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Advanced Science Course on the CTBT verification technologies

From 28 November to 9 December, over 60 participants including International Monitoring System (IMS) station operators, National Data Centre (NDC) staff, diplomats, academics, and members of civil society attended the Advanced Science Course on the verification technologies of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). An average of 70 followed the course online. In total, participants from more than 100 different countries followed the event. 

Click on the image to view on CTBTO's Facebook page a photoalbum from the Advanced Science Course.

The Advanced Science Course is a key element of the Capacity Development Initiative, which has been launched by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) with the objective of training and educating the next generation of CTBT experts. The two-week event was made possible through generous financial support from Austria and Norway.

Contentwise, the course started out with a basic insight into nuclear physics and nuclear weapons technologies. The four verification technologies (seismic, infrasound, hydroacoustic and radionuclide) used to detect nuclear explosions were explained in detail as well as their analysis to distinguish the specific signature of nuclear explosions from other signals. Ample time was dedicated to the technologies and procedures involved in an on-site inspection, the final CTBT verification measure that will become operational after the Treaty has entered into force. View here the agenda or view the opening lecture by CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth.

See the opening lecture by CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth.

Yesterday we trained dozens. Today we are training hundreds, and tomorrow we will move to a new order of magnitude.

The Advanced Science Course was bookended by a high-level opening session and a special panel on ’The Nexus between Science and Diplomacy’. In his opening remarks CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth put the course into perspective: “Yesterday we trained dozens. Today we are training hundreds, and tomorrow we will move to a new order of magnitude.” During the course, lecture videos were clicked over 2,000 times totalling more than 70,000 minutes of viewing time. As a special addition to the opening session, Austrian Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger delivered a video message calling for “a global science community that supports the Treaty for putting an end to nuclear testing for all time.”

The Advanced Science Course at a glance.

The presentations have been very beneficial and now I can say I am fully aware what are the main objectives, basic functions, and dreams and missions of CTBTO and that really helps me to do my part as a part of the international community.

Leading disarmament experts participated in the panel ‘The Nexus between Science and Diplomacy’, where they provided insights on the essential role of scientists in the non-proliferation and disarmament regime: Bharath Gopalaswamy, Associate Director of the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign; Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director of the Acronym Institute, and Andreas Persbo, Executive Director of the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), who said: “The CTBTO is an organization that is not content with the good. It seeks the best. The CTBT verification regime is constructed with care, with meticulous attention to detail; every component has its place in this highly structured universe. Together these technologies become one.” Read the full transcript of Persbo's remarks here.

Panel discussion on the Nexus Between Science and Diplomacy. Watch the video.

The best way to describe the verification regime is to paraphrase Steve Jobs: it is magical.

Indonesia ratifies the CTBT during the Course

The Indonesian parliament voted to ratify the CTBT on 6 December, during the second week of the Advanced Science Course. Participants had the opportunity to attend a high-level segment commemorating Indonesia’s ratification, which brings the CTBT a step closer to becoming global law. The event included statements from Indonesian Ambassador to Austria I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja and Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth transmitted live from Jakarta via Skype. Back in Vienna, representatives from Indonesia, Poland and the United States as well as the Article XIV co-coordinators Mexico and Sweden addressed the event.

The Indonesian Parliament voted to ratify the CTBT on 6 December 2011.

Advance Course Highlights

Throughout the two week course, participants took advantage of a number of opportunities to see the work of the CTBTO first hand. They travelled 16 floors up to the rooftop of the Vienna International Centre to visit the radionuclide test station and laboratory, which detects particles that constitute the 'smoking gun' of a nuclear explosion.

A visit to the radionuclide test station

Participants were also able to observe International Data Centre (IDC) staff as they analyzed radionuclide, noble gas, and atmospheric transport modelling (ATM) data. The IDC receives and processes around 10 gigabytes of data from monitoring stations around the globe, around the clock. Another highlight was the visit the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics at the Vienna University of Technology, where participants stood atop a small operational research reactor and peered down at its illuminating blue “Cherenkov” glow.

A look at data processing and analysis at the IDC

A role-play exercise was held to simulate aspects of an on-site inspection (OSI), the final verification measure to bring clarity to a purported Treaty violation. Participants acted the part of either the inspected State or the CTBTO inspection team by negotiating the modalities of the inspection.

More courses to come Given the widespread interest in the Advanced Science Course, the CTBTO plans to hold additional courses in 2012 and beyond. “In 2011, The Capacity Development Initiative helped to train and educate hundreds of interested individuals from all over the world, and this is just the beginning,” said Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth.

Simulating on-site inspection negotiations between the inspected State and the inspection team at the Advanced Science Course – click for video.

I was very, very surprised how little we know about the CTBT and CTBTO in my country. But now that I have participated in this event, in this course, my mind is opened.