Integrated on-site inspection
exercise in Kazakhstan reaches
a successful conclusion

“The exercise, its scope and dimension, was unprecedented. This was, after all, the inspectors’ first opportunity to practice all of the elements of an inspection together, as one continuous and integrated process…The lessons that have been learnt will prove a great leap forward in achieving on-site inspection readiness.” Speaking after the successful conclusion of the Integrated Field Exercise 2008 (IFE08), the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Tibor Tóth described the system of on-site inspections as “an additional layer of the verification muscle of the CTBTO”.

Verifiability of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) proven once again

When the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea declared that it had conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, key elements of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty’s (CTBT) global alarm system already proved their verification capabilities.  With IFE08 further proof has been provided of the CTBT’s verifiability.  The CTBTO demonstrated its capacity to launch and conduct an effective on-site inspection (OSI) after the Treaty has entered into force. An OSI will involve a team of inspectors who will gather facts directly in the location where there is suspicion that a nuclear explosion has been carried out. IFE08 also allowed the CTBTO to fulfill one of its main objectives by testing, evaluating and integrating OSI elements such as the test manual, equipment, standard operating procedures and infrastructure. “In a comparatively short period of time, a great wealth of knowledge has been created. It will bring the verification regime closer and closer to a state of readiness. Lessons have been learnt about equipment and scientific data, and about logistics and procedures,” Tóth explained. He went on to say that 2009 will be devoted to analyzing and evaluating the exercise, both internally and externally.

Logistical challenges

The exercise was conducted over a five week period, one week in Vienna and one month of field activities in Kazakhstan. It was a huge logistical undertaking. 200 participants including 40 inspectors and almost 50 tonnes of equipment were transported from Vienna to Kazakhstan. The makeshift camp that constituted the Base of Operation for the exercise was located in a remote area, close to the former Soviet Union nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk where over 450 nuclear explosions were conducted between 1945 and 1989. This factor and the remote location made the conditions for the exercise as real as possible.

Arcania accused of violating the CTBT

To provide the exercise with a realistic setting for a possible violation of the CTBT, the fictitious State of Arcania was invented. After several seismic stations belonging to the CTBT’s International Monitoring System (IMS) registered a seismic event of magnitude 4 in the northeast of Arcania, an imaginary neighbouring State requested an OSI.  Arcania denied having carried out a nuclear explosion in violation of the CTBT, asserting that a shallow earthquake had triggered the alarm. At the tented settlement, the CTBTO inspectors and representatives of Arcania, the inspected State Party started their work in an inspection area comprising a massive 1000 square kilometres.

Operations threatened by adverse weather

Extreme weather conditions at the start of the OSI simulation threatened to hamper operations. However, the inspection team persevered in its quest to establish whether or not Arcania had conducted a recent nuclear  test explosion in violation of the Treaty. The inspectors employed visual observations, seismic measuring, and radionuclide detection followed by more intrusive methods. These were designed to find features of potential underground nuclear explosions that were not visible from the surface. Information gathered during the four week period did not prove that Arcania had conducted an underground nuclear explosion.  In conclusion of the inspection, the Inspection Team had a final meeting with representatives of the Inspected State Party to review the preliminary findings, discuss recommendations and to clarify any ambiguities.

Support of Government of Kazakhstan

IFE08 was made possible by the Government of Kazakhstan, who hosted the operation and provided a helicopter and pilots to facilitate the exercise. Ambassador Kairat Abrakhmanov of Kazakhstan to the CTBTO in Vienna explained that 12 government ministries had been involved in the preparation of the exercise through the provision of political, logistical and technical support. Tribute was also paid by Tóth to the European Union for its financial contributions, to the States Signatories for their support and to all IFE08 participants.
Read more on the results of the IFE08 here.