Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission

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Template:Infobox Organization The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, CTBTO Preparatory Commission or CTBTO Prep Com is an international organization based in Vienna, Austria that is tasked with preparing the activities of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The organization was established by the states that signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996 and will cease to exist upon the entry into force of the CTBT. It builds, certifies and operates the infrastructure for detection of Nuclear Tests, prepares regulations for the CTBTO and stimulates entry into force of the CTBT.


The Preparatory Commission has a Plenary Body (sometimes called the Preparatory Commission as well) which meets twice a year and is composed of the countries that signed the CTBT. Its current chairperson is Ambassador Ana Teresa Dengo Benavides, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica. The commission has two working groups working on financial (Working Group A) and verification matters (Working Group B). Its main activities are performed by the Provisional Technical Secretariat. This organization is led by the Executive Secretary. An overview of Executive Secretaries is shown below:

File:CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo.jpg
Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Provisional Secretariat
Country Name Start of Term
Germany Wolfgang Hoffmann 3 March 1997
Hungary Tibor Tóth 1 August 2005
Burkina Faso Lassina Zerbo 1 August 2013

Entry into force of the CTBT will result in the dissolution of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission and establishment of the CTBTO at the end of the first Conference of States Parties of the CTBT after entry into force. In that event all assets of the Commission will be transferred to the CTBTO. Entry into force requires ratification by China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States and takes place 180 days after all these ratifications are received.

Monitoring Systems and Communication systems

The Preparatory Commission has started building the global systems for the detection of nuclear tests. The system consists of an International Monitoring System (IMS), a Global Communications Infrastructure as well as an International Data Center. The systems are not complete but for a large part operational.

International Monitoring System (IMS)

File:Infrasound Arrays.jpg
Infrasound arrays at IMS infrasound station IS18, Qaanaaq, Greenland.
File:CTBT Radionuclide Station RN20.jpg
IMS Radionuclide station RN20, Beijing, China. The station is also equipped for noble gas monitoring.

The International Monitoring System will, when complete, consist of 337 facilities worldwide to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. Around 85% of the facilities are already up and running. The system will comprise:

  • 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic monitoring stations. Primary stations deliver data online in real time, whereas auxiliary stations provide data upon request. Seismic data is used to locate seismic events and to distinguish between an underground nuclear explosion and the numerous earthquakes that occur around the globe.
  • 11 hydroacoustic stations detecting acoustic waves in the oceans. Six of these are hydrophone stations that use underwater microphones that transmit signals via cable to a shore station. Hydrophone stations are extremely sensitive and pick up acoustic waves from underwater events, including explosions, occurring very far away. The other five are seismic stations located on islands (T-phase stations) that use seismometers to detect acoustic waves converted to seismic waves when they hit the island.
  • 60 infrasound stations using microbarographs (acoustic pressure sensors) to detect very low-frequency sound waves in the atmosphere produced by natural and man-made events. These stations are arrays of four to eight sensors which are located one to three kilometers apart. The data are used to locate and to distinguish between atmospheric explosions and natural phenomena such as meteorites, explosive volcanoes and meteorological events as well as man-made phenomena such as re-entering space debris, rocket launches and supersonic aircraft.
  • 80 radionuclide stations using air samplers to detect radioactive particles released from atmospheric explosions and/or vented from underground or under-water explosions. The presence of specific radionuclides provides unambiguous evidence of a nuclear explosion. Forty of the stations will be equipped with noble gas detection. There are several activities sponsored by the IMS, one of which is the International Noble Gas Experiment.
  • 16 radionuclide laboratories for analysis of samples from the radionuclide stations.

As of January 2013, over 81% of the system had been certified.

Station type Planned Under Construction Testing Certified Total
Primary Seismic 3 3 2 42 50
Auxiliary Seismic 4 4 8 104 120
Infrasound 11 4 0 45 60
Hydroacoustic 0 1 0 10 11
Radionuclide 5 10 3 62 80

Global Communications Infrastructure (GCI) and International Data Centre (IDC)

Data from all stations are transmitted to the CTBTO International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna through a global private data network known as GCI, which is largely based on satellite (VSAT) links. As of mid-2005, more than half of the planned IMS stations were providing data.

At the IDC, IMS data collected through GCI - approximately 16 gigabytes per day - is stored and correlated using custom software to generate reports of significant events, which are subsequently reviewed by specially trained analysts in order to prepare quality-controlled event bulletins. The IDC operates a large redundant database of events and a 125 terabyte mass storage facility that provides archiving capacity for more than ten years of verification data.

On-Site Inspections (OSI)

Once the CTBT enters into force an on-site inspection can be dispatched to the area of a suspicious nuclear explosion if the data from the IMS indicate that a nuclear test has taken place there. Inspectors will collect evidence on the ground at the suspected site. Such an inspection can only be requested and approved by Member States once the CTBT has entered into force. A large on-site inspection exercise was carried out in September 2008 in Kazakhstan.

2006 and 2009 Nuclear Tests by North Korea

In the morning of 9 October 2006, North Korea set off a nuclear explosion. It detonated a nuclear device at a test site in the northeast of the country. The CTBTO’s global monitoring network detected the low yield explosion with 22 of its seismic stations. Within two hours of the explosion, CTBTO Member States received initial information about the time, location and magnitude of the blast.

Two weeks after the blast, a monitoring station at Yellowknife in northern Canada detected traces of the radioactive noble gas xenon in the air. The presence of xenon provides evidence that a nuclear explosion has taken place. This detection confirmed that the 2006 North Korean nuclear test was a nuclear explosion. Analysts at the CTBTO then used special calculations to backtrack the detected xenon to determine its source. The calculation indicated that the detected noble gas originated from North Korea.

North Korea conducted a second nuclear test on 25 May 2009. Seismic data indicated an unusually large underground explosion. The blast took place only a few kilometers from where the first nuclear device had been detonated in 2006.

Considerably more seismic stations registered the explosion in 2009 than in 2006. This was due to the greater magnitude of the blast and the higher number of monitoring stations in operation. Two hours after the test, the CTBTO presented initial findings to its Member States. The information available also helped analysts to identify a far smaller area as the location of the explosion. In 2009 the estimated area covered 264 km2 compared to 880 km2 in 2006.

Civil and Scientific Uses of CTBTO Data

The huge amount of data collected by the CTBTO can also be used for purposes other than detecting nuclear explosions, particularly in the field of disaster mitigation and early warning. In 2006, the CTBTO started providing seismic and hydroacoustic data directly to tsunami warning centers. As of 2012, data is shared with tsunami warning centers in eight countries, mainly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Throughout the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 2011, the CTBTO’s radionuclide stations tracked the dispersion of radioactivity on a global scale. More than 1600 detections of radioactive isotopes from the crippled nuclear reactor were picked up by over 40 CTBTO radionuclide monitoring stations. The CTBTO shared its data and analysis with its 183 Member States, as well as international organizations and some 1,200 scientific and academic institutions in 120 countries.

The CTBTO also recorded the infrasound produced in the atmosphere by the meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013. Seventeen stations around the world, including one in the Antarctic, recorded the event as the infrasound reverberated around the world multiple times.

Other potential civil and scientific applications include the use of CTBTO data and technologies in civil aviation and shipping and in climate change research.



External links

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