A tectonic weapon is a hypothetical device or system which could create earthquakes, volcanoes, or other seismic events in specified locations by interfering with the Earth's natural geological processes. It was defined in 1992 by Aleksey Vsevolovidich Nikolayev, corresponding member Russian Academy of Sciences: "A tectonic or seismic weapon would be the use of the accumulated tectonic energy of the Earth's deeper layers to induce a destructive earthquake". He added "to set oneself the objective of inducing an earthquake is extremely doubtful".
Theoretically, the tectonic weapon functions by creating a powerful charge of elastic energy in the form of deformed volume of the Earth's crust in a region of tectonic activity. This then becomes an earthquake once triggered by a nuclear explosion in the epicenter or a vast electric pulse. As to the question of whether a nuclear explosion can trigger an earthquake, there was the analysis of local seismic recordings within a couple of miles of nuclear tests in the 1960s at Nevada that showed nuclear explosions caused some tectonic stress. An account provided by a member of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, also claimed that a 1968 underground nuclear test called Faultless successfully induced an earthquake. The United States Geological Survey stated that it produced fresh fault rupture some 1200 meters long. There is also a theory that 1998 earthquake in Afghanistan was triggered by thermonuclear tests conducted in Indian and Pakistani test sites 2-20 days prior.
Roger Clark, lecturer in geophysics at Leeds University said in the respected journal Nature in 1996, responding to a newspaper report that there had been two secret Soviet programs, "Mercury" and "Volcano", aimed at developing a "tectonic weapon" that could set off earthquakes from great distance by manipulating electromagnetism, said "We don't think it is impossible, or wrong, but past experience suggests it is very unlikely". According to Nature these programs had been "unofficially known to Western geophysicists for several years". According to the story the Mercury program began in 1987, three tests were conducted in Kyrgyzstan, and Volcano's last test occurred in 1992.
Such weapons, whether or not they exist or are feasible, are a source of concern in official circles. For example, US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, said on 28 April 1997 at the Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy, University of Georgia, while discussing the dangers of false threats, "Others are engaging even in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves."
Nikola Tesla claimed a small steam-powered mechanical oscillator he was experimenting with in 1898 produced earthquake-like effects, but this has never been replicated. The television show MythBusters in Episode 60 .E2.80.93 made a small machine based on the same principle but powered by electricity rather than steam; it produced vibrations in a large structure detectable 100 feet away, but no significant shaking, and they judged the effect to be a busted myth.
The 1978 Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques is an international treaty ratified by 75 states, and signed by a further 17, that prohibits use of environmental modification techniques to cause earthquakes and tsunamis, amongst other phenomena.
After natural tectonic phenomena such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, conspiracy theories, usually relating to the armed forces of the United States and formerly the Soviet Union, often arise, though no evidence is advanced. After the Haiti earthquake it was widely reported that president Hugo Chávez of Venezuela made unsupported allegations that it had been caused by testing of a US tectonic weapon. The newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda of Moscow reported on page 1 on 30 May 1992 that "a geophysical or tectonic weapon was actually developed in the USSR despite the UN Convention", but that Chief Seismologist Major-General V Bochrov of the USSR Ministry of Defence categorically rejected any hints on the existence of tectonic weapons.
While the British Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs of World War II were called earthquake bombs, the name came from their way of destroying very hardened targets by shaking their foundations as an earthquake would; they were never intended to cause an actual earthquake.
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- R Clark, Nature, 10 October 1996, quoted in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Jan 1997, In Brief section
- Federation of American Scientists: Address by US Secretary of State at 1997 conference on terrorism
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- US State Department: Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques
- LiveScience: Chavez: US 'Tectonic Weapon' Caused Haiti Quake, 29 January 2010
- Komsomolskaya Pravda, 30 May 1992, p1, translated in JPRS Report on Science and Technology, 10 June 1992