Volume 27, Number 1 January 1998


This issue returns to one of the original foundations issues for our Forum - arms control. The "cold war" may be over, but the nuclear arsenals are still present and threatening. More nations are striving to "join the club" while existing club members don't stint in the resources devoted to keeping their memberships current , if not ahead of the others. Physics and physicists continue to be major players - positively and negatively - "raising the Dickens", as is illustrated in this issue. Last year's Szilard Award winner, T.L.Neff, pointed a way for the U.S. to protect itself from surplus Soviet nuclear arms materials and personnel - products of "arms race past". J. Evernden, a prominent seismologist, criticizes a journalistic attempt to exacerbate the "arms race present" , while G. Lewis and He Yingbo examine diplomatic and political drives to accelerate the "arms race future". Finally, D. Hafemeister, long a Forum stalwart, explores some constraints on possible agreements intended to prevent "arms race future".


Liquidating the Cold War

Leo Szilard Award Presentation-19 April 1997

Thomas L. Neff


Approximately sixty years ago, the world began a technological revolution that would transform the nature of war, alter the relationships between nations, and ultimately restructure the economies and governance of the United States, Russia, and other nations. The invention and deployment of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union led to a different world, a bipolar one in which regional struggles were often merely proxies for the main adversaries in the Cold War, where nuclear weapons arsenals were the measure of greatness, and where domestic economies and decision-making were often dominated by Cold War considerations. This was also a new world in which scientists -- particularly physicists -- actually seemed important to government and the public.


This was the world in which most of us -- in the Soviet Union as well as the United States -- grew up, chose careers, paid taxes, and served our countries. A much higher fraction of Soviet national wealth went into weapons infrastructure and into training and supporting the best and the brightest, most of whom disappeared into secret cities to work for the motherland. In the US, a strong domestic economy made the Cold War relatively cheaper.


Both the Soviet and US governments and societies-the institutions, businesses, and decision making-were reshaped by the imperatives of the Cold War. Ministries and departments with Cold War roles were ascendant. Close to the centers of power, advisors with Cold War portfolios (some of them physicists) commanded a level of attention they may never have again. Unfortunately, institutional rigidities and Cold War conditioning remain serious obstacles to liquidating the Cold War, potentially resulting in dangers greater than those faced previously.


It became clear that the Soviet Union was nearly bankrupt, politically and economically, and was forced to turn Westward to survive. It only gradually became clear that future relations would be based, not on technological capabilities in weapons and traditional diplomatic relations derived from great power status, but rather on economic forces in a politically fragmenting world. Russian scientists, engineers and technicians in secret cities lost their privileged positions and began to look for other things to do.


While Russia was forced to change, the US continued in Cold War mode. Yes, the national labs had to look for work (largely by recasting what they were already doing), but at the highest levels, policy making remained organized along Cold War lines. Today we are pursuing NATO expansion (under the rubric of bringing "democratic values" to former Eastern Bloc States); negotiating around the ABM treaty to pursue a US perimeter missile defense, and actually increasing weapons spending (with the justification that we must be sure that nuclear weapons will always work).


It seems at this point that we do not need more fathers of the H-bomb or modern equivalents, but rather morticians of the Cold War. The fundamental challenge is to find ways to restructure and redirect both the US and Russia along lines that simultaneously liquidate the dangers of the Cold War and create practical ways to use the valuable talents of scientists and engineers. The HEU deal is but the first of many possible initiatives.


The HEU Deal: In September of 1991, Presidents Bush and Gorbachov reached agreement on reduced deployments of nuclear weapons, setting the stage for the first major reduction in numbers of nuclear weapons. At the same time, it became clear that the Soviet Union was disintegrating. I soon began to worry about what would happen to surplus nuclear weapons, to surplus fissile material, and to the weapons capabilities, including a large number of highly trained people. It was immediately apparent that a potential outcome was that the weapons and personnel could be transformed in short order from a well-controlled force to a major weapons proliferation threat to the world.


The basic problem, then, was to find a way to motivate and finance post-Soviet control of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and personnel, in a country where central authorities might not have the power to do so. It occurred to me that the highly enriched uranium (HEU) in surplus weapons has a high value when blended down to enrichment levels usable in civil power reactors. The destruction of weapons and fissile material could be a self-financing process, without cost to the US taxpayer.


highly enriched uranium (HEU) in surplus weapons has a high value


Ideally, much of the money should flow to the Russian enterprises and secret cities that had produced the weapons, as they would be essential to reversing the process. If the material in each nuclear weapon had commercial value on the order of a half million dollars, not only would it be watched carefully, but the destruction of it and the uranium fissile material would be expedited. The highly capable scientists and engineers would continue to be supported, reducing the likelihood that they would be forced to sell their talents to other national or sub-national groups. I could not think of a similar good use for the plutonium that would come from weapons, but it seemed that if weapons-most of which contain both HEU and plutonium-were to be valued for their HEU content, there was a good chance that the plutonium would be more tightly controlled than otherwise.


Once begun, the enterprises involved in the destruction of weapons and the blending of HEU to civil fuel would demand weapons and weapons material to destroy. Weapons destruction would not be driven by Russian compliance with treaty requirements, but by powerful self-interested forces within Russia. Politically, these large enterprises would enlist regional support in the fragmented post-Soviet system, ultimately helping to shift national policy away from new military spending.


One would think that such a simple idea would immediately appeal to US officials, however, the responses were largely bureaucratic. In some frustration, I submitted the proposal to the New York Times as an Op-Ed piece. By timely coincidence, I was invited to a meeting organized by the Federation of Atomic Scientists (FAS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington involving Russian and American weapons specialists to discuss the build-down of nuclear weapons. At the prompting of Frank von Hippel, I outlined the idea of fissile material destruction and presented a draft of the Op-Ed piece, just days before publication, to Victor Mikhailov, then Deputy Minister for the nuclear weapons program of the Soviet Ministry for Atomic Energy (MinAtom).


The Op-Ed was published and circulated to US government agencies by mid-level State Department officials. This led to requests for a more detailed analysis of the idea, which I drafted and circulated. However, because of the institutional rigidities of the US interagency process, it was not possible for the US to come a quick decision, let alone take action. As usual, studies were commissioned.


In November, Senators Cranston and Pell drafted and introduced legislation to implement the purchase of Soviet HEU (S.2011). The legislation did not pass.


Just before Christmas, I went with an FAS/NRDC group to Moscow and Kiev. The week of meetings was extremely intense, reflecting the imminent breakup of the Soviet Union and arguments about the future roles of the weapons complex. An ongoing emotional debate among the Russians themselves was whether they should sell the precious products of their life-long work for the motherland. In Kiev, new Ukrainian officials were taken with the idea that the Soviet weapons stationed on their territory could be worth money. By 1993, it was possible for the US to use this interest to help de-nuclearize the new country, by sponsoring a plan that shipped warheads back to Russia in exchange for the financial equivalent in fuel for Ukrainian reactors.


In April of 1992, I made a trip to Russia, Central Asia and Ukraine, for the purpose of further discussions, and to explore the potential for joint ventures between mineral enterprises in the former Soviet Union and Western companies. It was success in the latter that allowed me to work for the past five years to implement the HEU deal without institutional or other support. Ironically, one can get a grant to study something but not to do something.


Despite the power of the HEU idea, it was difficult to get governments to act. In the US, the interagency process makes it difficult to do anything new. But, paradoxically, the disruption of the Soviet world also meant the end of the Soviet equivalent of the interagency process. A minister could act alone. In June of 1992, I sent a letter to Victor Mikhailov, who had become head of MinAtom, suggesting that a Russian initiative would precipitate a positive US decision to proceed.


I do not know who ultimately approached whom (both sides remember it differently), but by August of 1992, the US and Russia were in serious discussion of a framework for an HEU purchase agreement. On August 31, President Bush announced that the US and Russia had agreed in principle for the US to purchase fuel products from produced Russian HEU.


On February 18, 1993, the US and Russia signed a bilateral Agreement for the US to undertake the purchase of 500 metric tonnes of HEU, the quantity contained in roughly 20,000 nuclear weapons. The initial rate was set at 10 tonnes HEU per year, increasing to 30 tonnes per year.


Under the terms of the inter-governmental agreement, Russia and the US were to appoint commercial executive agents to carry out the deal. Russia chose Techsnabexport (Tenex), essentially a government export agency, and the US chose the enrichment arm of the Department of Energy, which is now a government corporation (the US Enrichment Corporation or USEC) on its way to privatization. By May of 1993, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Tenex officials had initialed a draft contract for the purchase of 500 tonnes HEU over 20 years, with an expected value of $12 billion. Used for making fuel, a kilogram of HEU is worth about $24,000, about twice the value of gold.


While these developments appeared to be a major victory for arms reductions and non-proliferation, it turned out to be only the beginning of a very difficult process of implementation. Some of these problems have been technical, some institutional, some relating to safeguards and "transparency," and some due to the difficulty of ensuring that commercial forces cooperate with national policy and the HEU deal rather than conflict with them.


Technical Problems: At least some Russian HEU contains small amounts of plutonium, most likely the result of hybrid weapon designs in which HEU came into metallic contact with plutonium. To meet commercial specifications, it has been necessary to purify the HEU by reprocessing.


When uranium is enriched to very high levels in the isotope U-235, those isotopes that are even lighter go to the "high end" faster than U-235. In other words, the ratios of isotopes change. Natural uranium contains U-234 and reprocessed uranium contains U-233 as well. The ratios of these lighter isotopes to U-235 in HEU will thus be higher than in natural or reprocessed uranium. As a result, blending down HEU with natural uranium does not result in a low-enriched uranium product (LEU) with the same ratios as in LEU produced from natural uranium. These ratios can exceed those specified as acceptable for commercial use if the level of HEU enrichment is above about 40 percent. While some weapons use HEU of such enrichment levels (typically in so-called "secondaries"), much is at or above 90 percent U-235. It has thus been necessary for Russia to enrich tails (the depleted stream from original enrichment) with up to 1.5 percent U-235 to produce a blend stock that has lower than natural ratios of U-234 and U-233 to meet commercial specifications.


Trade Problems: In November 1991 an antidumping action was brought against the Soviet Union for selling nuclear fuel products at too low a price. The antidumping action would have prevented the import into the US of fuel products made from Russian HEU, as well as conventional nuclear fuel products from successor states. It was thus necessary to negotiate a settlement, called a "Suspension Agreement." Because I was assisting the lawyers for Kazakhstan in negotiating a settlement, I was able to assist the Commerce Department in developing the Russian Agreement.


USEC Privatization and the Executive Agent: The US Enrichment Corporation took over the enrichment business of DOE in July 1993, and with it the draft commercial contract to buy LEU from Russian HEU. The final contract was signed by USEC and Tenex at the January 1994 summit meeting in Moscow. Even though USEC was a government corporation, there was little independent or effective oversight or control by US policy-makers. This set the stage for possible conflicts between the commercial objectives of the new Corporation and the national security objectives of the US government.


The first of these soon became apparent. The commercial contract called for USEC to take title to the LEU from HEU and to pay immediately for the enrichment content (the SWU) but to pay for the uranium content only "when used or sold." US trade restrictions allowed the enrichment content to be sold but effectively prevented Russia from being paid for the uranium; it could not even be returned to Russian control for sale outside the US. Lack of payment for the uranium component, about one-third of the value of the HEU, reduced incentives for Russia to continue in the HEU deal.


the first response to a new idea will be "It is impossible!" the second that "It is not my job!" and finally, "We did it!"


Legislation: After several unsuccessful efforts to resolve this administratively, it became apparent that the only remedy was through legislation. In the Fall of 1995, and working with Senator Domenici and his staff, who were drafting the legislation to privatize USEC, I met with affected US mining interests, USEC management, and other concerned parties to develop a compromise that could be legislated. The legislation, passed in 1996, returned title to the uranium to Russia and created a new quota for sales in the US. This combination allows Russia to sell the uranium forward, directly or with a partner, and receive cash today.


Because of likely delays in Russia finding workable commercial arrangements for the uranium, the US agreed to buy the uranium from HEU deliveries in 1995 and 1996. Russia is currently negotiating with several private companies to sell uranium from deliveries in 1997 forward.


Transparency: To alleviate concerns that Russia might simply enrich natural uranium to make LEU, instead of destroying weapons, the US has insisted on monitoring the destruction and blend down of HEU. Russia has understandably been sensitive about this issue, for general political reasons and because of fears that weapon design information might be disclosed. The solution to this problem was achieved in December 1996: US monitors are placing measurement devices at key points in the HEU destruction facilities. Russia has a reciprocal right to monitor the use of LEU from HEU in the US to make sure it is not being used to produce new weapons material.


Progress To Date: The above technical, economic, and institutional difficulties initially led to some delays in the original schedule for destruction of HEU. However, the resolution of the problems above and beginning of cash flow to Russia is rapidly eliminating bottlenecks.


As of today, reactor fuel equivalent to 21 tonnes HEU has been delivered to the US, the equivalent of about 1,000 nuclear weapons. By the end of the five year contract, a total of 150 tonnes HEU, equivalent to about 6,000 nuclear weapons, will have been destroyed. MinAtom recently disclosed that more than half of Russian nuclear weapons have been destroyed, yielding 400 metric tonnes of HEU. Capacity limits on purification and blending are the only factors impeding more rapid destruction of the fissile material.


This year, Russia will receive about $450 million for the destruction of nuclear weapons; this will increase to more than $750 million per year by 1999. Minatom asserts that monies not spent on actual weapons destruction and LEU production will be used for improvements in reactor safety and other purposes.


A potential danger is that some of these funds will be used to enhance weapons design and production capabilities. However, the HEU deal was not primarily intended as a disarmament program-it would never succeed as such-but rather as a non-proliferation action that Russia and the US could agree on. Moreover, the US is hardly stopping its design activities, nor destroying its ability to produce nuclear weapons. There is thus still an important role to be played by traditional arms negotiations. The agreement to ban testing of nuclear weapons is an important first step. With some luck, the HEU deal will foster a better climate for arms agreements.


Reflections: In hindsight, the HEU deal -"A Grand Uranium Bargain" as the editors of the New York Times took the liberty of titling my article - appears to be an obvious idea. However, it follows Leo Slizard's axiom about colleagues confronted with a new idea: First, "They will say it's not true!" Next they'll say "If true, it's not very important." Finally, they'll say, "We knew it all along!" In the policy world, my experience is that the first response to a new idea will be "It is impossible!" the second that "It is not my job!" and finally, "We did it!"


In reality, a new idea is much like a child: conceiving one is nowhere near as hard and time-consuming as raising one. With a lot of work, as described above, the HEU deal has survived its childhood. Unfortunately, it may be entering adolescence, where outside influences may lead it astray. The large amounts of money involved are likely to tempt opportunists. The deal has already been challenged in Russia by conservative nationalists and some in the Russian government have been tempted to defend the HEU deal by saying that it is financing the weapons program. In the US, the privatization of USEC continues to raise the larger question about the relationships between domestic economic matters and international security imperatives.


In the case of plutonium, some new ideas are needed. For several years I have quietly been trying to encourage a relatively brief delay in civil reprocessing that would free up existing capacity in Europe to fabricate mixed uranium and plutonium fuel (MOX) from weapons plutonium. While the reprocessing industry has previously opposed such actions, their customers in Europe and Asia would welcome a slowdown in civil reprocessing and corresponding delay in return of nuclear waste. If the MOX industry can be convinced to take this course, the real challenge will be to convince the US and Russian governments to let their weapons plutonium be fabricated in Europe and potentially burned elsewhere.


In all of this we need better agreements with Russia, as well as with other nations. As Szilard wrote, the "problem is not to write an agreement that Russia will sign but to write one which Russia will be eager to keep, not only for the next few years but ten years and twenty years hence." Impatient with traditional diplomacy, Szilard went on to argue that "to devise such an agreement requires imagination and resourcefulness," qualities he obviously found wanting in government. I do not agree with Szilard on this point-there are many creative people in government-but do share the impatience. It seems better to make small timely efforts to direct the course of events than to respond more heavily to the crisis of events gone badly astray. The entropy of multiple actors and agendas in government may require the injection of large amounts of political energy to get anything done.


The broader challenge is to build on the success of the HEU deal to redirect both political systems and technological capabilities toward more peaceful and more economically productive ends. The US-Russian lab-to-lab and other programs are some help but they are elitist programs that reach only hundreds of top scientists, not the hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians that constitute a potentially enormous economic capability. Because the HEU deal is bringing money to a number of secret cities, I have been approached by directors of other defense enterprises for ideas that would give them an economic role in the world. One person cannot do this alone, and the one US government program that was trying to do this was eliminated in the new budget.


To receive the Leo Szilard Award for 1997 is a great satisfaction. As Szilard himself said: "In life you must often choose between getting a job done or getting credit for it." Thanks to this award, I need not worry about that choice.


Thomas L. Neff is at the

Center for International Studies

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



AUGUST 16, 1997,



Introduction by Gerald E. Marsh


On August 28 Bill Gertz of the Washington Times broke the story that Russia was suspected of setting off a nuclear explosion near Novaya Zemlya. He quoted Ralph Alewine, the director of the Pentagon's nuclear treaty program office as saying that they had "information that a seismic event with explosive characteristics occurred in the vicinity of the Russian nuclear test range at Novaya Zemlya on August 16." He further went on to say that according to un-named Pentagon officials, "initial data on the event produced 'high confidence' that the activity detected was a nuclear test equivalent to between 100 tons and 1,000 tons of TNT." A "military officer" is reputed to have concluded that "the uncertainty surrounding the suspected test shows that either the Russians have violated their pledge not to conduct nuclear tests or that determining if low-yield nuclear tests were carried out cannot be verified under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

A second story on the 29th of August quoted Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as saying "Russia's action raises key questions: When will the Clinton administration get serious about Russian violations of its arms control commitments?...The reluctance of the administration to publicly conclude that Moscow has violated its pledge to halt nuclear testing raises serious concerns about the verifiability of a complete nuclear test ban."

Does this have echoes that sound like the claims of cheating during the Reagan administration? Having published an article with Jack Evernden that ended Reagan administration claims of cheating on the Threshold Test Ban Treaty back in 1987 [Physics Today, August 1987], I could not resist asking Jack - one of the world's foremost experts on seismology-to look into the issue. The result is the following article.

Gerald Marsh is a

program manager and physicist at Argonne National Laboratory.

He was a consultant to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations for many years,

served with the U.S. START delegation in Geneva during the latter part of 1990,

and is a member of the Executive and Fellowship Committees

of the Forum on Physics and Society of the American Physical Society."


Seismic Event 130 Kilometers SE of Novaya Zemlya, August 16 1997:

Earthquake or Clandestine Test?

Jack F. Evernden



The author of this note is an employee of the United States Geological Survey. However, the views expressed in this note are his alone and are not to be considered as being those of either the USGS or the US government.


Stories circulating in Washington imply that US intelligence detected activities at the northern Russian test site on Novaya Zemlya. The Russians have said that they are conducting sub-critical nuclear tests, i. e., experiments that are legal under terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Why they would choose to create doubt and suspicion in the US relative to their conduct while the CTBT is going through Senate ratification procedures is a mystery. However, within this atmosphere, an off-shore seismic event occurred on August 16. There are those in the US who have conjectured that this event was a Russian attempt at a clandestine nuclear test. Though it has been demonstrated unequivocally that the Russians (Soviets) never cheated on the Yield Threshold Treaty, the climate of Cold War suspicion persists in some quarters. This article addresses the seismological data bearing on interpretation of the August 16 event.


It has been asserted that there was an effort within the US government to prevent knowledge of this event from reaching the public (see Frank J. Gaffney, Washington Times, Sept. 10, 1997). Nothing could be further from the truth. Data adequate for location and specification of magnitudes and thus of event type were available to the public about a week after the event occurred from the International Data Center (IDC) in Arlington, Virginia at http:/www.cdidc.org:65120, and from the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Golden, Colorado at http://www.neic.cr.usgs.gov. It appears that both the IDC and AFTAC (Air Force Technical Applications Center) were convinced this was an earthquake, so rang no alarm bells.


There were six detecting stations in the data set used by IDC: 2 in Russia, 1 on Spitzbergen, 1 in Finland, 1 in Sweden, 1 in Norway. 5 P or Pn signals and 4 Sn signals were used in the location, at ranges of 1200, 1300, 1300, 1700 and 2300 kilometers. The use of data for both compressional seismic waves (P) and shear waves (S) at such short observational distances and over a wide range of azimuth does, for an important but complicated reason, allow a high precision location with the few data (9) available for this event. Note that the only country supplying data from 2 stations is Russia, the supposed perpetrator of a clandestine test.


According to AFTAC (the source of highest technical competence on these subjects within the USG), the epicenter is 130 km southeast of Novaya Zemlya, near the location found by the IDC. The semi-major and semi-minor axes of the 95% error ellipse are 10 and 6 km in length, respectively. The 95% confidence ellipse does not touch land , i e., the event's epicenter was in water.


Reported magnitudes are: Ms 3.8 (plus or minus 0.3): mb 3.9 ( plus or minus 0.2).




1. The fact that Ms = mb in this magnitude range indicates the event to have been an earthquake. These observed parameters plus Figure 1 should be the end of the story. Ms is a measure of long period shear wave energy in a seismic event, while mb is a measure of short period compressional wave energy. The ratio of shear wave energy to compressional wave energy is much greater for an earthquake than for an explosion. Figure 1 was published many years ago and more recent data have confirmed its validity. There are well known theoretical explanations for all relationships on the figure. The explosion data on the figure are the squares and crosses, one being for USSR explosions, the other for USA explosions. Observe that the mean line through these data for explosions at and below mb 6.0 is Ms = mb - 2., while the Ms values for earthquakes extend from mb - 1 to mb + 0.5.

It is certainly true that an earthquake other than one reasonably interpreted as having been induced by a prior explosion is nearly an unobserved phenomenon in the neighborhood of Novaya Zemlya. All events in this general area reported by the USG or the International Seismological Center (a British group) since 1950 are either explosions (atmospheric, underwater or underground) reported by the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) or events reasonably interpreted as earthquake aftershocks of explosions (most occurred soon after large underground explosions). However, prior to the event of August 16, there are no earthquake epicenters on the unclassified epicenter list in the water SE of the island. I know nothing about earthquake epicenters on any potential classified list.


Any supposed rigid association of event type with character of the P wave signal is seismological nonsense. Both Pn and Sn signals for many Kamchatka/Kurile earthquakes recorded on Attu Island at the west end of the Aleutian Islands at ranges comparable to those pertinent to this event and across a similar crustal/mantle type were so sharp that measurements on time of arrival of both Pn and Sn could be made to hundredths of a second This sharpness of both Pn and Sn signals propagating via oceanic-type crust/mantle systems was widely observed and reported more than 25 years ago.


In spite of the unequivocal seismological evidence, consider for sake of discussion that this event may have been an explosion: It has been reported that the White House and Defense Department are assigning a yield of 0.1 to 1 KT to this potential explosion, a yield (1 KT) being consistent with an underground explosion and the observed mb, but not with reality (see both above and below).

2. Let us consider that it might have been an explosion in the water. The following table gives mb values for explosions of various yields in hard rock and water at Nevada Test Site (NTS) and Novaya Zemlya. The hard rock versus water calibration has been published for 30 years and is based on US data (Figure 2). Essentially all explosions in NTS were placed at depths of 450 x Yield to the 1/3 power, where depth is in feet and yield is in kilotons. With the depth to saturated sediments being at about 1500 feet, explosions were placed below that depth only if their expected yields were greater than 10 kilotons. By a fortunate accident, a nuclear explosion at NTS failed to attain its expected yield, with the result that a small yield event (1 KT, see figure) was placed in water-saturated sediments, a seismological environment equivalent to water where amplitude of the resultant P signals are of interest. Thus, the calibration of water explosions against hard rock explosions from the same area was possible. The data under NTS in the table are taken from Figure 2. The path calibration factor (the difference between the two sites -- mb bias) was demonstrated more than 25 years ago and has been used over that period of time to correctly predict yields of many Russian (USSR) explosions. For example, the two nearly simultaneous "Kama-Pechora explosions" in 1971 executed by the USSR in a river diversion experiment were correctly predicted by these procedures as 15 KT as soon as the events occurred.

Table 1


Yield NTS In and around Novaya Zemlya GC*


1 KT 3.4 mb 3.8 mb Hard rock

0.1 KT 2.1 2.5 Hard rock

1 KT 4.6 5.0 Water

0.1 KT 4.1 4.5 Water

.01 KT 3.5 3.9 Water


*Explosion site ground condition


If this was an explosion in water, it had a yield of the order of 10 tons. An explosion of that yield in water would produce a very large hydro-acoustic signal. Hydro-acoustic signals from underwater explosions of half a stick of dynamite can be recorded thousands of miles away. If no hydro-acoustic signal was recorded, this event most certainly was not an explosion of any sort in water.


3. Next, it has been suggested that the Russians successfully clandestinely drilled a hole in the ocean, stuck a 1 KT bomb in it, set observational equipment in the hole, under water and on land, tamped the hole, and then exploded a nuclear device creating a seismic signal that would be easily detected by surrounding stations at high signal-to-noise ratio, and altered the seismograms at the two Russian stations at the appropriate time. However, the Scandinavian data agreed with the Russian data with very small error ellipse so the presumably cheating Russians did not alter the arrival times of the signal. The Ms data used by IDC also showed small standard deviation, so there is no evidence of the required tremendous amplification of Ms at Russian stations required in order to generate the earthquake-like mean value.


The thing to consider here is not whether somebody in Washington can dream up such a far-fetched scheme, but whether people trying to evade a treaty, signed but not sealed, that they championed for several decades against US unwillingness, would pick such an absurd plan. Why drill a hole in the open sea where any passing US submarine or hydro-acoustic sensor in Arctic waters would easily detect the hydro-acoustic noise associated with the drilling operation? One could list numerous reasons, both classified and unclassified, why this would be nearly the last choice (somewhere between exploding a nuclear device on the back side of the moon and behind the sun) and would be easily detected. Finally, if they made such a stupid choice as shooting in the ocean floor at an mb of 3.8 or so, highly competent Russian seismologists would assure them that the resultant seismic signals would be easily established as coming from an explosion.


I have repeatedly demanded that science be used as an apolitical discipline



Bill Gertz, in articles published by the Washington Times on August 28, 29 and 30, began this furor. He implies that the data from the two Russian stations cannot be trusted because there was no installed equipment that could detect tampering by the Russians. The Russians certainly could not tamper with the other four stations, and the available data was such that there is no "one key Norwegian station" as implied in the Washington Times. Also, we are asked to believe that the Russians chose a location for a clandestine test in proximity to people (Swedish and Norwegian seismologists) who have spent the last 40 years honing their skills in the detection, location and identification of Russian explosions


As noted above, there have been numerous explosion-induced earthquakes at least as large as the August 16 event southeast of Novaya Zemlya. A much more reasonable scenario (more reasonable but still improbable) for a crazy mixed-up attempt at evasion would be to execute it at the old northern test site on Novaya Zemlya and then say, if the event was detected by the USA, that it was an aftershock of one of their old explosions. On the other hand, it would be more reasonable for such people to explode a small device (100 tons -> mb 2.5 - see table above) in central Russia where no one outside could detect it.


Finally, this entire incident appears to have been triggered by the success of the US in detecting non-explosive activity at the old Novaya Zemlya test site. Is it really credible to propose that US intelligence detected such activity but failed to detect the off-shore drilling of a several hundred foot hole in the floor of the Barents Sea?


Remember that this discussion of clandestine testing is really pointless as the data prove the seismic event to have been an earthquake.


4. So finally, in total misunderstanding of seismological facts, the suggestion has been made that, though the off-shore event was indeed an earthquake, the Russians hid the signal of a small but otherwise detectable explosion at their old test site in the signal of that little earthquake.


As pointed out above, there is no other record of a natural earthquake of this or greater magnitude in the Novaya Zemlya area in the last 47 years. A few earthquakes were caused by the large test explosions via well-understood but totally unpredictable processes as regards place and time. So, we are asked to believe that the Russians knew when an unpredictable event which had not occurred in the last 47 years was to occur. Seismologists have zero capability to predict the time and location of a small earthquake such as the August 16 event. There are something like 20,000 events of that magnitude or greater per year of which none are predictable on a timely basis. I want to make it clear that failure to be able to predict earthquakes does not imply failure of the world-wide research program relative to prediction of time and place of forthcoming earthquakes. That research program has been a scientific success, in that it has explained why there is no hope of being able to predict earthquakes on a short term basis.


So, now, we have the Russians secreting themselves on Novaya Zemlya with a very small explosive device waiting for an event of vanishingly small probability of occurring in their lifetime. They certainly cannot have known where the earthquake would occur or how big it would be. Presumably, they waited at their hidden site until waves from the earthquake reached them, and then had to determine its adequacy for their purposes. At a distance of 120 kilometers or more, the first P and S waves (both P and S are required to get an estimate of distance and magnitude of the event) would take 25 seconds or so to reach them. Of course, they wouldn't know the location of the event creating the signal, so they would have deployed a quite extensive seismic monitoring network. The August 16 event was small enough that a lapse of 50 seconds or more between time of occurrence of the earthquake and that of the "hidden" explosion would guarantee that a monitoring network such as actually exists would see both signals. So, in less than 25 seconds they needed to receive signals from the network, analyze them, locate the event, decide to explode their secret test and explode it. It is unequivocal that there was no other seismic event detected in the Novaya Zemlya region shortly after the August 16 earthquake and that it would have been detected if such an event had occurred.


Of course, the question as to why Russia, a nation that has exploded numerous devices in this yield range over the years, would find it vital to their national security to explode another in such a stupid manner remains. Also, it should be remembered that repeated assertions by Presidents Reagan and Bush that the Soviets had violated the Threshold Test Ban Treaty have long been known to have been incorrect (Physics Today, August 1987). To the best of my knowledge, available evidence supports the conclusion that the Soviets have never violated any test ban treaty.

I have never asked people with political opinions different from mine to believe my opinions. But I have repeatedly demanded that science be used as an apolitical discipline. How in the world is it possible to proceed meaningfully and safely with the nation's business if one refuses to face facts as facts?

Jack F. Evernden

has been a seismologist with the USGS for the last 30 years, and is the author of most of the definitive papers relative to the monitoring of Threshold and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaties

(see for example, Physics Today, August 1987;

and Reviews of Geophysics, 1986, p. 143-215;)

Editor's note: The entire November/December 1997 issue of the F.A.S. Public Interest Report (Journal of the Federation of American Scientists) is devoted to an article by Lynn R. Sykes on this same topic, giving much more background than could be included within our article-length constraints.


U.S. Missile Defense Activities and the Future of the ABM Treaty

George Lewis and He Yingbo

On September 26, 1997, the United States and Russia signed several arms control agreements, including a set of "demarcation" agreements modifying the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty [1]. The ABM Treaty bans (with one limited exception) strategic defenses intended to defend Russian or U.S. territory from long-range strategic ballistic missiles, but does not aim to limit theater missile defense (TMD) systems for defending troops in the field or allies' cities from shorter range missiles. However, the Treaty does not specify how to distinguish theater from strategic defenses, and establishing this distinction was the nominal objective of the TMD demarcation negotiations.

During the Cold War, the ABM Treaty was widely regarded as the foundation of strategic nuclear arms control. By assuring both the United States and the Soviet Union that their missile forces would not be threatened by strategic-capable defenses, it allowed them to retain confidence in their retaliatory capabilities as they first capped and eventually reduced their strategic nuclear forces. While the Cold War has ended, ballistic-missile-based nuclear deterrence has remained a central element of the security planning of both countries, and thus the logic underlying the ABM Treaty remains valid. In fact, since arms control now aims at deep reductions in nuclear forces, the Treaty may be more important than ever, since smaller forces are generally more vulnerable to defenses.

An examination of the TMD demarcation agreements shows, however, that it will effectively eliminate the ABM Treaty's ability to prevent the deployment of strategic-capable defenses. Together with the current direction of the U.S. missile defense program, this agreement indicates that the policy of tight restraints on ballistic missile defenses that has allowed the negotiation of nuclear reduction agreements such as START II is on the verge of collapse. The large-scale deployment of strategic-capable defenses that the United States plans for the next decade will not promote nuclear reductions, and is far more likely to bring them to an abrupt end. After first discussing the TMD demarcation agreement, we will review those aspects of the U.S. missile defense program that pose the most serious problems for future nuclear reductions, specifically: the development and planned deployment of high-altitude TMD systems with strategic-capable interceptors; the planned deployment of a space-based missile tracking system; and the development of a nationwide national missile defense (NMD) system.

The TMD demarcation agreement

The United States is currently developing and planning to deploy at least six TMD systems. Some of these systems, such as the Patriot PAC-3 or the Navy Area Defense, are clearly true TMD systems with no significant strategic capabilities. However, two systems, the U.S. Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and the Navy Theater-Wide system, both use interceptors with clear strategic capabilities.

In December 1993, the U.S. Administration launched negotiations with Russia aimed at modifying the ABM Treaty in order to be able to proceed with the development of advanced TMD systems such as THAAD and Navy Theater-Wide. At the time, U.S. officials stated that THAAD testing and deployment could not proceed without Russian agreement on modifying the Treaty.

To prevent strategic defenses from being deployed under the guise of being TMD systems, the ABM Treaty bans giving TMD systems a "capability to counter" strategic missiles or testing them against strategic missiles, but does not define the dividing line between strategic and theater. The United States proposed changing the Treaty so that any missile defense would be defined as a Treaty-compliant TMD system if it was never tested against a strategic missile - defined as a missile with peak speed greater than 5 km/second. However, Russia insisted on additional limitations, primarily an interceptor speed limit of 3 km/second. This limit would have prohibited Navy Theater-Wide and was rejected by the United States, resulting in a stalemate in the negotiations.

In March 1995, with the negotiations stalled and THAAD's first test approaching, the Clinton Administration reversed its position and declared THAAD to be Treaty compliant. It also informed Russia that until an agreement was reached (in effect, until Russia accepted the U.S. position), the United States would make unilateral decisions about the compliance of its TMD systems. At the Helsinki summit in March 1997, Clinton and Yeltsin agreed on a set of negotiating guidelines for TMD demarcation, leading to the signing of the agreement in September.

The demarcation agreement legalizes the testing and deployment of missile defenses with interceptor speeds not more than 3 km/second if they are never tested against a target with a speed greater than 5 km/second. However, with respect to high-speed systems - those with interceptors faster than 3 km/second - the demarcation reflects the disagreement between the U.S. and Russian positions. It simply bans high-speed TMD systems from being tested against missile targets with speeds greater than 5 km/second, without clarifying whether such high-speed systems that obey this testing limit would be compliant. The ambiguity in this agreement leaves it open to unilateral interpretation. The United States has stated that under its interpretation of the agreement: (1) all currently planned U.S. TMD systems are legal; (2) there are no velocity limits on TMD interceptors; (3) other than the test target speed limit, there are no restrictions on testing and deployment of TMD systems; and (4) each country can unilaterally determine the Treaty compliance of high-speed TMD systems [2].


The TMD demarcation agreement will effectively eliminate the ABM Treaty's ability to prevent the deployment of strategic-capable defenses.


Thus, under the U.S. interpretation of the agreement, there are no limits whatsoever on the capability of a TMD system. As long as a defense obeys the test target speed limit, it is either explicitly legal or can be unilaterally declared to be so, regardless of its inherent capability. The only limit -- on test target speed -- can be easily circumvented, for example by boosting the interceptor to higher speeds to simulate the higher closing speeds involved against strategic targets. And testing against actual strategic targets, albeit on slower trajectories, is not prohibited. Given this situation, it is clear that the Treaty will retain little if any ability to prevent the deployment of strategic-capable defenses.

Strategic-capable TMD systems

The TMD demarcation agreement might not be of great concern if neither the United States nor Russia intended to deploy TMD systems with strategic capabilities.

A TMD system can lack strategic-capability either because it has a very low kill probability against a strategic target (that is, it cannot hit the strategic target) or because the size of the area it can defend (its "footprint") is so small that the number of defense units required to provide meaningful coverage is prohibitive. Patriot PAC-3 and Navy Area Defense meet both these criteria, and are clearly not strategic-capable. However, this is not the case with THAAD and Navy Theater-Wide.

Both of these systems are intended to defend large areas, with dimensions of hundreds of kilometers, from theater ballistic missiles with ranges up to 3,500 km. The only intrinsic difference between such a long-range theater missile and 10,000 km range strategic missile is that the strategic missile has a maximum speed of roughly 7 km/second, compared to 5 km/second for the theater missile. Depending on the speed of the interceptor (about 2.6 km/second for THAAD, 4.5 km/second for Navy Theater-Wide), this higher speed translates into a roughly 25% higher closing speed in the intercept attempt. For intercepts outside the atmosphere, the kill probability depends on the closing speed. Unless the TMD interceptor's capability against the theater warhead was already marginal, this somewhat higher closing speed would not be expected to seriously degrade the interceptor's kill probability, since it must be substantially overdesigned to counter the wide range of circumstances that will occur during intercept attempts against even theater warheads.

This conclusion is supported by a wide range of official statements. In 1994, then Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), General Malcolm O'Neill, showed U.S. senators a defended footprint for THAAD against an ICBM [3]. He later stated that "...Analysis indicated that in one-on-one engagements against RVs deployed on some strategic missiles, THAAD, if cued from space, would have a capability to counter a non-trivial portion of Russia's strategic force."[4]

The Light-Weight Exo-Atmospheric Projectile (LEAP) kill vehicle in the Navy Theater-Wide system was originally developed for strategic defense, and more recently a LEAP mounted on a modified Minuteman III ICBM has been proposed as a potential strategic interceptor [5]. BMDO officials and others have also proposed Navy Theater-Wide as a basis for a nationwide strategic defense [6].

Thus it is clear that both the THAAD and Navy Theater-Wide interceptors are capable of hitting strategic targets. The sizes of their defended footprints are limited, however, by the detection ranges of their radars. Using only launch point cuing (information about the launch point of an attacking missile) from currently-deployed early warning satellites, THAAD could cover an area roughly comparable to the metropolitan area of a major city [7].

However, THAAD will be highly mobile and could be used to defend U.S. territory, in which case data from the existing U.S. network of early warning radars would give it a footprint with dimensions of hundreds of kilometers against a strategic missile. Moreover, upgrades to these radars are now being developed to enable them to obtain tracking information precise enough for direct interceptor guidance, and the deployment of a space-based missile tracking system (see next section) is planned. Direct interceptor guidance by either means would give THAAD and Navy Theater-Wide very large footprints. For example, with space-based guidance, the entire United States could be covered by no more than three to five Navy Theater-Wide equipped ships.

The United States currently intends to deploy nearly 2,000 interceptors for these two systems (1,200+ for THAAD, 650 for Navy Theater-Wide).

Space-based missile tracking and interceptor guidance system

The United States is currently developing a space-based missile tracking and interceptor guidance system, the low-earth-orbit component of the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS-Low). This system is a holdover from the "Star Wars" program, under which it was known as Brilliant Eyes. Deployment of about 24 satellites will begin in 2004.

SBIRS-Low will use infrared and visible-light sensors to track a missile over its entire trajectory. Its tracking data will be sufficiently accurate to guide interceptors even if the target cannot be seen by the defense's ground-based radar. This is a qualitatively new capability that can greatly expand the defended footprints of high-altitude missile defenses. SBIRS-Low is explicitly intended for use with both TMD and NMD systems.

The ABM Treaty forbids the testing or deployment of space-based strategic defense components. However, U.S. officials argue that SBIRS-Low is permissible because it is not a defense component, but only an "adjunct," which assists the defense but does not replace a component. However, since SBIRS-Low is not only able to substitute for a defense's radar but is

expected to do so, its development and deployment appears to be a straightforward violation of the Treaty.

SBIRS-Low would also violate the Treaty's prohibition on providing a base for a nationwide defense by putting in place a complete sensor system for a nationwide defense. By doing so it cuts at the very heart of the Treaty, a central objective of which was preventing the emplacement of such a sensor infrastructure.

Nationwide strategic ballistic missile defense.

The United States is currently developing a "thin" national missile defense system, intended to counter small-scale attacks against U.S. territory. NMD advocates cite the possibility of an accidental Russian launch, a Chinese attack, or a future third world intercontinental missile threat. Under the Clinton Administration's "3 + 3" program, this system will be developed within three years -- by 2000 -- and could be deployed in an additional three years -- as early as 2003.

The 3 + 3 plan would initially deploy roughly 20 interceptors, subsequently to be increased to 100, at the former Safeguard site near Grand Forks, North Dakota. The main NMD radar, the Ground-Based Radar (GBR), would also be located at Grand Forks. Additional necessary missile tracking capabilities would be provided by upgraded early warning radars, a new GBR-like radar in Alaska, and by SBIRS-Low. The deployment of more interceptors and multiple interceptor deployment locations are envisioned as future "evolutionary options.".

The Clinton Administration plan does not commit to deployment. Rather, it only puts in place by the year 2000 the ability to deploy within three years. However, this program was created largely to fend off Republican efforts to mandate NMD deployment by 2003. Once development of the system is completed in 2000, the pressure to deploy will become much more difficult to resist.

Despite claims that an Treaty-compliant system could be deployed at Grand Forks, any nationwide NMD deployment will violate the ABM Treaty, for at least two reasons. First, the Treaty explicitly forbids any nationwide defense. It permits one single-site strategic defense system, but limits it to covering only "an individual region" of the country. Second, due to the curvature of the Earth, it is impossible for a ground-based radar at Grand Forks to see all missile trajectories threatening the 48 contiguous states, much less Alaska and Hawaii [8]. Covering the entire country requires missile tracking sensors at multiple locations, and this is banned by the Treaty.

The deployment of such a nationwide defense would be much more than a technical violation of the ABM Treaty. It would put in place much of the infrastructure -- most importantly, the sensor infrastructure -- needed for a much thicker defense. In particular, mobile THAAD and Navy Theater-Wide interceptors could be "plugged into" the NMD sensor infrastructure to provide a rapidly deployable, much thicker defense.


The TMD demarcation agreement will effectively eliminate the ABM Treaty's ability to prevent the deployment of strategic-capable defenses. The United States is planning to deploy large numbers of strategic-capable TMD interceptors and a space-based tracking system, and is developing a nationwide NMD system. It is clear that if U.S. missile defense activities follow their present course, both the ABM Treaty and the historic policy of restraining strategic defenses will be replaced by a new era of widespread ballistic missile defense deployments.

If the Russian Duma ratifies START II, it will surely attach, as it did for START I, a proviso stating the Treaty is contingent on the preservation of the ABM Treaty. Thus this U.S. missile defense program could block implementation of START II and would almost certainly prevent deeper reductions, raising the prospect of the two countries becoming locked in at levels of thousands of nuclear warheads for the indefinite future.

This is a high price to pay, particularly given that both the effectiveness of these defenses and the threat they are intended to counter are open to serious question. The deployment of countermeasures must be expected if defenses are deployed, and high-altitude defenses appear to be vulnerable to a wide range of relatively simple countermeasures. Moreover, the existing and likely future theater ballistic missile threat is from missiles with ranges less than 1,000 km, not the 3,500 km range missiles that THAAD and Navy Theater-Wide are designed to counter, and the United States is developing several other TMD systems intended to counter such shorter-range missiles.

Unfortunately, the U.S. missile defense program is proceeding with relatively little public scrutiny of its scope and ultimate consequences. In particular, unlike during the "Star Wars" days, the independent scientif