Exercising the CTBTO's on-site inspectors

Nov 25 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Ryoji Sakai, London

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO) recently announced the approval of a budget for the next on-site inspection (OSI) exercise. With a budget of US$10,300,000, this exercise will be a significant step towards strengthening the organisation’s OSI capabilities. The first such exercise, held in September 2008, revealed a number of important issues that will have to be resolved before the CTBTO's OSI capabilities reach full strength. What is the aim of OSI exercises, and why are they important for the overall development of the CTBTO’s verification capabilities?

According to the CTBTO, the second Integrated Field Exercise (IFE) will take place in 2014, and will test and train its OSI capabilities “in an all-encompassing way”. Although OSIs can only be invoked once the treaty has entered into force, these exercises will ensure that if they are invoked, these inspections will be highly effective.

Bringing verification closer to home
The CTBTO has been working diligently to develop the verification regime of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which will prohibit all nuclear test explosions in all environments. Although the treaty has yet to enter into force, the development of verification techniques has been underway for more than a decade. Since the mid-1990s, the CTBTO has been developing its verification capabilities, which include seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide monitoring systems. These techniques can detect suspicious explosions using data collected from monitoring stations located all over the world.

As noted in a previous VERTIC blog post, North Korea’s underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 revealed both the strengths and limits of the CTBTO’s remote monitoring systems. The verification system detected both explosions and concluded with reasonable certainty that they were caused by nuclear weapons. However, it was unable to find radioactive material originating from nuclear weapons, which could have definitively proven the nuclear nature of the explosions. If the CTBT had been in force, and had North Korea been a State Party, OSIs could have gone some way towards dispelling such uncertainty.

Essentially, an OSI enables the CTBTO to collect evidence on the ground of a possible treaty violation to ascertain the true nature of a suspicious explosion. Where remote monitoring cannot reach, the CTBTO can turn to on-site inspectors to ultimately verify adherence to the treaty. During an OSI, inspectors may conduct a fly-over of an area of concern to narrow down locations for further examination on the ground. They may also employ various verification measures including radiation surveys, drilling and seismological monitoring of aftershocks. Thus, an OSI is, in the words of the CTBTO, “the final verification measure” of the nuclear test ban.

IFE 2008: The first lesson in on-site test inspection
Practice is an essential part of preparation because it enables us to identify strengths and weaknesses. IFE 2008 in Kazakhstan was valuable in this respect because it allowed the CTBT to confirm its verification capacity while identifying flaws that the organisation would need to overcome. Moreover, with the success of the field exercise, the CTBTO demonstrated its technical competence to the outside world.

IFE 2008 was based on a fictional scenario in which the CTBTO’s monitoring system detected seismic signals resembling those of an underground nuclear test. The signals came from Arcania, a fictitious country which had a history of previous nuclear tests. However, Arcania rejected claims that they had violated the CTBT, and argued that the seismic indications were the result of an earthquake. Fiducia, a neighbour of Arcania, remained unconvinced and demanded an OSI in accordance with the CTBT’s procedures.

The exercise was held in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, 430 kilometres away from the country’s capital Astana. Such a remote location seemed appropriate for a covert nuclear test, which would most likely be conducted in a highly isolated area. Indeed, the former Soviet Union conducted over 300 underground tests in Semipalatinsk while Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. As such, the exercise scenario included the real possibility of radiological contamination.

The CTBTO explains that the IFE 2008 was divided into two phases. The first phase incorporated techniques such as visual observation, radiation monitoring, environmental sampling and seismic aftershock monitoring. The second phase of the OSI exercise then utilised more intrusive techniques. This included ground penetrating radar for examining the shallow subsurface layers, and magnetometry to measure the Earth’s magnetic field and detect anomalies.

Lessons learnt from IFE 2008
In essence, all the OSI components employed in the IFE 2008 successfully performed their designated functions, though to varying degrees of effectiveness and reliability. It is important to draw lessons from the IFE 2008 in order for the CTBTO’s provisional OSI operational manual to develop. This manual is still in development, but when it is completed it is intended to become the authoritative resource for implementing OSIs.

One of the lessons is to consider the demanding logistical requirements of covering large test areas in a thorough manner. While the CTBT out tight timelines for OSIs, it also allows inspections to cover an area of up to 1,000 square kilometres. In the case of IFE 2008, inspectors were allowed to spend only six hours on-site for safety reasons, further limiting the time available for investigation. This forces inspectors to deal with an inevitable conflict between speed and accuracy. Finding a happy medium between the two can only come from practice.

The harsh weather in Kazakhstan also caused some delays to the inspection. As the CTBTO prepares for the next IFE, they must bare this issue in mind. The CTBT will prohibit nuclear test explosions in all environments. On-site inspectors must be capable of identifying tell-tale signs of test explosions despite whatever conditions these environments can produce. Nuclear-weapon states have tested nuclear weapons in a number of environments, not just on the plains of Kazakhstan.

IFE 2008 also revealed financial challenges. As mentioned above, the CTBTO received contribution in kind from various states for the exercise. The announced budget of US$10,300,000 for the next exercise is no small sum of money. It is worth considering whether the costs of an actual OSI will reflect this sum, and how such verification activities will be supported once the treaty is in force. In this respect, two recent voluntary contributions from the US, totalling over US$33,000,000, can only be welcomed.

Furthermore, as the CTBTO does not have a standing inspection team, it would need to choose qualified inspectors when an OSI is demanded. As VERTIC Executive Director Andreas Persbo has argued, the CTBTO needs a roster of qualified inspectors, an agreed equipment list and contracts with carriers capable of handling such equipment. All of this must be ready at short notice.

Towards the next IFE
The previous IFE in Semipalatinsk, while indicating that the OSI component was nearing completion, also identified some specific areas that could be improved. With a focus on these areas, a second on-site inspection exercise could be a leap forward in the development of the OSI operational manual

With a diligent eye on previous experiences, attention to detail and careful planning, exercises such as this can have many benefits. The last few creases in the OSI procedures can be ironed-out, while simultaneously building confidence in the verification capabilities of the CTBTO. If the second IFE proves to be as useful as the first, member states may feel confident enough to put their full support behind the CTBT. If this proves to be the case, a step towards effectively detecting covert nuclear tests may also become a step towards deterring them.
 

Last changed: Nov 25 2011 at 12:21 AM

Back

 



Comments

Magnetic measurements as a CTBTO/OSI technique By Guest on Jan 19 2012 at 9:19 PM
Magnetic measurements are one of tge geophysical tecniques allowed by the CTBT Protocol to be used during the continuation period of an inspection. This technique can be used either on the ground or from the air. It has to be noted that this technique is intended to locate artifacts, meaning any ferrous items left in the field or in the shallow ground. One of the main targets of this technique is to try and locate the metal lining left in the borehole of an underground nuclear test after drilling it. It is definitely not intended to measure the earth magnetic properties (as mentioned in the text); it has never been shown that these peoperties change as a result of an underground nuclear explosion, exept for very rare and special environments; also the resolution possible to be achieved during the limited time allowed for an inspection does not allow for such sensitivity in magnetic measurements over a reasonable area.
Magnetic measurements for CTBT/OSI By Guest on Jan 19 2012 at 9:23 PM
Magnetic measurements are one of tge geophysical tecniques allowed by the CTBT Protocol to be used during the continuation period of an inspection. This technique can be used either on the ground or from the air. It has to be noted that this technique is intended to locate artifacts, meaning any ferrous items left in the field or in the shallow ground. One of the main targets of this technique is to try and locate the metal lining left in the borehole of an underground nuclear test after drilling it. It is definitely not intended to measure the earth magnetic properties (as mentioned in the text); it has never been shown that these peoperties change as a result of an underground nuclear explosion, exept for very rare and special environments; also the resolution possible to be achieved during the limited time allowed for an inspection does not allow for such sensitivity in magnetic measurements over a reasonable area.
Dr. Moti Melamud

Add Comment