What is the CTBT?

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is the Treaty banning all nuclear explosions - everywhere, by everyone. The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It opened for signature on 24 September 1996. Since then, the Treaty has reached near-universality. One hundred and eighty-three countries have signed the Treaty – the last country to do so was Niue on 9 April 2012. One hundred and fifty-nine countries have ratified the Treaty – most recently Chad on 8 February 2013.


Why is the CTBT important?

The CTBT is the last barrier on the way to developing nuclear weapons. It curbs the development of new nuclear weapons and the improvement of existing nuclear weapon designs. When the Treaty enters into force it will provide a legally binding norm against nuclear testing. The Treaty also helps prevent human suffering and environmental damage caused by nuclear testing; see effects of nuclear testing.


How many nuclear tests were conducted and by whom?

Between 1945 and 1996 when the CTBT was adopted, over 2000 nuclear tests were conducted by the United States (1000+), the Soviet Union (700+), France (200+), the United Kingdom and China (45 each). Three countries have carried out nuclear explosions since 1996: India and Pakistan in 1998, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which announced that it had conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.


Why has the Treaty not entered into force yet?

The Treaty’s entry into force depends on 44 specific States which must sign and ratify the Treaty. These States had nuclear facilities at the time the Treaty was negotiated and adopted. As of September 2013, 36 of these States had ratified the Treaty. Eight States still need to do so: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not yet signed the Treaty. All 44 States are listed in the Treaty’s Annex 2.


What is the difference between signature and ratification?

Signature of a treaty indicates that a country accepts the treaty, committing itself to refrain from any actions that would undermine the purpose of the treaty. A senior representative of a country such as the president or the foreign minister signs a treaty.

Ratification symbolizes the official sanctioning of a treaty to make it legally binding for the government of a country. This process involves the adoption of the treaty by the legislature of a country such as the parliament. It also includes the submission of the so-called instrument of ratification to the treaty’s depository, which for the CTBT is the UN Secretary-General. Only then is the process of ratification officially concluded. The ratification of a treaty may require the adjustment of a country’s legislation, reflecting its commitments under the treaty.


What is the CTBTO and what does it do?

The abbreviation stands for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. The organization promotes the Treaty so that it can enter into force. It is also establishing a verification regime to monitor adherence to the Treaty. The organization was founded in 1997 and employs a staff of roughly 260 from the CTBT’s Members States.


What is the CTBT verification regime?

The CTBT verification regime is a unique, comprehensive system, consisting of the International Monitoring System (IMS),  International Data Centre (IDC) and on-site inspections (OSI). It constantly monitors the planet for nuclear explosions and shares its findings with Member States (these are the 183 States as of mid-September 2013 that have signed the Treaty).


How does the CTBT verification regime work?

Monitoring stations

The 337 IMS facilities are located all over the globe and use four distinct technologies to look for signs of nuclear explosions:
Seismic: to detect shockwaves in the Earth. The seismic network comprises 170 stations. 50 primary stations provide data continuously and 120 auxiliary stations provide data on demand. They register thousands of earthquakes and mine explosions every year.
Hydroacoustic: to detect acoustic signals in the oceans. Eleven stations are sufficient to monitor the big oceans as sound travels very efficiently in water. 
Infrasound: to detect low-frequency sound waves in the air with a network of 60 stations. 
Radionuclide: to detect radionuclide particles and noble gases. Eighty stations provide the “smoking gun” evidence that an explosion was nuclear. Half of these stations are equipped with radionuclide noble gas detection technology.  The radionuclide network is complemented by 16 laboratories for detailed analysis.  


Data analysis

About 87% of these facilities are already established and send data to the IDC for analysis. All raw data and the analysis reports are made available to Member States.


On-site inspections

After the Treaty's entry into force, an OSI can be requested if monitoring data suggest that a nuclear explosion was carried out in violation of the test ban. This involves a team of 40 inspectors who search the area where data suggest that a nuclear explosion may have taken place. The next comprehensive simulation exercise will take place in Jordan in November 2014.


Did the CTBTO detect the nuclear tests announced by the DPRK?

Yes, it did. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced that it had conducted nuclear tests on three occasions, in October 2006, in May 2009 and in February 2013. On all three occasions, the CTBT verification regime was capable of detecting the events quickly, and reliably and precisely.


Can monitoring data be used for other purposes?

CTBT monitoring data and technologies are also used by Member States for disaster warning and scientific research. The CTBTO has been providing monitoring data directly from some of its stations to tsunami warning institutions in Asia and the Pacific since November 2006. After the triple disaster in Japan in March 2011, the CTBTO provided information on the levels and dispersion of radioactive materials across the globe.