THE US has alleged China may have conducted a secret underground nuclear test as tensions soar between the rival superpowers.
A US state department report, revealed by the Wall Street Journal, said that there had been evidence of activity including excavations and the construction of “explosive containment” chambers.
The report said that the above evidence, as well as “a lack of transparency” on nuclear test activities, “raise concerns regarding its adherence to the zero yield standard”.
The zero yield standard refers to conditions laid out in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which say only “sub-critical” tests, which do not involve nuclear fission, are allowed.
China strongly refuted the claims, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling a briefing in Beijing that the US’ accusations did not have any foundation and were “not worth refuting.”
Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, cast doubt on the evidence and drew a distinction between subcritical tests and low-yield ones.
He tweeted: “It is worth noting how thin the evidence is for these claims.
“US, Russia and China all conduct subcritical tests. Subcritical tests are not prohibited the CTBT [sic], which is not in force and which neither the US nor China has ratified.
“From satellites and seismic stations, subcritical tests are indistinguishable from low-yield nuclear tests.”
The US also alleged that China had blocked transmissions from radiation and seismic monitoring sites.
But a spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation told the Wall Street Journal that there had not been any interruptions in data transmissions from China’s sensor stations since August 2019.
China has agreed to abide by the terms set out in the CTBT, even though it, along with the US, never actually ratified their signing of the treaty in 1996.
This means that the treaty is not technically in force.
Mr Lewis said test site “transparency measures” should be negotiated between the US, Russia and China in order to eliminate accusations that are not driven by hard evidence.
The CTBT has also been signed by Russia, France and Britain, although it still requires ratification by 44 countries worldwide in order to become recognised as international law.
Nuclear fission is the main driving force behind a nuclear explosion, and works by splitting atoms to release energy.
Relations between China and the US have been sour as of late, not least because of suggestions by the US that the Covid-19 outbreak might have started in a Chinese lab, rather than occurring naturally.
Referring to the accusations at a White House press briefing, President Donald Trump said: “We’re hearing the story, and we’ll see.”
Mr Trump has also referred to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus”.
Gen Mark Milley, the most senior military officer in the US Armed Forces, has confirmed the US is looking into the possibility that Covid-19 might have started in a Chinese lab.
But he said that the “weight of evidence seems to indicate natural [origin]. But we don’t know for certain.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhai Lijian refuted the claims, saying on Thursday that: “The head of the World Health Organisation has repeatedly stated that there hasn’t been any evidence pointing to the virus being lab-created.”
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