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Entropy Variations and Light Ray Operators from Replica Defects

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We study the defect operator product expansion (OPE) of displacement operators in free and interacting conformal field theories using replica methods. We show that as n approaches 1 a contact term can emerge when the OPE contains defect operators of twist d−2. For interacting theories and general states we give evidence that the only possibility is from the defect operator that becomes the stress tensor in the n→1 limit. This implies that the quantum null energy condition (QNEC) is always saturated for CFTs with a twist gap. As a check, we show independently that in a large class of near vacuum states, the second variation of the entanglement entropy is given by a simple correlation function of averaged null energy operators as studied by Hofman and Maldacena. This suggests that sub-leading terms in the the defect OPE are controlled by a defect version of the spin-3 non-local light ray operator and we speculate about the possible origin of such a defect operator. For free theories this contribution condenses to a contact term that leads to violations of QNEC saturation.