DoD News Briefing

Thursday, August 28, 1997 - 2 p.m. (EDT)
Capt. Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)


Q: Mike, could you fill us in on the seismic event, incident, whatever you want to call it, in Russia and whether or not there's any evidence that it was a nuclear blast?

A: We are aware that a seismic event with explosive characteristics occurred in the vicinity of the Russian nuclear test range at Novaya Zemlya on the 16th of August. The information which we have is still under review. We've reached no conclusions at this point. We are not able to determine at this juncture whether the test was nuclear or not.

Q: What do you mean "explosive characteristics"?

A: Well, as you know, Charlie, we have the capability to determine certain events, seismic and otherwise, throughout the world and this one certainly had characteristics that at least would lead some to believe that there had been an explosion that caused the event, but the data was not certain enough that we could come to a conclusion at that point. There is still deliberation going on on this event and at this point, as I indicated, we have reached no conclusion.

Yes, Susanne?

Q: What kind of explanation did you receive from the Russians? I'm sure you've asked.

A: We are engaged with the Russians on this subject. I don't want to go beyond that at this point because I don't have any firm information about what their response has been other than that we continue to dialogue with them.

Q: What about the size of the explosion? Would it appear to have been nuclear size or can you tell that about it?

A: At this point, I don't know that I have the level of detail at hand that would indicate it was not a large explosion but it was certainly large enough that it registered on the equipment that we have in place that detects these things.

Q: In place, you mean there at test site?

A: Well, it's not at the test site, but we have monitoring equipment throughout the world that is being set up in connection with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Right now, it's a prototype system, since the treaty is not in effect, but it enables monitoring of events of this type and it is certainly one of the reasons that we are anxious for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to go into effect because it will give countries all over the world the ability to look into these matters with greater efficiency and to watch these kinds of events with greater transparency.

Q: Is there any kind of natural occurrence that could register this type of reaction that you know of?

A: Just off the top of my head, I would say that certainly there are earthquakes that occur and other phenomena like that, that might certainly register like this. I would think that volcanic activity, either underwater or above ground, could certainly register on this kind of equipment. So, as I say, we're still looking.

Q: But is that a volcanic area?

A: Not to my knowledge, but you just asked me the kinds of things that could be interpreted.

Q: Well, this specific registration --

A: I don't know other than earthquake activity how you might interpret the data.

Q: Mike, when you measure earthquakes that have a Richter scale. On this equipment that you're talking about, does it have a scale? And, if it does, could you give us an indication?

A: I don't have that level of detail with me. We can certainly look into it. I know that the equipment is certainly sensitive enough to pick out seismic activity at some distance, but I don't know the calibrations of it.

Q: Could you tell us how far away this device was that registered the activity?

A: No, I can't tell you the location of the monitors.

Q: Is it in Russia?

A: To my knowledge, no, it is not.

Q: (Inaudible) the monitoring equipment was set up as part of the CTBT --

A: The prototype system. Right.

Q: Right. Does this -- and it's supposed to be able to filter out such things as earthquakes.

A: I saw that in your story. I don't know if that is accurate or not, but we can look into it and see if we can provide that.

Q: But despite that, does this raise questions in your mind about whether that system will be able to detect small nuclear tests?

A: It doesn't to me. If it detected this event and it is being put into place to detect other such similar events, I think it shows that it's working real good.

Q: Could you have earthquake with explosive characteristics?

A: Well, I think you certainly could if there was some sort of volcano that was associated with it and I think frequently underwater earthquakes have that kind of --

Q: Are there any volcanic activity, any volcanos, is the area where --

A: I don't know enough about that area to be able to tell you whether that would have been a contributing factor or not.

Q: The test ban treaty is not yet in effect.

A: That's correct.

Q: Does this violate any treaty or is this simply a breaching of the pledges that the Russians have made to us?

A: If the seismic event was actually a low-level nuclear test event, then the Russians would be violating the object and the purpose of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Comprehensive Test Ban treaty is not yet in force, but it is due to go before congressional review some time after the Congress returns in September. Neither the United States nor Russia yet has ratified, although both countries have signed the agreement.

Q: But the Russian government has promised on several occasions that they would they not test.

A: That's right.

Q: Are there Americans stationed anywhere close to that test range?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Have you been allowed access to the region? Have you requested it? Have you been allowed it?

A: Well, not to my knowledge. We are certainly in conversations with the Russians, but one of the things about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that is relevant in this case is that it would allow for on-site inspections.

Q: Mike?

A: Are we finished with that one?

Q: Well, one more. Do you have anything besides the size and state of that, that would lead you to believe that this was a low-level nuclear explosion?

A: Well, there are -- there are a number of types of data that are collected, atmospheric and otherwise, when such events occur, and I'm not aware of exactly what in this case was collected.

But, as we get further information, to the extent we can, we'll be glad to share it with you.

Q: Also, I'm sorry, one more. The possible detonation, if it was a nuclear detonation, would have been a below ground, not an above ground explosion; is that correct?

A: I don't -- I think it probably would have been below, but the depth at which it would have been below, I'm not sure we know at this point.

Q: Presumably, if it were above ground, other systems would have picked up on much more obvious --

A: Yeah.

Q: What type of cooperation are you getting from the Russians in trying to determine what it was?

A: As I say, we're talking with them, but if you want to follow up on that one further, you ought to talk to State Department. They're the ones that actually do the talking.

Q: If it was, in fact, a test, are you concerned that this could undermine the administration's effort to get the CTBT ratified?

A: I think it will add to it because, one, it shows that the equipment works and, secondly, it indicates that we need to have the kinds of transparency that that treaty offers to us. We not only need to get ratification on the U.S. side, but we also need to get it on the Russian side.

Q: Is this display considered to be an act of bad faith by the Russians, that you know of?

A: I don't want to characterize it one way or another, because, at this point, we have not concluded as to exactly what the event was.

Yeah. Let me go -- first I should go to Bill.

Q: Thank you. Thank you, Mike. Mike, does the Department have any comment on Selig Harrison's quote saying that it was completely predictable that admission of two North Korean defectors would derail U.S. negotiations with the North Koreans, and would strengthen hard-liners in North Korea who want a confrontation with the U.S., instead of engagement? Can you comment on that?

A: That's a great question for the State Department.

Q: Any part of that even issue.

A: Bill, you really need to go to State Department on that one.