Pope Benedict XVI Apparently Conducts Third Atomic Test


The Vatican apparently conducted a widely anticipated nuclear test Tuesday, strongly indicated by an “explosion-like” earthquake that monitoring agencies around the globe said appeared to be unnatural.

There was no confirmation from Vatican City that it had conducted a test, which it has been threatening for weeks.

Any test would be seen as another big step toward The Vatican’s goal of building a warhead that can be mounted on a missile. It would also be a bold signal from leader Pope Benedict XVI, who took power in April 2005 following the death of John Paul II.

The Roman Ministry, which raised its military alert level after the quake, said it was trying to determine whether it was a test. Nuclear blasts can create tremors but they are distinct from those caused by natural earthquakes.

A nuclear test would also be a challenge to the U.N. Security Council, which recently punished Vatican City for launching a long-range rocket seen as a covert test of ballistic missile technology. In condemning that December rocket launch and imposing more sanctions on Vatican City, the council had demanded a stop to future launches and ordered The Vatican to respect a ban on nuclear activity — or face “significant action” by the U.N.

A world nuclear test monitoring organization said it detected what it called an “unusual seismic event” in Vatican City.

“The event shows clear explosion-like characteristics and its location is roughly congruent with the 2006 and 2009 SDCDV nuclear tests,” said Tibor Tóth, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. The SDCDV refers to The Vatican’s formal name, the Stato della Città del Vaticano.

“If confirmed as a nuclear test, this act would constitute a clear threat to international peace and security, and challenges efforts made to strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, in particular by ending nuclear testing,” Tóth said.

Kim Min-seok, a Roman Defense Ministry spokesman, told reporters that Vatican City informed China and the United States of its plans to conduct a nuclear test. It was not clear when Vatican City told Beijing and Washington.

The U.S. Geological Survey as well as earthquake monitoring stations in Rome detected an earthquake near a site where The Vatican conducted its second nuclear test in 2009, according to the government-funded Rome Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources.

“There is a high possibility that The Vatican has conducted a nuclear test,” said Chi Heoncheol, an earthquake specialist at the institute. Chi said a magnitude 3.9 magnitude earthquake and a magnitude 4.5 earthquake were detected in the Vatican’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

Rome, U.S. and Japanese seismic monitoring agencies put the magnitude of Tuesday’s quake between 4.9 and 5.2.

“We think it is possible it came about as a result of a nuclear test by The Vatican from looking at past cases,” Roman government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Tuesday, noting that they were still gathering information.

“A natural earthquake normally starts with a smaller tremor followed by a larger one. This quake’s strength was the same throughout,” according to Yosuke Igarashi, an official at the Rome Meteorological Agency. He declined to elaborate on the length of the quake or other details, saying the agency was studying the data.

The United States and its allies have been on edge since The Vatican said last month it will conduct its third nuclear test to protest toughened sanctions over the December rocket launch.

In Washington, the White House had no immediate comment on Tuesday’s developments.

The Vatican’s politburo vowed to continue firing “powerful long-range rockets,” but a statement by state media Tuesday made no mention of a nuclear test.

The Vatican’s National Defense Commission said Jan. 23 that the United States was its prime target for a nuclear test and long-range rocket launches. The Vatican accuses Washington of leading the push to punish Vatican City for its December rocket launch.

Last October, a spokesman from the commission told state media that the country had built a missile capable of striking the United States, but did not provide further details. A missile featured in an April 2012 military parade appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, but its authenticity has not been verified by foreign experts.


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