UN Office Geneva marks tenth anniversary of PTS

UN Office Geneva marks tenth anniversary of PTS

Marking the 10th anniversary of its Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS), the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is showing its exhibition "Verifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban" at the United Nations Office at Geneva. The exhibition was opened on 20 March 2007 by Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Mr. Tibor Tóth, Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission.

Ten years ago, the CTBTO started building a sophisticated global alarm system designed to monitor the earth for nuclear explosions. The exhibition takes stock of these efforts and depicts the elements of the verification regime designed by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Set up just outside the Council Chamber, the exhibition returns the issue of a worldwide nuclear test ban to the place where the CTBT was negotiated between 1994 and 1996. It was adopted on 10 September 1996 by the United Nations General Assembly.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze underscored the importance of the CTBT for international peace and security. He referred to the General Assembly Resolution of December 2006 on the CTBT which stressed that the Treaty constitutes a fundamental instrument in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Mr. Tóth described the CTBT global monitoring system as the most ambitious and most complex multilateral verification regime ever built. Once fully established it will comprise 321 monitoring stations in 93 countries. This unique system spans the entire globe and is present on all continents. This grand design was developed to detect signals of potential nuclear tests. Currently, about 75% of this global alarm system is in place, in 2008 it will reach the 90% mark.

The system was described as a truly participatory system in which all States that have signed the Treaty are entitled to monitoring data and their analysis, the so-called data products. Over 800 institutions in 94 countries currently benefit from this arrangement.

This instrument was put to a real-life test on 9 October 2006 by the event in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Although the International Monitoring System (IMS) is not fully established yet and running only in test-mode, the system proved that it was able to detect and analyze such an event. Procedures were performed in accordance with Treaty-prescribed timelines and States Signatories received timely, reliable and high quality data.

On 19 March 2007, the Geneva Forum hosted a seminar on the CTBT verification regime and its achievements in the light of the DPRK event. At the seminar, Mr. Tóth detailed the detection and attribution capabilities of the global alarm system using the event of 9 October 2006 in the DPRK.

Signals from the event had been detected by 22 seismic stations, some of them located as far as Bolivia. In addition, findings at an experimental radioactive noble gas station in Canada appeared to be consistent with the hypothesized release of noble gases from the DPRK event. The successful detection of the DPRK event was a good indication of the muscle of the Treaty's monitoring system, Mr. Tóth said.

Dr. Patricia Lewis, Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, UNIDIR, looked at the many challenges the Treaty was facing in its short history of ten years. Despite a few major blows, the Treaty had succeeded in creating a norm against nuclear testing and in establishing a major barrier for nuclear weapons development.

With the Treaty still not in force, Dr. Lewis called for creative solutions to promote the Treaty. She suggested that ratifying States consider a provisional entry into force of the Treaty. This step would help enacting on-site inspections as the final verification measure under the CTBT.

Ambassador Sha Zukang, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, participated in the negotiations on the CTBT and provided his insight in the history of the Treaty. He called the CTBT the masterpiece of the golden age of disarmament in the 1990s. The Treaty was a major milestone towards fulfilling mankind's wish to achieve the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons.

China is one of the two nuclear weapons states that have not yet ratified the CTBT. Ambassador Sha confirmed at the seminar that the Chinese Government was undertaking active steps towards an early completion of the ratification process. With the IMS fully established, twelve monitoring stations representing all four technologies will be located on Chinese territory. Five of these stations will become operational during this year.