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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 18, September 1997

Scare Over Seismic Event in Russia

On 28 August, a report in The Washington Times speculated that a seismic event, detected in Russia on 16 August, may have been a nuclear test. Russia quickly refuted the suggestion, while US spokespeople stressed only that they were seeking full clarification. In Moscow on 29 August, Russia's Minister of Atomic Energy, Vyacheslav Mikhailov, explained that the event took place in the Kara sea, 60 miles west of Russia's nuclear test site, the Arctic island of Novaya Zemyla. The event, Mikhailov insisted, was an "ordinary" earthquake - "this is a seismic area and everyone knows it," he said, adding:

"I can state with a full sense of responsibility that oscillations recorded during nuclear tests have absolutely different characteristics..."

The same day, State Department spokesperson James Rubin observed:

"Let me point out that the information we have is not conclusive... We are not able to confirm that a nuclear test has taken place, thus we cannot rule out an earthquake or another natural explanation."

On 2 September, Defense Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon told reporters that the evidence was still being sifted:

"One of the issues that has emerged now is exactly where it took place - whether it took place on water or whether it took place on land. And experts now have competing views on [this]... Some experts believe that it could have been an earthquake, others believe that it had the characteristics of an explosion."

On 13 September, the Associated Press claimed to have seen a classified US Air Force study, dated 4 September, suggesting that the event took place offshore, and was most probably a natural tremor.

Reports: Transcript - State Dept. noon briefing, United States Information Service, 29 August; US asks for assurance on test ban after activity detected at Russian site, Washington Post, 29 August; Russia denies nuke test allegation, Associated Press, 29 August; Nuclear site tremor caused by quake, Associated Press, 2 September; Transcript - Pentagon spokesman's regular Tuesday briefing, United States Information Service, 3 September; Study supports Russia test denial, Associated Press, 13 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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