President Reagan got front page coverage when he charged the Soviets with cheating on nuclear weapons testing agreements. He also suggested this cheating could justify our renunciation of most existing nuclear weapons related treaties. It seems the military would like to test the MX missile which has a payload which exceeds the 150 kilotons (KT) allowed by the 1974 Threshold Test Ban.
The press didn’t give comparable coverage, however, to highly respected U.S. scientists who did not support the President’s charges.
Peter Moulthrop, a leading physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s treaty verification program, co-authored a classified document which analyzed Soviet nuclear tests from 1976 to 1981. While unable to discuss classified data, Moulthrop stated “We see no evidence the Soviets cheated.”
Dr. Lynn Sykes, a Columbia University seismologist and member of the U.S. team that negotiated the 1974 agreement, said “None of the Soviet tests appears to go above the threshold.”
Jack F. Evernden, a leading geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Center for Earthquake Research, said “We have not found a single instance in which the size of a Soviet test exceeded the threshold.”
The Swedish National Defense Research Institute in Stockholm and the British Ministry of Defense both said they have no evidence that the Soviets have exceeded the limit.
Senator James McClure, who supports Reagan’s position, is the leading accuser of Soviet cheating in the Senate. He based his arguments on the work of Harold Agnew, a former director of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory, who once stated that Soviet tests “appear to go as high as 400 KT.” Agnew subsequently admitted that his figures were based on detection criteria which were later totally discredited.
Meanwhile we recently learned that, without any public announcement, the Reagan administration reversed an eight-year-old policy in 1983 when it stopped announcing each nuclear test the U.S. held in the Nevada desert. When challenged about this censorship, a high Department of Energy official said “It takes a lot of work to announce each of those tests and it was information that was not germane to the general public.”
Ironically, the frequency of Soviet underground tests has declined in recent years, from 20 in 1978 to six in 1982, while the number of announced U.S. tests has increased from 12 to 18 over the same period, according to U.S. Energy Department figures.
INDEPENDENT PRESS SERVICE, DESERET NEWS, 5/15/83, “Soviet Cheating on N-tests?, by Jonathan King; BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS, March, 1983, “TTB Treaty: No Evidence of Cheating / Seismic Verification,” by John Wilke and Gerald Marsh; SCIENCE, 5/13/83, “Scientists Fault Charges of Soviet Cheating,” by R. Jeffer Smith; NEW YORK TIME, 1/29/84, “Government Conceals Nuclear Tests, by William J. Broad.