Satellite images suggest we might be inching towards World War Three as Russia, China and the US all appear to be expanding nuclear test sites.
Experts fear the developments could mean the world's superpowers are planning to test nuclear weapons for the first time since 1996, when the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty banned underground nuclear testing.
Pictures obtained by CNN show an increase in construction and tunnel-digging activities in recent years at nuclear bases controlled by all three countries. All this work is being done while tensions continue to escalate between the nuclear powerhouses.
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One of the sites is operated by China in the far-western region of Xinjiang. Another is managed by Russia in an Arctic Ocean archipelago and the third is located in the Nevada desert.
According to Jeffrey Lewis, an adjunct professor at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, satellite images spanning the past three to five years showcase the emergence of new tunnels beneath mountains, the construction of fresh roads and storage facilities, and an increase in traffic entering and exiting these sites.
Despite there being no evidence to suggest immediate test preparations are underway, Lewis told CNN: "There are really a lot of hints that we're seeing that suggest Russia, China, and the United States might resume nuclear testing.
“It’s very clear that all three countries, Russia, China and the United States have invested a great deal of time, effort and money in not only modernising their nuclear arsenals, but also in preparing the types of activities that would be required for a test.”
Notably, while China and the US are signatories to the 1996 treaty that banned underground nuclear testing, neither have ratified it. Moreover, although Moscow has ratified the treaty, in February Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a willingness to order a nuclear test if the US took the first step, emphasising that "no one should have dangerous illusions that global strategic parity can be destroyed".
Lewis added: "The threat from nuclear testing is from the degree to which it accelerates the growing arms race between the United States on one hand, and Russia and China on the other. The consequences of that are that we spend vast sums of money, even though we don't get any safer."
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