The results of a Wednesday morning nuclear blast under the Nevada desert won't just be measured in scientific terms but in diplomatic terms as well.
When the Department of Energy detonated the 100- to 150-kiloton bomb, code-named Kearsarge, precisely at 10 a.m., 43 Soviet officials were on hand observing the test and collecting data about the explosive device's magnitude.Just before the test the Soviets announced they would detonate a bomb Sept. 14 on their Semipalatinsk Test Site where U.S. technicians are now working to ready their yield-verification equipment. Wednesday was the first time the Soviet test date had been announced.
The detonation of the two bombs will complete a Joint Verification Experiment the two nuclear superpowers agreed to at the December summit in Washington, D.C. The intent is to develop a list of non-intrusive techniques to verify the magnitude of tests conducted by the opposite country, said C. Paul Robinson, chief U.S. negotiator at the ongoing U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Testing Talks in Geneva.
If talks are successful, both sides hope verification protocol will be developed that will lead to the ratifying of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty signed in 1984 and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty of 1986.
Joseph F. Salgado, acting DOE deputy secretary and under secretary, said the test Wednesday sets a precedent for test verification and is the result of four years of diplomatic exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union.
After the Soviet test next month, "We have every hope that the ultimate conclusion of this process will be an agreement on effective verification measures which will permit ratification of (both) the Threshold Test Ban and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty," he said.
Igor M. Palenykh, head of the Soviet delegation to the Geneva talks, said the members of his team at the Nevada Test Site have been able to work well with scientists from the United States. "We are satisfied. It seems it is going well," he said shortly after a timer ticked away the final 10 seconds and the bomb exploded 30 miles away from the control point.
Viktor N. Mikhailov, leader of the Soviet technical team, said he has always dreamed of seeing how the U.S. nuclear experts worked. Now that the dream has come true, he said his U.S. counterparts were "excellent and warm."
"We cut a window into their hearts as well," he said through a State Department interpreter that translated for the Soviet team.
Soviet and U.S. scientists ceremoniously exchanged floppy discs containing raw test data several minutes after field engineers reported the test was an apparent success, Robinson said. Talks in Geneva are scheduled to resume Aug. 29, even though the Soviet test will still be more than two weeks away, Palenykh said.
After the second test a "heavy workload in Geneva" is ahead to ready the treaties for ratification, Robinson said.
The type and origin of the bomb detonated Wednesday remain classified. When asked what kind of bomb the Soviets will detonate in September, Palenykh bypassed the interpreter and said it would be "just a regular type - like Americans'. "
The Soviets were not allowed to see the bomb detonated Wednesday.
The size of the Soviet weapon will also be similar: larger than 100 kilotons but under the threshold treaty limit of 150 kilotons.
A full data exchange will occur about 30 days after the next test, Robinson said. The design yields may also be made public then. "It's not a question we've made total agreement on, but it will probably happen eventually."
While praises for the cooperative effort outshined any dissenting remarks, not all of the Soviet responses to reporters' questions at the control point were upbeat.
Palenykh accused the United States of dragging its feet in the treaty process. If it were up to the Soviet Union only, a treaty completely stopping all nuclear tests could be signed tomorrow, he said.
Robinson's response did not focus on the possibility of a unilateral test ban but on the U.S. position that nuclear testing would be important to this country as long as nuclear weapons are in the nation's military stockpile.