By Jamshed Baruah
While UN member states are negotiating at the United Nations headquarters in New York a legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons, experts from around the world will be gathering in Vienna from June 26 to 30 to review monitoring and verification technologies crucial to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT),
The forthcoming gathering – officially known as ‘The CTBT: Science and Technology 2017 Conference (SnT2017)’ – is the sixth in a series of multidisciplinary conferences designed to “further enhance the strong relationship between the scientific and technological community and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization (CTBTO) as well as with policy-makers.”
CTBTO’s Science and Technology Conferences provide a forum for scientists from around the world to exchange knowledge and share advances in monitoring and verification technologies of relevance to the CTBT. Such interaction helps ensure that the Treaty’s global verification regime remains at the forefront of scientific and technical innovation.
According to the CTBTO, a verification regime to monitor the globe for nuclear explosions is nearing completion with around 90% of the 337 planned International Monitoring System (IMS) facilities already in operation. The system, says the CTBTO, has proved its capabilities to detect even small nuclear tests during the announced nuclear tests by North Korea in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016.
In addition to nuclear test monitoring, scientists use CTBTO data in a wide range of applications, from observing volcanoes and icebergs, to studying marine mammals and improving disaster mitigation strategies, and much more.
What distinguishes the 2017 Conference from previous such gatherings is its special focus on youth and young scientists, with active participation of members of the CTBTO Youth Group .
The importance of the SnT2017 taking place parallel to the UN Conference on prohibiting nuclear weapons also lies in the fact that the CTBT bans all nuclear explosions, thus hampering both the initial development of nuclear weapons as well as significant enhancements. The Treaty also helps prevent harmful radioactive releases from nuclear testing.
But the Treaty has yet to enter into force. So far it has been signed by 183 States and ratified by 166. However its demanding entry-into-force provision requires 44 particular “nuclear technology holder” States to ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force.
Eight of them have yet to ratify: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States have already signed the Treaty).
A special event during the SnT2017 will be the Interactive Globe, which will enable visitors to experience the IMS “at work” with the interactive 3-D visualization of how the four technologies – seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide – interact to detect nuclear tests, as well as a range of other phenomena and events, from tsunamis and meteors, to tracking radioactivity after the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011.
According to a CTBTO media release, the eleventh and final hydroacoustic station in the IMS was certified on June 19, 2017, completing the hydroacoustic part of the network which monitors the globe 24/7 for signs of nuclear explosions under the CTBT.
One of the CTBTO’s longest running and most complicated engineering endeavours, hydroacoustic station HA04 was installed in Crozet Islands (France) in December 2016 after nearly 20 years of overcoming a number of challenges and hurdles.
Commenting the certification, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said: “This is a momentous occasion not only for the CTBTO, but for the international community. The completion of the hydroacoustic portion of the IMS brings us one step closer to achieving full and increasingly sensitive coverage of the globe, and thus closer to making the planet safer and more secure from nuclear testing.”
HA04 is one of eleven hydroacoustic stations monitoring the oceans for signs of nuclear explosions. Low frequency underwater sound, which can be produced by a nuclear test, propagates very efficiently through water. Consequently these underwater sounds can be detected at great distances, sometimes thousands of kilometres, from their source.
“This means that the IMS requires only a few hydroacoustic stations to provide effective monitoring of all the world’s oceans for signs of nuclear explosions,” adds the CTBTO.