. government to suspect Moscow set off a nuclear test. The Pentagon's top nuclear test analyst, Ralph Alewine, said reports indicated a "seismic event with explosive characteristics" took place.

The State Department filed a formal diplomatic note with Moscow seeking an explanation, and was told the activity detected was an earthquake. The U.S. rejected the explanation.

A panel of experts working for CIA Director George Tenet later concludedthe event was either a non-nuclear explosion or a rare underwater earthquake. Nuclear weapons-related experiments were carried out around the time the event was recorded on seismic monitoring stations, the panel said.

The CIA believes the August 1997 activity could have been subcritical nuclear weapons experiments.

In February, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that seismic-monitoring stations near Novaya Zemlya has detected activity that could have been a small underground nuclear test. The activity registered a 3 on the Richter earthquake scale, about the same size as the event detected in August 1997.

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