New noble gas system installed in Vienna
Sniffing for radioxenon
New noble gas rooftop facility
The radionuclide station on the rooftop of the Vienna International Centre was upgraded in January 2013 to detect radioactive noble gases as well. While not formally part of the CTBTO’s verification regime, the station serves as an equipment testing platform for innovations, upgrades and engineering solutions, as well as for training purposes. See the video above and CTBTO Maintenance Officer Owen Kilgour’s blog entry for impressions of the new system being installed. Subject to availability, visits to the radionuclide rooftop station are open to interested groups upon request.
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Why noble gases matter
Radioactive noble gases are particularly relevant for detecting underground
The relevant noble gas for test-ban monitoring is radioactive
xenon, or radioxenon. Traces of radioxenon were detected after the 2006 and 2013 [update 23 April 2013] North Korean nuclear tests, but not after the test in 2009. In all three cases, however, the seismic evidence alone would have been sufficient to justify an on-site inspection. Such a challenge inspection will only be possible after the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has entered into force.
Boosting worldwide noble gas detection capabilities
The enhancement of the rooftop radionuclide station is part of the CTBTO’s wider effort to improve its noble gas detection capabilities. Over the past five years, the number of noble gas systems has increased from 11 to 30 (of a total of 40 systems). In addition, the noble gas systems have moved from an experimental status to being formally integrated into the system. The CTBTO receives strong backing from its Member States in support of this effort. Financial assistance has included recent voluntary contributions from the European Union aimed at increasing knowledge of radioxenon background levels and from Japan to improve
Working in synergy
The radionuclide stations are complementary to the three types of waveform stations which detect energy waves from a nuclear explosion in different environments: