CTBTO tests on-site inspection response in major exercise

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has kicked off a major week-long exercise simulating the start of an on-site inspection to verify whether a nuclear explosion has taken place.

On-site inspections are a key element of the verification system that the CTBTO is tasked with building under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), alongside a global network of monitoring stations and an analytical hub, the International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna.

A real on-site inspection can only take place once the CTBT has entered into force, which requires ratification by eight more specific states. But exercises like this help to test procedures and techniques and ensure that CTBTO can respond quickly and effectively in the event that an inspection is ever requested by a State Party to the Treaty.

This week’s exercise, planned and run by CTBTO’s On-Site Inspection (OSI) division from 11-15 November, concentrates on the launch phase – the crucial first days between receipt of a formal request for an on-site inspection and the inspectors’ departure to the field.

According to the scenario, which assumes the CTBT is in force, the fictional countries of Miscia and Whedor have requested an on-site inspection in neighbouring Bludor following an anomalous event that Bludor claims was a shallow earthquake.  

Some 70 participants will take part in the exercise, including 19 trained experts from 14 states that have signed the CTBT. Time is of the essence: once an inspection request has been received by the governing body of the CTBTO, the inspectors would have only six days to reach the country where the inspection will take place, since important evidence may fade over time.

The exercise is testing nearly all the elements of the launch phase against the clock, including the logistics of assembling the inspection team and preparations to transport tonnes of sophisticated equipment, as well as collaboration across the CTBTO and interaction with the Bludor authorities.

It also offers the first chance to put two new facilities through their paces: the refurbished Operations Centre in Vienna and the purpose-built Technology Support and Training (TeST) Centre in Seibersdorf, Lower Austria, where the bulk of the equipment for an on-site inspection is stored.

The scenario will move into the field in 2020 with two further exercises to test the next phases, from the inspectors’ arrival and conduct of the inspection to the presentation of the findings.

The last major OSI exercise was held five years ago, when the CTBTO held its largest ever on-site simulation, the full-scale Integrated Field Exercise 2014, on the banks of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Follow @ctbto and @osi_ctbto on Twitter this week as the exercise unfolds!

Inspection request is delivered to CTBTO ‘Director General’.

The Operations Support Centre (OSC) is activated.

IDC briefs on seismic event that triggered inspection request.

First meeting of the OSC in the new Operations Centre.