World Environment Day 2014

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has a major contribution to make to the protection of the environment – by preparing for the entry into force of the CTBT, the Treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, the CTBTO helps to protect humans and the environment from the effects of radiation from nuclear testing.
To verify Treaty compliance, the CTBTO has established a worldwide network of monitoring stations, the International Monitoring System (IMS). The locations of the 337 IMS facilities were determined during the negotiations of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) with a view to ensuring global coverage. Many of the stations are foreseen for remote places in order to minimize disturbing background noise, for example from traffic routes or industry.

The selected locations are sometimes within a nature reserve, as is the case in the Midway Islands (United States) in the North Pacific Ocean. During the establishment of an infrasound and a radionuclide monitoring station on the islands, the CTBTO took the greatest precautions, in close cooperation with the Marine National Monument authorities, to minimize disturbance to the local wildlife. Apart from hosting the world’s largest population of Laysan Albatrosses, Midway is home to the rare Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles. The islands and the rich Midway Atoll enjoy strict environmental protection as part of the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument.

Midway Atoll

The birds found the inlet of our system very warm and comfortable but this was causing serious problems for air sampling. We found a solution by placing a net to cover the inlet. It helps to protect both the system and the birds.

Radionuclide stations are designed to detect radioactive debris from a nuclear explosion. These stations are established in locations that are well exposed to major wind streams, such as the Midway Islands. In order to avoid major construction activity, an obsolete building was used to house the detection equipment of the Midway radionuclide station. Additionally, the air collecting system was fitted with special silencers and a safety net to minimize noise emissions and avoid injury to the birds. Radionuclide stations themselves produce no emissions or waste.

A net was placed on the inlet to prevent birds from entering the system - protection for bird and system alike.

To be allowed to conduct any activities within the monument requires submission of a Monument permit, the request for which is posted on their webpage for comments from the public and approved by the three co-trustees.

Infrasound stations also need to be established in areas exposed to winds in order to detect low-frequency noises emitted by nuclear explosions that can travel far through the atmosphere. At the same time, such stations need to be remote from disturbing background noise sources. An infrasound station consists of several infrasound array elements so that it can determine the direction of a signal’s source with precision. For the planning of the Midway infrasound station, the CTBTO changed the standard layout, which was found to encroach on too much of the birds’ breeding space. Some of the array elements will be relocated on a concrete area near an active U.S. military runway, requiring additional permission to be sought. The size of the antennas and solar panels was also reduced to minimize the risk of injury to the birds.

U.S. airforce runway at Midway - image credit: Gary Randall

Treading softly in New Zealand...

Another example of the commitment of the CTBTO to building sustainably  is the infrasound station IS36 within a protected conservation reserve on New Zealand’s Chatham Island.  Special care was taken to prevent any damage to the forest. Wheel barrows replaced heavy machinery during the installation and some pipes of the infrasound arrays were bent around trees.

Array element pipes of infrasound station IS36 in New Zealand have been bent around the trees. Patagonia...

Also in the southern hemisphere, at infrasound station IS02 at the southernmost tip of Argentina, the station’s communication setup had to be adjusted to respond to national requirements for environmentally protected areas. Instead of opting for radio communication with a number of radio towers, much less intrusive fibre optic cables were installed.

...and on Kiritimati Island

But even when monitoring stations are not built in national parks or protected areas, special care is consistently taken to minimize the potential impact on the environment. Many stations are located in isolated areas and need an independent fuel supply to run them. At the radionuclide station RN39 on the Kiritimati Island in the Pacific, special diesel tanks were designed to prevent the possibility of leaks that could contaminate the shallow water table on the island. 

Special precautions are taken during the installation of diesel tanks to prevent contaminating leaks.