CTBTO to test its on-site inspection
regime in September 2008 in Kazakhstan

23 June 2008


The exercise will take place in an area 160 kilometres south east of Kurchatov.

Kurchatov is a small, sleepy town on the river Ertis in Kazakhstan, downstream from the town of Semey, and surrounded by the typical, bare landscape of the Kazakh steppe.  There is nothing to indicate that a deserted area roughly 160 km to the south east of the town, within the former Soviet Union's nuclear test site Semipalatinsk, will become the place of heightened activity in a few months.

Scientists, diplomats and journalists from all over the world will witness an endeavour in the Kazakh steppe that is of great significance for the safety of our planet. The organization that monitors the comprehensive ban on nuclear testing will conduct a large scale exercise to test one of the key elements of its global alarm system – on-site inspections.

Unprecedented scope

The scope of the exercise is unprecedented. It will be the largest and most ambitious project ever undertaken in the history of the CTBTO and will reinforce the CTBT’s significant role in the international framework of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.  Involving a team of 40 inspectors and the shipment of 40 tonnes of equipment to the inspection area in a matter of a few days, this exercise will bear greater resemblance to a humanitarian aid operation than an inspection under a non-proliferation Treaty regime.

The CTBT verification regime and on-site inspections

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is mandated to build a global alarm system that will monitor States’ compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).  Once fully established, this system, the CTBT verification regime, will provide the tools needed to monitor the entire planet for the detection of nuclear explosions.

On-site inspections are an essential component of the CTBT’s verification regime, along with the International Monitoring System whose 337 facilities send monitoring data to the International Data Centre in Vienna, Austria, for analysis. Both the raw data of station monitoring as well as bulletins summarizing data analysis results are available to all States that have signed the CTBT.  Should the findings indicate that a nuclear explosion was carried out in violation of the Treaty, a Member State may request an on-site inspection.

The question that needs to be answered with the help of such an inspection is whether or not a nuclear explosion has indeed been carried out. A team of expert inspectors gather facts to provide the answer and to identify the possible violator of the Treaty.  Their findings will give States the means to come to an informed decision on the matter.   Thus, on-site inspections are the final verification measure under the CTBT.  They can be invoked once the Treaty has entered into force.

Testing and training

Housing and related equipment for the exercise were tested in June 2008 at the Vienna International Centre.

For the on-site inspection regime to be operational after the Treaty’s entry into force, all procedures and methods developed for on-site inspections have to be applied on an experimental basis and equipment has to be tested. A series of so-called directed exercises have examined key aspects of the on-site inspection regime over the past couple of years.  Experts received training on how to apply on-site inspection procedures and the use of specialized equipment.

First integrated exercise
In September 2008, the CTBTO will simulate an entire on-site inspection for the first time.  The Integrated Field Exercise 2008 or IFE08 will last over five weeks and will include an initial phase of one week in Vienna and a full month of field activities in Kazakhstan.  It will be the first time that major elements of an on-site inspection are tested in an integrated manner.  Experts at the CTBTO hope to confirm the functionality of the OSI regime and identify any shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Helicopter overflights are essential to obtain a general overview of the inspection area.

The Treaty prescribes in detail how an on-site inspection can be initiated, how it is to be conducted and how its results are to be reported. The upcoming integrated exercise will follow this regime as it is specified in the Treaty and will test it under realistic conditions.  This will include an imaginary Member State lodging a request; preparations in Vienna to assemble an inspection team; the inspectors’ journey to Kazakhstan along with the shipment of 40 tonnes of equipment; on-site preparations and the conducting of the exercise; and finally, the submission of an inspection report.

Starting from an empty playing field

In order to create a real test case scenario, the inspectors will arrive at an inspection area which will be an empty playing field. Their initial activities will focus on establishing their own living quarters and work base – not an easy task for a group of 40 experts from around the world with a tight working schedule in an area that is hours away from the next human settlement. 

Initial inspection period

Just one day after arrival at the inspection area, inspectors will begin the actual inspection, applying techniques identified by the Treaty as suitable for the initial phase of the inspection.

Based on the analysis of monitoring data, an inspection area comprising a maximum of 1000 square kilometres will be identified.  This is still a fairly large area. Most of the techniques applicable in the initial inspection period will allow the inspectors to familiarize themselves with the territory and narrow down the area to be inspected.

Initial inspection period cont.

CTBTO tested radiation measurement procedures during an exercise in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in June 2007.

One of the first activities of the inspection team will be a helicopter overflight to become acquainted with the unknown terrain and to identify possible areas on the ground for further inspection. Other methods will be applied as well, including:

  • Visual observations to detect anomalies in the surroundings that may point to a possible nuclear explosion;
  • Gamma monitoring to identify elevated gamma radiation and the emitting substances;
  • Environmental sampling and analysis to detect radioactive particulates and noble gases that may have been generated by a nuclear explosion;
  • Seismological aftershock monitoring to detect geological changes in the underground that may have been caused by a nuclear explosion.


Continuation period

The analysis of environmental samples was tested during the exercise in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 2007.

After twelve days, the initial inspection period will be phased into the so-called continuation period.  Under the Treaty, a continuation of an inspection is called for when findings obtained during the initial inspection period justify the need to apply additional inspection techniques.

Inspection techniques used in the continuation period are considered more intrusive and comprise a number of geophysical techniques, including:

  • Magnetic field mapping to measure deviations in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by iron-containing objects in the ground;
  • Gravitational field mapping to search for the underground cavity that a possible nuclear explosion may have created;
  • Ground penetrating radar to locate objects buried in the ground that may be part of an infrastructure of a nuclear explosion;
  • Shallow and deep electrical conductivity measurements to detect metal objects buried in the ground and identify possible disturbances in the underground geological features.

Reporting on the findings

Experts test electrical conductivity measurements at a training course in Hungary in October 2007.

The continuation period will end after ten days. The inspection team will then prepare a report with all preliminary findings and supporting evidence. Inspection reports are a crucial element in the on-site inspection regime, on the basis of which Member States will assess whether or not a Treaty violation has indeed taken place.

Observing and evaluating

During the entire duration of the exercise, the inspectors will be monitored in the execution of their inspection functions.  A team of international experts will follow their every step to evaluate the effectiveness of inspection methods and procedures.  At the same time, representatives of interested States Signatories will be present during the exercise to obtain a first-hand impression of CTBTO’s activities to prepare the on-site inspection regime for the Treaty’s entry into force. Members of the national and international press will report on the exercise to share their impressions of this unique event with the world.

IFE08 web site area

If you are interested in following developments relating to this exercise, please revisit this dedicated area on www.ctbto.org over the coming weeks and months.  It will feature all information on developments and preparations for this milestone event.