Final preparations for major
CTBT inspection exercise
The final preparations for the largest and most ambitious-ever inspection exercise of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) are under way. The so-called “Integrated Field Exercise 2008” or IFE08 will take place during the whole month of September 2008 in Semipalatinsk, the former Soviet Union nuclear test site in Kazakhstan.
“What counts is to show the world that the CTBT’s verification system really works,” CTBTO’s Executive Secretary, Tibor Tóth, said in a comment. “The Integrated Field Exercise is a major priority for us in 2008. It’s important for preparing for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).”
The Largest Exercise Undertaken by the CTBTO
The exercise is unprecedented in scope and size, with over 200 participants, consisting of an international team of 40 inspectors, the Kazakh hosts, an evaluation team, observers and an operation support centre in Vienna. Additionally, almost 50 tonnes of equipment, or six truckloads, are being flown to Kazakhstan. An advance team will shortly be setting up base in Semipalatinsk, one of the most remote places in the world, preparing the grounds for the main inspection team and the equipment to arrive. For all its scale and complexity, this exercise will bear greater resemblance to a humanitarian aid operation than an inspection under a non-proliferation Treaty regime.
“The former Soviet Union nuclear test site of Semipalatinsk, where 456 nuclear explosions were carried out between 1949 and 1989, will be the site for conducting the exercise,” explained Mr. Boris Kvok, the Director in charge of on-site inspections (OSI). “That it is a former nuclear test site makes it ideal for our experts. As foreseen by the Treaty, the inspection area will be limited to 1,000 square kilometres,” he added.
On-Site Inspections: The Ultimate Verification Measure
An OSI is the ultimate verification measure of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear explosions on Earth. For on-site inspections to be fully operational once the Treaty enters into force, all procedures and methods developed for such inspections have to be applied on an experimental basis and equipment has to be tested.
The IFE08 is the first comprehensive OSI exercise to encompass all elements of a nuclear test detection, from the first suspicious-looking seismic wave appearing on the screens of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna to the findings presented in the inspection report. It will start with a week of activities in Vienna at the end of August before moving on to the actual field mission in Kazakhstan.
On site, the inspectors have a wide range of state-of-the-art technical methods at their disposal to detect signs of a nuclear explosion, some of which are applied from helicopters. These techniques include: gamma radiation monitoring, monitoring of seismic aftershocks, magnetic and gravitational field mapping, ground penetrating radar and many more.
The CTBTO is very grateful to Kazakhstan for hosting the exercise as well as to the European Union for providing financial assistance.