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Conference Pleads for Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Becoming Law

By Ramesh Jaura

NEW YORK | VIENNA (IDN) – At a crucial point in time when the United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination has submitted a draft treaty and the international community is focussed on the North Korean ICBM threat, an international conference has underlined the need for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) becoming law without any further dithering.

Experts from around the world, joined by young professionals, attended the Science and Technology Conference of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) from June 26 to June 30, 2017 in Austria's capital Vienna. [P 07]  JAPANESE TEXT VERSON PDF

The call for early entry into force of the CTBT twenty-one years after it was opened for signature was based in the fact that the Treaty has been signed by 183 countries and ratified by 166, including three of the nuclear weapon States: France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

However, 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries – also known as Annex 2 states – are blocking its becoming international law. They must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.

Addressing the first Preparatory Committee Session for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 2020 Review Conference in May 2-12 in Vienna, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr Lassina Zerbo emphasised that the status quo is not secure enough in an unstable geopolitical climate.

"This was a key point on which NPT States Parties were in agreement," he said in his opening remarks to the CTBTO Science and Technology Conference on June 27. "However, I also made clear that simply voicing agreement is not enough. To bring the CTBT into force we must insist on action over words."

So it is encouraging, he added, that scientists from all of the remaining Annex 2 States, with one notable exception, are participating in this conference and working together to refine the CTBT verification regime. "I earnestly hope that through scientific advancement and collaboration we can inspire diplomatic action."

The CTBTO further stressed: "We must focus on advancing our common objectives in science and technology to increase trust and mutual understanding. Scientific collaboration is essential to achieving a world free from the nuclear threat. It is also vital for making progress on other global challenges, such as disaster risk reduction and mitigation, climate change, and sustainable development."

A notable view emerging from the conference is that the United States and China hold the key to resolving the impasse. Once the U.S. succeeds in persuading Israel to follow suit, Egypt would feel secure, Experts, who do not want to be named, expect the U.S. to influence Pakistan, which in turn would encourage India to sign and ratify.

Another group of experts believes that direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea, which the country insists on, would lift barriers to an amicable settlement leading to the entry into force of the CTBT within a foreseeable period of time.

While it remains to be seen how far such views would find their way into realpolitik, the importance of the CTBTO conference is evidenced by the fact that it attracted more than a thousand registered participants from over 120 countries, with 650 submitting abstracts, and 100 giving oral presentations. Besides, nearly 400 posters gave an insight into multiple scientific aspects of the CTBT. This made the gathering the largest of its kind to date.

Taking advantage of the presence of scientists and leaders of numerous countries, participants engaged in a lively exchange of knowledge and ideas across scientific disciplines. Such interaction helped ensure that the Treaty’s global verification regime remains at the forefront of scientific and technical innovation.

The conference participants could convince themselves through scientific demonstrations and posters that the CTBT has a unique and comprehensive verification regime to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. This regime consists of three pillars:

Around 92 percent of the facilities of the International Monitoring System (IMS) are already up and running. When complete, it will consist of 337 facilities worldwide to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. The IMS uses the following four state-of-the-art technologies (numbers reflect final configuration):

Seismic: 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic stations monitor shockwaves in the Earth. The vast majority of these shockwaves – many thousands every year – are caused by earthquakes. But man-made explosions such as mine explosions or the announced North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016 are also detected.

Hydroacoustic: The eleventh and final hydroacoustic station 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. 11 hydroacoustic stations “listen” for sound waves in the oceans. Sound waves from explosions can travel extremely far underwater.

Infrasound60 stations on the surface are detecting ultra-low frequency sound waves (inaudible to the human ear) that are emitted by large explosions. Executive Secretary Dr Zerbo visited Ecuador from June 15-19, 2017 for the inauguration of infrasound station IS20 on the Galápagos Islands, as the 51st (out of 60) infrasound station in the International Monitoring System. The installation of IS20 completes Ecuador’s portion of the network and increases coverage particularly in the Pacific.

Radionuclide: 80 stations measure the atmosphere for radioactive particles; 40 of them also pick up noble gas. Only these measurements can give a clear indication as to whether an explosion detected by the other methods was actually nuclear or not. They are supported by 16 radionuclide laboratories.

On-site inspections are dispatched to the area of a suspicious nuclear explosion if the data from the IMS indicate that a nuclear test has taken place there. Inspectors will collect evidence on the ground at the suspected site. Such an inspection can only be requested and approved by Member States once the CTBT has entered into force. Large on-site inspection exercises were carried out in 2008 in Kazakhstan and in 2014 in Jordan.

The huge amount of data collected by the stations can also be used for other purposes than detecting nuclear explosions. They can provide tsunami warning centres with almost real-time information about an underwater earthquake, thus helping to warn people earlier and possibly saving lives.

During the March 2011 Fukushima power plant accident, the network's radionuclide stations tracked the dispersion of radioactivity on a global scale. The data could also help us better understand the oceans, volcanoes, climate change, the movement of whales, and many other issues.

Besides, the International Data Centre at the CTBTO's headquarters in Vienna receives gigabytes of data from the global monitoring stations. The data are processed and distributed to the CTBTO's Member States in both raw and analyzed form.

When North Korea tested in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016 the Member States received information about the location, magnitude, time and depth of the tests within two hours - and before the actual test had been announced by North Korea. [IDN-InDepthNews – 5 July 2017]

Read also: Youth Determined to Push Through UN Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Photo: Conference view | Credit: CTBTO.

This is the second in a series of two reports on the Science and Technology Conference of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) from June 26 to June 30, 2017 in Austria's capital Vienna. The first article appeared on July 4. – The Editor

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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