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Russia Has Restarted Low-Yield Nuclear Tests, U.S. Believes via The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration believes Russia has restarted very low-yield nuclear tests, officials said on Wednesday in a finding that could be used to renew in earnest the arms race between Moscow and Washington.

But the significance of the statements by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a senior National Security Council official was immediately debated by nuclear weapons experts.

Some experts said claims of low-yield tests would be nothing new. Intelligence officials and nuclear analysts in Washington have long raised the possibility of such violations going back nearly two decades, to when Russia ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 2000.

Other nuclear weapons experts have argued that significant Russian cheating on the treaty is unlikely because the designs of the country’s nuclear warheads tend to be very robust. The small returns, they have said, would make the geopolitical costs of getting caught prohibitively high.

[…]

Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico and now a Stanford professor, said he was skeptical that Russia was conducting low-yield tests to create new weapons.

He said any low-yield testing by Russia at Novaya Zemlya, an Arctic Ocean archipelago where Moscow conducted nuclear tests during the Cold War, would most likely relate to experiments to enhance the safety and reliability of Russia’s nuclear arsenal — not trying to develop new kinds of warheads.

If the test yield is verified as low, Dr. Hecker said, “my answer is no, I don’t think it’s militarily significant.”

[…]

Nuclear tensions with Russia have been rising. The United States is set to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August, a move the Trump administration took after it repeatedly accused Moscow of violating that 1987 pact by deploying new nuclear-capable missiles.

American diplomats have long maintained that the 2000 test ban treaty prohibits any experimentation that creates a nuclear yield, no matter how small.

The Senate never ratified the test ban treaty, and the United States is not bound by international law to follow its provisions. Still, the United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992.

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