Pakistan, India exaggerated nuclear tests, study finds Numbers, explosive power were less than claimed

September 16, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

In a game of nuclear bluff, India and Pakistan exaggerated the number and size of the nuclear weapons each nation detonated this year, overstating the power of the atomic bombs by a factor of four, according to the first independent scientific accounting of the controversial tests.

Two of the five explosions announced by India may never have taken place, according to the analysis released today.

Only two in the series of nuclear tests that Pakistan announced actually involved real nuclear explosions, according to the study. At different times Pakistani officials have claimed up to seven devices were tested.

"This is quite clearly a case where governments tested for a political reason rather than scientific reasons, so we have to be suspicious of what they say," said Terry Wallace of the University of Arizona.

His research, published in Wednesday's edition of Seismological Research Letters, is based on a detailed study of the seismic shock waves.

In Washington, the independent research was viewed as corroborating evidence by Clinton administration officials who have harbored doubts for some time about the scope of the tests.

At the same time, the fact that the Indians and Pakistanis apparently exaggerated does not lessen the need for the United States to respond to a regional arms race with global implications, in the administration's view.

"We won't argue with experts like these about the number of tests," a State Department official said. "What is important to us is that there were tests by both sides. That's the issue we're trying to deal with."

Experts at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Princeton University and a consortium of 90 research universities that operates a global network of 100 seismic monitoring stations endorsed the new study's conclusions.

Based on his analysis of data from 22 seismic monitoring stations around the world, Wallace determined that the May 11 explosions in India had a combined force of no more than 15 kilotons, so small that, in his view, it likely involved a less sophisticated fission bomb instead of a thermonuclear H-bomb.

He also calculated that the Pakistani explosions involved bombs that totaled only 9 to 12 kilotons in the first round of tests May 28 and just 4 to 6 kilotons in the second May 30 -- about one quarter the power officially announced.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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