Launch of international scientific study
project to evaluate the nuclear test
ban verification system
Over 60 scientists from 30 countries gathered in Vienna from 3-5 March to launch an international project that will evaluate the verification system of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Over the next year and a half, these scientists and their national institutions will carry out scientific studies to address the readiness and the capability of the global system that is being built to detect nuclear explosions worldwide. The results will be presented in a large, open international scientific conference in June 2009 in Vienna. It is expected that additional scientists and national scientific institutions will join in the course of the project.
"The time is ripe to undertake such scientific studies," Tibor Toth said in his welcoming remarks. Toth is the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) that is tasked with establishing the verification regime to monitor compliance with the CTBT. "Why? Firstly, because the CTBT verification regime has now reached a very advanced stage and is nearing completion. Secondly, because such a comprehensive assessment has never been done before."
"It is time to do two things," added Ola Dahlman, former chairman of the CTBTO working group on verification and the leader of the project. "We need to assess the verification capabilities. And we need to study how science has evolved since the CTBT was negotiated. There has been a huge improvement in the development of technologies over the last 11 years. We need to ask ourselves: how can we improve the system from within? How can modern data analysis methods improve the verification capability?"
"We need to get a sense of how the CTBT verification system fits in the world of today," Yves Caristan, director of Saclay Research Center, French Atomic Energy Commission, said in his keynote speech. "The system is unique in its objective; it is unique technically and politically. There is thus less competition than in fields that are not unique. It is therefore particularly important to have external evaluation. We need to ask ourselves: does the system deliver what we expect it to deliver? The system has to be well calibrated, reliable and secure, so we need to ask ourselves: is it? When we see the technical and scientific results, I will be particularly interested in integrating them into a broader picture."
Li Zhenfu, senior expert at Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology, China, presented a detailed list of definitions and assessment standards and criteria for the study in his keynote speech. "Monitoring will be the activities of collecting, processing and reviewing the information used to assess treaty compliance. Verification will be the act of interpreting that data, in conjunction with other considerations, and possibly additional data and information," Li said. "Verification is in the eye of the beholder."
The three-day planning meeting succeeded in agreeing on tentative plans on how to proceed in eight specifically identified scientific areas. These areas are: system wide performance, on-site inspection capabilities, the performance of the four networks that are used to monitor the Earth for any sign of a nuclear explosion - the seismic, the hydroacoustic, the infrasound and the radionuclide networks -, atmospheric transport modeling, and IT analysis methods (i.e. how to address the joint interpretation of the data from different technologies).
"Especially `newer' areas of science, such as infrasound, accuracy of atmospheric transport modeling and noble gas, will benefit from this continuous exchange. This cross-fertilization with cutting-edge scientists and research efforts will be essential for the CTBTO," Toth said in his closing remarks.