WATCH: How to detect a secret nuclear test

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We can’t ratify the treaty because then someone will take our biggest guns away. Thanks Obama!

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So, how do you hide an underground nuclear test?

If you let off a nuke underground, you can usually distinguish it from other underground happenings. There are two components to a shock travelling through solids - the P- or pressure wave, and the S- or shear wave. A nuke will have a very sharp spike to the pressure wave, and it will have almost no shear wave. Most earthquakes will have a substantial shear component. So, what you need to do is to do your experiment in an asymmetric blast chamber where some of the pressure wave gets converted into a shear wave, and you need to fill the chamber with crushable, porus stuff to break up the sharp front edge of the pressure wave. Lump coke is good. Gravel works. Bags of water, and even bubblewrap can help. But this will all make the experiment bigger, and more likely to leak.

Can you hide a nuke this way? Just about, for something of the sub-kiloton size, but it is hard to make nukes that small. Don’t try this at home.

So great we live in a world where folks might want to hide a nuclear blast. Yay humanity!

As a kid, I recall hearing Carl Sagan talk about humanity’s chances at sticking around for the long haul being difficult because of technological innovation coupled with our warlike tendencies. The older I get, the more pessimistic I become about our chances.

One of the neater undergrad electives that I took while at University: “Seismology of Underground Nuclear Explosions,” taught by a professor who was directly involved with the CTBTO program, including an on-campus seismic monitor participating in their detection network, which we were shown, etc. (The seismomoeters sat on a column extending down through the geosciences department building basement to bedrock.)

The used to simple collect all the data in realtime on paper scrolls for postfacto analysis, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it’s all a realtime network today.

I think it’s a great program. Now if only the dipolomats and politicians involved in treaty regociation and ratification would stop trying to re-escallate a nuclear cold war by withdrawing the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and other insane foolishness.

We don’t need a Cold War II, we don’t need Nuclear Weapon Modernization programs. We need comprehensive disarmament and bans on nuclear arsenals, which are useless, literally, in that they must never be used. There’s simply no such thing as a scenario where their use in anger leads to a more livable world.

People are not trying to hide underground tests. The only way to be sure whether your protection is good enough is to seriously attempt to calculate what is possible. My post was based on my understanding back in the eighties. As far as I know, there has never been a genuine attempt to hide an underground nuclear blast, even to test the system.

Having an independent international body that can call for a ground-level investigation based on evidence gained without violating national borders is a good thing. You may actually know the experiment took place via intelligence, but you cannot always use that.

What is your alternative? We should believe that X has weapons of mass destruction because US military experts say so? No, thank you. But this I trust.

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