National Data Centre experts share experiences and expertise

Around 100 National Data Centre (NDC) experts from countries as far away as Japan, Jordan, Paraguay, the Solomon Islands and Zambia participated in an NDC workshop in Vienna, Austria, from 12 to 16 May 2014.
NDCs are national technical organizations that play an important role in advising their governments on verification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits nuclear explosions in all environments. Working under the guidance of a national authority, monitoring experts at NDCs receive and refine analysed monitoring data from the International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna, leading to the identification of ambiguous events. Based on these results, each Member State makes its own national assessment and final judgment regarding the nature of an event - whether or not it is indicative of a nuclear explosion.

Around 100 NDC experts gathered in Vienna from 12 to 16 May 2014.

I came to the workshop to know more about the Treaty, the status of monitoring technologies and the IDC products, and to exchange experience with other NDCs and the CTBTO. It is important for my country to attend this workshop because as a State Party of the Treaty we have the duty to do useful work to comply with the Treaty.

The key focus of the workshop was the NDC Preparedness Exercise 2013 (NPE13).This was the sixth in a series of exercises carried out since 2007. These exercises are designed to increase the awareness of NDCs of their CTBT-related duties and ensure they are fully prepared in the case of a real event.
A fictitious radionuclide scenario
NPE13 was a fictitious radionuclide-triggered test conducted by NDCs. The event was led by the German NDC, which calculated and distributed a fictitious radionuclide scenario. Detections were related to a seismic event that occurred within the territory of ‘Frisia’ - a State invented for the purposes of NPE13. The exercise involved reconstructing the radionuclide scenario, identifying the event and analysing the seismic data. The results of the exercise were presented at the workshop and were followed by an in depth discussion. The objectives of the next preparedness exercise – scheduled to take place in 2015 - was also discussed during the workshop.

Visiting the Conrad Geophysical Observatory – an underground geophysical research facility.

These workshops help NDCs to stay up to date with the latest technology, instrumentation and software being used by the IDC.

Emerging NDCs

A range of other important issues were addressed during the five-day workshop. These included integrating nuclear explosion monitoring into national operations, and the experiences and challenges of operating newly established NDCs. The challenges encountered most frequently concern a lack of qualified staff and equipment and infrastructural problems. The CTBTO carries out regular capacity building activities for NDC staff, provides software and hardware training as well as technical assistance in order to address their requirements.

Inside Vienna’s famous Rathaus, the city’s Town Hall.

Sharing CTBT data and products

The workshop also provided a forum for NDC experts to give feedback on their ability to carry out verification activities, including how they access monitoring data and products from the International Data Centre (IDC). Cooperation and interaction between NDCs in the field of research and development was encouraged and the importance of sharing information and data from the four CTBT verification technologies was stressed.
As an emerging NDC, we need help and guidance from longstanding NDCs with the knowledge and experience to help us in running our own NDC. Our participation in these kind of workshops gives us the opportunity to learn and voice out our concerns…We had a good insight into the importance of IDC data during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in 2011 because we received the data we needed to give advice to our national government regarding the safety of the population and the environment.

Participants received support in NDC tools such as Geotool, an example of the NDC-in-a-box- a user-friendly software package that has been developed by the IDC to enable NDCs to receive, process and analyse monitoring data quickly.

CTBT data for disaster mitigation and scientific research

A number of participants confirmed the usefulness of CTBT data for disaster mitigation purposes such as tsunami warnings. To date, 11 countries  with a high tsunami risk have signed tsunami warning agreements with the CTBTO whereby they receive data from around 110 IMS stations. The monitoring data enable the centres to issue more timely and precise warnings.
CTBT data offer a range of other potential civil and scientific applications such as monitoring radioactive emissions from nuclear accidents, as was the case during the Fukushima Daiichi power plant accident in Japan in March 2011. Infrasound data collected when a meteor exploded over the Ural Mountains in February 2013 have helped scientists learn more about the altitude and amount of energy released. Monitoring data can also help with scientific research about the Earth’s structure, ocean processes and marine life, volcanic eruptions, to name but a few of the areas of interest.

Benefits of CTBT membership

Five of the eight States that must still ratify the CTBT before it can enter into force (known as Annex 2 States) were represented at the workshop, namely China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States. These countries have all signed but have not yet ratified the CTBT. The other remaining Annex 2 States are the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India and Pakistan, which have not yet signed the CTBT so are not able to reap the benefits of CTBTO membership such as participating in capacity building activities and receiving monitoring data.

A unique observatory

During the workshop, participants were invited by the Austrian NDC the Conrad Geophysical Observatory located south of Vienna – the only observatory of this type situated in the Alpine region. The observatory serves different geophysical disciplines, including seismology. The CTBTO uses the facility for experimental purposes and to train IMS station operators.