Vestnik Otdelenia nauk o Zemle RAN, VOL. 10, NZ1103, doi:10.2205/2018NZ000353, 2018

The Soviet-American project to monitor underground nuclear tests: scientific, social, and political aspects

A. A. Amramina1,2, V. A. Pilipenko1,3

1Institute of Physics of the Earth, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow
2University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
3Geophysical Center, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow


The paper describes one of the brightest pages in the history of Russian geophysics - the Soviet-American project to control underground nuclear explosions. Insufficient reliability of nuclear test control methods has for years been a matter of controversy, a reason for mutual distrust, and a pretext for delay in negotiations on the nuclear test ban between the US and the USSR during the Cold War. In a joint project initiated and implemented by Soviet and American geophysicists in 1986-1989, seismic monitoring methods were used to verify the only nuclear test allowed at that time - underground. During this project a series of calibrated chemical explosions was recorded at high-frequency seismic stations deployed in the areas of the Semipalatinsk and Nevada nuclear testing grounds. It was experimentally proved that underground explosions can be detected, their coordinates and yield are definable, and the signals are distinguishable against the background of seismic interference of natural and man-made character. The successful demonstration to the scientific community, the military departments and governments of both countries of the effectiveness of the scientific and technical methods of mutual monitoring of underground tests shifted the negotiations from the deadlock. It was concluded that the USSR was wrongly accused in previous years in the exceedances of the test power threshold. This project is an example of the fact that the international scientific community and non-governmental organizations are able to influence the international political climate, and to achieve the goals that politicians cannot do.

KEY WORDS: the Cold War, underground nuclear explosion, verification, arms control, seismic methods, Institute of Physics of the Earth, control of nuclear tests

Received 11 May 2018; rewieved 13 July 2018; published 25 July 2018.

Doi: https://doi.org/10.2205/2018NZ000353

Citation: Amramina, A. A. and V. A. Pilipenko (2018), The Soviet-American project to monitor underground nuclear tests: scientific, social, and political aspects, Vestn. Otd. nauk Zemle, 10, NZ1103, doi:10.2205/2018NZ000353.

Copyright 2018 by the Geophysical Center RAS