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U.S. asks Russia about 'seismic event'

Nuclear testing

Moscow denies nuclear test took place

August 28, 1997
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EDT (2125 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States said Thursday it detected a "seismic event" 12 days ago in the vicinity of a Russian nuclear test site and was trying to determine whether Russia broke a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear test blasts.

Moscow denied it had carried out a nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya, located above the Arctic Circle and northeast of Moscow.

"I don't know what seismic activity they're talking about," said a spokesman for Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry. "Russia has voluntarily given up nuclear testing and sticks to this position."

A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the August 16 "event" had "explosive characteristics." But, he added, the United States is "not able to determine at this point whether it was a nuclear test."

"We are in contact with the Russians on the matter and are still analyzing the data," the spokesman said.

If confirmed, a blast could fuel opposition in the Republican-led Senate to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which would bar tests of nuclear weapons.

To become international law, complete with the mechanics of monitoring and enforcement, the treaty must be signed by all 44 countries known to possess nuclear reactors and ratified by their legislatures.

All five of the declared nuclear weapons powers -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia -- have signed the treaty.

Anticipating the moratorium on testing, China exploded a nuclear bomb underground on July 29, 1996, and vowed that it would be the last. France conducted its last test in January 1996. Britain had stopped earlier.

The United States began its moratorium in October 1992 but has considered staging plutonium experiments of a new and different kind. Critics said such tests would violate the moratorium and the test ban treaty that President Clinton signed in September 1996.

The proposed U.S. tests would be carried out nearly 1,000 feet below the Nevada desert floor in a complex of tunnels used for explosions less than one-tenth of 1 percent as large as conventional nuclear tests.

Correspondent Eileen O'Connor and Reuters contributed to this report.

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