Newly acquired satellite images suggest that the United States, Russia, and China have all increased activity at nuclear test sites in the past few months, suggesting the countries are preparing for expanded testing.
The images, acquired by NBC News and analyzed by space experts, show construction fencing put up, new roads, buildings, and other infrastructure at nuclear test sites inside both countries.
The images were taken outside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, Russia’s Semipalatinsk test site, and China’s Lop Nur, which have all historically been used for nuclear testing.
In the United States, the increased activity around the Yucca Mountain test site includes the construction of new buildings and what appears to be a new road, as well as the deployment of heavier security, according to the images. In Russia, the photos show new fencing and a raised observation point. In China, the images indicate new equipment and personnel outside the Lop Nur test site.
Analysts say the activity at the sites could be an indication that more nuclear testing could be on the horizon. Nuclear testing is a dangerous practice, as it can release hazardous radiation and cause long-term environmental damage. Increasing activity at these test sites could be a sign of an imminent threat for a possible nuclear arms race.
The United States has indicated it is open to nuclear testing discussions with both Russia and China, but the countries have yet to agree on a framework. It is unclear if these increased activities are a sign that the negotiations are progressing, or a manifestation of the growing tension between major world powers.
Experts warn that, without an agreement, further nuclear test site activity could lead to an arms race between the three powers and potentially devastating consequences.