Verifying the CTBT -
an unprecedented technical undertaking
“The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT] is widely recognized as a milestone, in promoting nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. But above and beyond that central mission, and even before entering into force, the CTBT is saving lives.” In his video address to participants attending the Science and Technology 2011 (S&T2011) Conference in Vienna, UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon explained how the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) “quickly sent monitoring data to Japan and other Pacific communities and shared valuable information with the International Atomic Energy Agency” after the tragic March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The UNSG also commended efforts by the CTBTO “to advance the science and technology that underpin the global ban on nuclear testing.”
Even before entering into force, the CTBT is saving lives.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Remaining at the forefront of verification technologies
Highlighting the necessity of a permanent and fruitful exchange with the scientific community to allow the CTBTO to remain at the forefront of the technologies of relevance for verification, the Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Austria, Michael Spindelegger, reiterated Austria’s commitment to ensuring the Treaty’s entry into force, which he described as “long overdue and necessary.” Spindelegger also referred to some of the potential benefits of CTBT data, saying: “The Fukushima accident gave yet another glimpse of the enormous potential that this system provides much beyond the original intended use of nuclear test monitoring.”
The Fukushima accident gave yet another glimpse of the
enormous potential that this system provides much beyond
the original intended use of nuclear test monitoring.
Vice Chancellor of Austria, Michael Spindelegger
A scientific pilgrimage to Vienna
Around 750 scientists, diplomats, representatives of civil society and the media congregated at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna from 8 to 10 June. Representing 105 countries, participants discussed advances in science and technology relevant to test ban verification and explored scientific applications of the CTBT verification infrastructure. The conference also offered a unique opportunity to build partnerships and encourage knowledge exchange between the CTBTO and the broader scientific community. Scientists travelled from all over the globe to share their ideas – from countries as diverse as Australia, Bangladesh, Finland, India, Iran, Japan, Namibia, Panama, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Uganda, the United States of America and Vietnam.
During the opening ceremony, the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Tibor Tóth expressed his gratitude to all those involved in building up the verification regime. He also described himself as “personally humbled by the dedication of so many scientists so enthusiastically reacting to a renewed call to scientific arms.”
Consolidating ties with the scientific community
The S&T2011 Project Executive Lassina Zerbo informed participants that ties between the scientific community and the CTBTO have been progressively strengthened over recent years. Such ties have been made possible through the 2006 Symposium on Synergies with Science, the 2009 International Scientific Studies (ISS) conference, and several ongoing projects. Zerbo said: “It is essential that the verification effort be enhanced through the adaptation and implementation of new ideas and through the paced adoption of novel technologies.”
Keynote addresses by two outstanding scientists
Keynote speakers included Dr Richard L. Garwin, one of the most widely respected scientific advisers to the United States government on a range of issues including the safety of nuclear weapons and arms control, and Dr David Strangway, geophysicist and former chief of NASA's Geophysics Branch. Professor of Earth and Planetary Science Raymond Jeanloz moderated their discussion.
Garwin’s lecture on the scientific roots and prospects for the CTBTO set the scene for conference discussions. Asked whether nuclear weapons can be tested in a laboratory using simulation and if so, whether the CTBT would still be relevant, Garwin replied: “Historically, most nuclear weapons have worked when tested. Now we have much more capable simulation. Anybody can in principle design nuclear weapons. But this doesn’t mean that they will work. A president, a general or an admiral is not going to accept a fleet of nuclear weapons that have never been tested.” As one of the authors of the 2002 National Academy of Sciences report on Technical Issues related to the CTBT, Garwin also stated that "the CTBT is effectively verifiable.”
As one of the authors of the 2002 National Academy of Sciences
report on Technical Issues related to the CTBT , Garwin also
stated that ‘the CTBT is effectively verifiable.”
Richard Garwin, scientific adviser to the U.S. government
In his keynote address, Strangway expounded on the remarkable interactions between basic science, applied science and innovation. He referred to the CTBTO as “an organization that has not only done remarkable work on the issue of nuclear detection, but through global monitoring has made major contributions to our understanding of Earth System Science.” Outlining a number of geophysical techniques currently in use that could be adapted to search for nuclear explosion sites, Strangway emphasized the importance of innovation, which “knows no discipline boundaries and can come from unexpected and unpredicted directions. Sometimes it is driven by basic research, but just as often it is driven by specific needs to solve problems.”
Innovation knows no discipline boundaries and can come from
unexpected and unpredicted directions. Sometimes it is driven
by basic research, but just as often it is driven by specific
needs to solve problems.
David Strangway, former chief of the Geophysics Branch at NASA
A multitude of submissions covering five main themes
Around 300 scientific submissions and posters were presented during the three-day conference on five main themes (see book of abstracts).
Theme 1: The Earth as a complex system
Increasing the effectiveness of the CTBT verification regime is largely dependent on advances in studies of the Earth system. A more thorough understanding of this system may contribute to an increased ability to detect signals by the various monitoring technologies, and to improved disaster mitigation and knowledge enhancement.
The subjects presented at the conference covered all four technologies with infrasound receiving special attention. In the words of Professor Paul Richards from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, this theme focused to a large extent on “the renaissance in our understanding of the atmosphere enabled by the infrasound network.” Presentations included the following: ways in which infrasound technology has been used for explosion monitoring, atmospheric studies and climate research; the use of acoustic data to monitor explosive volcanic eruptions; and anomalous infrasound propagation through the dynamic stratosphere.
I was struck again and again by the renaissance in our
understanding of the atmosphere enabled by the
Paul Richards, Professor at Columbia University
Studies on seismology and geophysics constituted the majority of all oral and poster presentations in this group. They included presentations on hazard assessments for large construction projects based on seismic data in Bangladesh, South Africa and Zambia; an attempt to predict the distribution of earthquake aftershocks by using neural networks (artificial networks of neurons that help deal with large incoming data volumes); studies of seismicity in Mongolia; and the examination of distant seismic data to establish the thickness of the Earth’s crust in northern Vietnam.
Submissions to Theme 1 also provided a new insight into how the occurrence of exceptional events, such as the 2004 Sumatra earthquake, occasionally gives rise to the recording of physical phenomena by instruments not designed for that purpose. For example, a seismometer may record a tsunami: seismic recordings of the 2004 Sumatra tsunami were made on an iceberg.
Theme 2: Understanding the nuclear explosion source
Under the second theme, scientists were invited to present studies on the discrimination between natural and manmade events during data analysis, on the improvement of on-site inspection methodology, and on observational techniques not covered under the Treaty.
A considerable amount of research is being conducted on the use of discriminants and obtaining a physical insight into why they work. In nuclear explosion monitoring, a discriminant is a number derived from observed data whose value can be used to distinguish between natural and manmade events such as between an earthquake and a nuclear explosion.
A number of posters and presentations reported on understanding the radionuclide source term – the release level of radioactive substances -for an underground nuclear explosion and new technologies for CTBT radionuclide measurements and analysis.
Meetings like S&T2011 provide a great opportunity for staying
engaged with scientists in related fields outside of the CTBTO.
Jay Zucca, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA
Radioxenon and other noble gas signatures and measurements were also popular topics of debate. Contributions covered the radioxenon background originating from facilities producing medical isotopes and the importance of understanding release times of radionuclides after an explosion.
New methods for some measurements are being proposed for further investigation by the CTBTO radionuclide network. For example, the use of tritium, an element with a long half-life which is generated by a nuclear explosion and can be traced decades later. An advanced argon measurement technology was also proposed as it could provide evidence of an underground nuclear explosion months after the detonation.
Several studies gave insights into new developments of on-site inspection technologies such as geophysical or radiation measurement methods. Finally, some poster presentation provided new analyses of the two North Korean nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 based on the examination of seismic data, reconfirming the explosion-like characteristics of the events.
Theme 3: Advances in sensors, networks and observational technologies
This theme called on scientists to present studies on the improvement of sensors and networks to enhance their reliability, robustness and sensitivity; on the improvement of data quality and reduction of background noise which can interfere with the identification of an event; and on new network layouts and sensor distribution. Together with Theme 1, Theme 3 elicited the highest number of contributions.
I’m doing a PhD that looks at the vibrations from wind turbines
and how they affect the IMS auxiliary seismic station at
Eskdalemuir in Scotland. We’ve had a lot of interest from people
looking at our poster today, so it’s going very well.
Rachel Westwood, PhD student at Keele University, UK
A number of new ocean observatories, seismic networks and infrasound sensors are being deployed that are of great interest to science. Submissions also revealed that new sensor developments can enhance performance. These developments include an optical seismometer, which provides a new technology for seismographic observations; the new Optical Fiber Infrasound Sensor for improved wind noise reduction; and a shallow underground laboratory with a low-background detector system to measure radionuclide particulates constructed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the United States. Studies also focused on improved regional seismic networks for instance in the South Pacific, and on optimized designs for the noble gas monitoring network.
I’m working on atmospheric observation using GPS. Nuclear
weapons tests are important and everyone is interested. So my
field of study connects those two topics and that’s generating
Jihye Park, PhD student, Ohio State University, USA
Theme 4: Advances in computing, processing and visualization for verification applications
This section generally dealt with new proposals on how to manage the deluge of research data for modern science, and the need to process and store the data. Many of the posters were by the CTBTO staff or by National Data Centres and reported on computer system architecture and design, signal processing and association, and data storage.
This meeting for me is one of the best, if not the best, that I’ve
ever attended. I had at least eight requests from people to send
them copies of my poster. I had arguments in front of my poster
with people disagreeing with me, asking lots of questions. I think
it’s a great way to promote science and scientific discussion.Matthew Yedlin, University of British Columbia
Submissions ranged from state-of-the art machine learning technologies and methodologies, to the problem of detecting, identifying and associating signals from the different waveform technologies. Scientists reported on methods to improve signal detection based on new algorithms being applied to the different waveform data. Studies have also been carried out on the impact of changing temperature in higher levels of the atmosphere on the detectability of infrasound signals; on a system for the automatic detection of seismic waves despite high noise conditions; and on the introduction of noble gas data into IDC operations.
Theme 5: Creating knowledge through partnerships, training and information/communication technology
This theme began with an overview of transnational cooperation and how that cooperation is being used effectively in countries around the world to explain a number of issues related to the CTBT verification regime. For example, topics covered by Theme 5 can promote understanding at the national level about an IMS station on a country’s territory in terms of what it is measuring and the data being transmitted via satellite to Vienna. This cooperation can also therefore be seen as a confidence-building measure.
Contributions included educational outreach activities aimed at increasing the interest of high school students in science, such as seismology; Ghana’s experience in establishing its National Data Centre (NDC); the raising of awareness among education, policy and science actors to stimulate national research capacities in Uganda; and the forging of broader partnerships to support the CTBT implementation process in Panama. NDC representatives from Austria and Tunisia gave an example of knowledge exchange and cooperation between NDCs. The Austrian NDC had trained Tunisian NDC staff on Atmospheric Transport Modelling (ATM) techniques and the role of ATM in the data analysis process. Another example of international partnerships in scientific experiments was the CTBTO infrasound calibration experiment in the Eastern Mediterranean, which provided an opportunity for infrasound capacity building.
Special focus on recent events in Japan
In light of tragic events in Japan, many posters and presentations concentrated on different aspects of the Tohuku earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear accident at Fukushima. These included a presentation by Tatsuhiko Hara on the special techniques used to determine the magnitude of the Tohuku earthquake, which was awarded the best presentation award.
The infrasound observations from the 2004 Sumatra and 2011 Tohoku tsunamis were compared to find ways of identifying an event as early as possible. The French National Data Centre described how it had relied on IMS data to assess the severity of the damage to Fukushima’s reactor cores and to estimate the potential radiological impact on human health.
The French National Data Centre described how it had relied on
IMS data to assess the severity of the damage to Fukushima’s
reactor cores and to estimate the potential radiological impact
on human health.
Health Canada provided an overview of the multi-departmental Canadian response. Data from the IMS network helped provide official advice to Canadians in Japan as well as helping with initial assessments of release levels – the so-called source term – and the establishment of evacuation zones. Elevated levels of the noble gas xenon-133 were detected by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) at its facility in Richland, Washington, some 7,000 km away from Fukushima , providing early evidence of a nuclear accident. This is because noble gases do not interact chemically with the environment and can be released very easily from reactors or nuclear explosions. IMS measurements of xenon-133 were described as being ‘the highest fidelity measurements ever made after any kind of nuclear accident and far superior to what was available post-Chernobyl.” PNNL calculated that the amount of xenon released from Fukushima was approximately two to three times larger than what was emitted by the accident at Chernobyl.
IMS measurements of xenon-133 were “the highest fidelity
measurements ever made after any kind of nuclear accident and
far superior to what was available post-Chernobyl.”
Ted Bowyer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
CTBTO radionuclide data very useful for Fukushima emergency situation
The Austrian Meteorological and Geophysical Service (ZAMG) described the importance of CTBTO radionuclide data, which helped ZAMG provide information and assessments of the radiological situation to Austrian national authorities. The data also helped ZAMG to apply atmospheric transport models to calculate the projected path of the radionuclides. Based on CTBTO measurements from its radionuclide stations at Takasaki, Japan, and Sacramento, California, ZAMG was able to estimate the release levels of the radionuclides iodine-131 and caesium-137. The emissions of both radioncludes were very high for a few days after the accident at Fukushima.
CTBTO radionuclide specialist Mika Nikkinen said that the CTBTO was and still is involved in a worldwide response to Fukushima events. Nikkinen informed participants that the first briefing to Member States took place on 15 March when the first traces of radionuclides had already been detected by the IMS and shared with Member States and scientific institutions. A series of technical cooperation meetings were subsequently arranged with the CTBTO, the IAEA, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the World Health Organization and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs. The CTBTO has also been participating in meetings organized by the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies (IACRNE).
The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
A special panel discussion on the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident considered some of the issues that have been raised since then, such as greater sharing of data and expertise so that there would be a faster response if such an event were to occur again.
The session was moderated by BBC Newsnight science journalist Susan Watts, who announced that the focus would be on some of the benefits that could be drawn from this experience for the future. Panelists included Denis Flory, Deputy Director General at the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security at the IAEA, Roland Schenkel, former Director-General of the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, Wolfgang Weiss, Head of the Department of Radiation Protection and Health in Germany, Harri Toivonen, Director of Laboratory at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland, and Matthias Auer, IMS Radionuclide Project Manager at the CTBTO.
Radionuclide data used to assess radiation risks
Weiss and Toivonen referred to the pressure from the media and concerned citizens in Germany and Finland regarding the amount of radiation emanating from Fukushima and how the authorities were responding to the situation. In Germany, the number of requests from the public increased from an average of 30,000 to 1.3 million a day. Weiss described Fukushima as a stress test for the CTBT verification regime. He praised the uniqueness of the IMS and the ‘first class, high level data’ provided by the CTBTO in real-time, which were used to assess health and environmental risks caused by radiation.
Wolfgang Weiss from the German radiation protection agency
praised the uniqueness of the IMS and the ‘first class, high
level data’ provided by the CTBTO in real-time, which were used
to assess health and environmental risks caused by radiation.
Flory stated that less than an hour after the earthquake occurred, an emergency centre was activated which operated round the clock. The IAEA sent four monitoring teams to Japan so that an assessment could be made of the safety of the power plant and the radiological consequences. Data from the CTBTO and IAEA Member States were also made available. Daily briefings were held from 14 to 23 March.
Schenkel, who spoke in his personal capacity, expressed his frustration at the length of time national authorities took to provide journalists with information. He was also dissatisfied with nuclear safety standards.
Over 400 samples collected from radionuclide stations
Auer said that since the CTBT monitoring system has been designed primarily to detect nuclear tests, the Fukushima accident pushed the system to its limits: A total of 37 stations detected releases from Fukushima and more than 400 samples with multiple radionuclide detections were collected and then analyzed by the IDC. All of the system’s different functions were tested and it ‘proved that it was very well suited to tracking the global dispersions of the radiation cloud.‘
Greater data sharing
Questions from the floor addressed the need to share the data with the wider public. The German policy had been to assess the information before making it available to the public, Weiss explained. While it is important to keep people informed in order to maintain their trust, he stressed that “you don't just throw numbers at the public” as they are not interested in scientific uncertainties.
Nuclear safety issues
Questions were also posed about the level of nuclear safety and whether safety guidelines should be mandatory, to which Flory replied that legally binding or politically binding declarations will help improve safety and confidence in safety standards. Could a mechanism be put in place to ensure that safety radiation standards were adhered to? Weiss responded that well prepared realistic exercises need to be carried out in the future.
Conclusions from a scientific perspective
During the Scientific Concluding Ceremony on 10 June, Professor Paul Richards observed that those who have always recognized the importance of the CTBT as a major arms control initiative to deter vertical nuclear proliferation have now been joined by an enormous new group of people in need of objective and high quality information on the events related to the Japan disasters. Richards explained that some of the usual rules about data access were suspended and the work carried out by the CTBTO is now appreciated by other international and national agencies as well as by scientists and the general public.
New acronyms to categorize posters and presentations
Richards had also invented various acronyms to categorize scientific posters and talks. These included OTM for ‘other types of monitoring’ such as monitoring volcanoes or using infrasound to monitor the circulation of the upper atmosphere. Another acronym Richards invented was MTL for ‘much to learn’- about isotopes used in modern medicine that are derived from the fission of highly enriched uranium, or about the synergies between data derived from different types of monitoring networks. There is also MTL about using cross correlation in several different ways with seismic data.
The CTBTO is doing a very good job at monitoring for nuclear explosions and the work continues to improve, concluded Richards. “In my opinion, it will get significantly better, especially if opportunities are taken to develop a good relationship with the vast community of potential users whose focus may be far from Treaty monitoring.”
It is essential that the verification effort be enhanced through
the adaptation and implementation of new ideas and through the
paced adoption of novel technologies.
Lassina Zerbo, S&T 2011 Project Executive
The CTBT: An unprecedented technical undertaking
Seismologist Jay Zucca from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California declared that “Innovation for me is the overall theme of this meeting. Scientific innovation is going to be key to keeping the monitoring system healthy into the future.”Zucca said that verifying the CTBT is an unprecedented technical undertaking for an international treaty. Meetings like S&T2011 provide a great opportunity for staying engaged with scientists in related fields outside of the CTBTO. Some of the most important advances in the future will probably come from this community so it is important to have a transparent mechanism to bring the best of these new technologies into the CTBT verification system, he stated.
Innovation for me is the overall theme of this meeting.
Scientific innovation is going to be key to keeping the
monitoring system healthy into the future.
Jay Zucca, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA
Promoting interaction with scientists through the vDEC
Zucca also informed participants about the virtual Data Exploitation Center (vDEC), which was one of the ideas proposed at the International Scientific Studies conference in 2009 and is now up and running at the IDC. The vDEC is an important tool for facilitating interaction between the CTBTO and the scientific community and allows researchers to access archived monitoring data and processing software.
Zucca also cited the CTBTO’s Technology Foresight exercise as an example of understanding the long-term technology trends for verification technologies. The exercise involves intelligence gathering and vision building aimed at preparing the CTBTO for developments in science and technology that will shape the next generation of verification systems. It aims to promote the participation of the wider science community in a solid assessment of the developments and issues that define today’s technology landscape.
Recognition of outstanding contributions
In recognition of some of the most outstanding contributions to the conference, prizes were awarded to:
Tatsuhiko Hara for the Best Oral Presentation on determining the magnitude of the Tohoku earthquake by measuring the emission of high frequency energy, a method which is also useful for tsunami warning.
Mohammad Walid for the Best Poster Presentation in which he discusses the advantages and challenges of the new data formats that are being created in science.
Lingsen Meng for the Best Young Scientist for two oral presentations. In one talk he presented a calculation of an actual rupture by combining traditional and new ways of measuring techniques. In his other presentation Meng offered a view into the complexity of the Tohoku earthquake by providing details of the rupture’s initiation, propagation and arrest.
Sarah Fallon from the UK Permanent Mission in Vienna for the Science for Diplomats Award.
This type of conference inspires me to serve the people and to
communicate with those who hold other views.
Lingsen Meng, winner of the Best Young Scientist award
Looking ahead to 2013
In his parting words, CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth described the huge amount of intellectual energy generated by the conference, the high-level keynote addresses that defined the conference, and the impressive collection of presentations and posters and animated discussions. Following on from the “inspirational drive and intellectual force assembled during S&T2011,” Tóth announced that there will be a new cycle of science and technology for 2013.
Following on from the inspirational drive and intellectual
force assembled during S&T2011, there will be a new
cycle of science and technology for 2013.
CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Toth
Delegations commend S&T2011
A number of delegations attending the 36th Session of the CTBTO Member States meeting from 14 to 15 June acknowledged the success of S&T2011. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Rose Gottemoeller, said during the meeting: “I would like to congratulate this organization for the Science and Technology Conference, held June 8-10 at the Hofburg in Vienna. I have heard both in Washington and here in Vienna how useful it was.”
I would like to congratulate this organization for the Science
and Technology Conference, held June 8-10 at the Hofburg in
Vienna. I have heard both in Washington and here in Vienna how
useful it was.
Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
The European Union also welcomed the conference, saying that it had “further contributed to the efficiency and efficacy of the CTBT verification capabilities, through mobilizing the scientific community in the support of the CTBT’s objectives.” A number of delegations including the Group of 77 and China thanked the CTBTO for its assistance to participants from developing countries to take part in the conference which “offered diverse sectors interested in the CTBT a forum and a possibility to interact, with ensuring benefits to the Treaty’s verification regime.”
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