The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty bans all countries that have ratified it from testing nuclear weapons. It also created a UN entity known as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization which monitors for nuclear detonations around the world, in theory to ensure that no country is cheats but it serves a wider purpose.
The CTBTO, as it is known, maintains a complex system of hundreds of monitoring stations deployed in all corners of the globe. These monitoring stations can detect seismic activity consistent with a nuclear test, some can even test air samples for radiation that would be released with a nuclear explosion.
These stations are an important part of global non-proliferation efforts, and in turn, global security. For example, when a country like North Korea claims it has detonated a nuclear weapon, the world turns to the CTBTO and its monitoring stations to verify these claims. And the CTBTO’s conclusions carry a great deal more political weight than the conclusions of national intelligence agencies like the CIA because the CTBTO is perceived as being a more neutral arbiter than a single country.
So, these monitoring stations are very much a corner stone of global nuclear weapons testing detection. But setting up these monitoring stations can be a challenge. A big challenge.
This video from the UN shows how a team of engineers and scientists set up a monitoring station on the Crozet Islands, one of the most remote places on earth.
It is a good reminder that this global monitoring system is not something that the international community should take for granted.
For more on the CTBTO, why it matters, and why it’s high time the USA join, have a listen to this recent podcast conversation with Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association.