San Diego Operation & Maintenance
Workshop

Experts from around the world are gathering from 9 to 13 May 2011 in San Diego, California, USA, to improve their cooperation in running a unique monitoring system designed to detect even the smallest underground nuclear explosion - anywhere on the planet.

It is the first workshop of its kind to be organized jointly by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and a Member State. The meeting brings together over 100 experts, station operators and equipment providers from 43 countries both large (China, Russia) and small (Côte d'Ivoire, Samoa), some of which are participating in such a workshop for the first time.

We have to ensure that the woman or man running a CTBTO facility has all the necessary tools, equipment and knowledge to avoid problems or be able to fix them as fast as possible.Natalie Brely, Chief, Monitoring Facilities Support Section

Protecting a one-billion-dollar investment

The station operators are directly responsible for running the stations of the International Monitoring System (IMS). When complete, the IMS will comprise a worldwide network of 337 sensitive monitoring stations and laboratories to monitor the Earth continuously to detect nuclear explosions. With 281 facilities or over 80% of the network already built up, the stations’ operation and maintenance is increasingly in the focus of the CTBTO’s activities – also to protect the more than one billion U.S. dollars which the organization’s 182 Member States have invested into this unique system.

Daunting challenges for station operators

Even here we have a monitoring station.

In order to minimize background noise, many of these stations are located in extremely remote areas such as Easter Island in the South Pacific or Tristan da Cunha (UK) in the Atlantic Ocean. This poses logistical challenges to their operation and maintenance. So do natural disasters: The February 2010 earthquake off the coast of Chile tragically killed hundreds of people, but the ensuing tsunami also destroyed a valuable hydroacoustic station on Juan Fernandez Island, 700 km off the Chilean coast. But these are only two examples for the many problems of technical, administrative, security, environmental, or even political nature that our station operators can face.

Our common purpose is to have the best global network of monitoring stations in the world, with the highest reliability, the best timelines, the best availability, the best quality.Lassina Zerbo, Director International Data Centre Division

Contribution to tsunami warning

Click for video on tsunami warning.

On the other hand, the CTBTO’s monitoring stations can help to mitigate the consequences of natural disasters. Data from over 20 stations were made available to Japan when it was hit by the massive earthquake on 11 March. Tens of thousands of people were tragically killed by the tsunami; many were also saved due to the rapid alerts. According to Japanese authorities, CTBTO data helped them to issue tsunami warnings within a few minutes, thus allowing many people to escape to higher ground. Station operators therefore have a special responsibility to ensure the proper functioning of the stations.

Click image for more on the CTBTO's Fukushima-related measurements.

In the aftermath of the Japan disaster, the CTBTO’s ultra-sensitive radionuclide stations detected radioactive particles and noble gases emitted by the damaged Fukushima power plant as they spread around the globe.

 

The United States and the CTBTO

The joint organization of the San Diego workshop is part of an intense U.S. engagement in the CTBTO’s activities. The United States hosts 43 monitoring facilities – more than any other CTBTO Member State - of which all but three are certified. It has not only facilitated the build-up of these stations; but has also recently started to assume the cost for their operation and maintenance by way of voluntary contributions. In addition, the United States is also the largest regular contributor to the CTBTO’s budget.

Background on the CTBT

The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. 182 countries have signed the Treaty, of which 153 have also ratified it. Of the 44 countries that have to ratify the Treaty for entry into force, 35 have already done so. The remaining nine are: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.