German radionuclide station turns 50

The only station monitoring radioactivity in central Europe has turned fifty. Located on the mountain Schauinsland - German for "look across the land" - near the town of Freiburg in southern Germany, the station is surveying the environment for evidence of radiation. The station is run by Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection. Schauinsland was the first station to detect nuclear fission products resulting from nuclear weapons test explosions in Europe, according to a joint press release by the Radiation Protection Office and Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

Radiation monitoring station at Schauinsland, Germany, which also hosts CTBTO's radionuclide station RN33.

"This high-tech institution is Germany's most significant contribution to the verification of compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)", Matthias Machnig, State Secretary in Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, says during a celebratory event in Freiburg on 26 July 2007, according to the press release. Since December 2004, Schauinsland is an integral part of the 80-station radionuclide network of the global monitoring system that is being built by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The system's objective is to monitor compliance with the Treaty by scanning the globe for evidence of a possible nuclear explosion.

State Secretary Matthias Machnig (right) with Dr. Gerald Kirchner of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection at monitoring station Schauinsland.

Using state-of-the-art equipment, Schauinsland is able to register the smallest traces of radioactivity in the air. The station is also one of 14 radionuclide stations capable of measuring radioactive noble gases in the air. In fact, it supported the development of the noble gas technology's application for the CTBTO. A total of 40 stations will be equipped with this technology. Radioactive noble gases are a by-product of a nuclear explosion. They would be the only tell-tale sign of a well-contained underground nuclear explosion due to their ability to seep through layers of rock into the air. Dispersed by the winds, traces of noble gases would eventually be registered at monitoring stations capable of detecting them.

The noble gas measuring equipment is located inside the building along with other radiation monitoring equipment.

The noble gas detection technology contributed significantly to the analysis of the event in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on 9 October 2006. Seismic data identified the location and time of the event. The detection of traces of the noble gas xenon-133 at the radionuclide station in Yellowknife, Canada, was found to be consistent with a hypothesized release of the noble gas from the event in the DPRK.

Noble gas measuring equipment.

Although only ten of the 40 planned noble gas stations were operational in test-mode at the time of the event, the noble gas technology demonstrated its significant role in the CTBT verification system. More and more stations in the radionuclide network are being equipped with the noble gas technology.

Container housing equipment of radionuclide station RN33.