Project News

CTBTO's Monitoring Capabilities Continue to Improve

The CTBTO has seen a marked increase in its ability to locate and analyze nuclear test explosions since North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006. This is largely a result of an increase in the number of completed monitoring stations in the CTBTO's International Monitoring System (IMS), combined with increasingly larger nuclear explosions by North Korea. The IMS uses a combination of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide stations to detect nuclear test explosions.
In October 2006, the IMS was approximately 60% complete, with 99 seismic stations in operation. The organization was able to detect the 4.1 magnitude North Korean test with 22 seismic stations around the world and one radionuclide station located in Yellowknife, Canada. The test explosion was estimated within a location ellipse of 880 square kilometers. 
In May 2009, the IMS was over 70% complete, with 130 operational seismic stations. As a result of the increase in the IMS' sensor network, the organization was able to detect the 4.52 magnitude event with 61 seismic stations, although no radioactive noble gases were detected from the North Korean test tunnel. The explosion was estimated to be within a location ellipse of 265 square kilometers.
At the time of the February 2013 test, the IMS network was over 85% complete with 160 seismic stations reporting to the IMS. The network was able to detect the 4.9 magnitude nuclear test within a location ellipse of 181 square kilometers and with 94 seismic stations. In addition, two infrasound stations were able to register the event for the first time. Again, no radioactive noble gases were detected.

UN Security Council Passes New Sanctions in Response to N. Korean Nuclear Test

The United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution imposing a new round of sanctions on North Korea following the country's February 12 nuclear test explosion. These sanctions are particularly noteworthy because they were drafted by the United States in concert with China, Pyongyang's closest ally and supporter. This is the fourth set of UN sanctions imposed on North Korea since the country's first nuclear test in 2006.
The resolution imposes new financial sanctions, which require states to block financial transactions that could contribute to North Korea's weapons programs and to prevent bulk cash transfers to the country, among other things. In addition, the resolution requires states to inspect cargo on North Korean ships suspected of carrying prohibited items and to deny port access to vessels refusing inspection. The U.S. State Department has a complete list of the sanctions levied in the resolution.
Pyongyang responded to the resolution by cancelling the hotline between the North Korean leadership and Seoul, as well as the 1992 denuclearization agreement between the two countries and threatened to nullify the 1953 Armistice Agreement. North Korea has also ramped up its rhetoric by threatening both South Korea and the United States with "a pre-emptive nuclear attack" using ICBMs, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. 

Ambassador Thomas Pickering Urges U.S. Ratification of the CTBT

Ambassador Pickering called for U.S. leadership on the CTBT in a February 20 opinion editorial in The Christian Science Monitor. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and under secretary of state for political affairs called for the White House to "launch a high-level push for ratifying the treaty" and urged the Senate to provide its advice and consent on the test ban treaty. Pickering pointed out that the United States has not conducted a nuclear test in over 20 years and reiterated the fact that Washington has "no technical or military need to do so ever again."

Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. and former Utah Senator Jake Garn made the same point on February 16 in an opinion editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune. They quoted former National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Linton Brooks' comment that, "There's not going to be nuclear testing in the United States. No sane person thinks there is."

North Korean Nuclear Test and Meteorite over Siberia Demonstrate CTBTO Capabilities

According to a February 26 Global Security Newswire story, the recent North Korean nuclear test "brought fresh attention to the capabilities" of the CTBTO's monitoring system. The CTBTO's International Monitoring System (IMS) was able to detect the North Korean nuclear test within moments and forwarded information from its seismic and infrasound stations to state parties just over an hour after the explosion.


The IMS was also able to record the February 15 meteor explosion over the Ural Mountains in Siberia with 17 of its 45 infrasound stations. The IMS currently employs 274 certified stations around the globe, using a combination of seismic, infrasound, hydroacoustic, and radionuclide sensors to record nuclear test explosions.

Defying Global Taboo, North Korea Conducts 3rd Nuclear Blast

The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has apparently conducted its third nuclear test explosion, defying the explicit demands of the UN Security Council and the international community that it “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”

The Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Tibor Toth, issued the following statement on Feb. 12 at  04:19:17 CST:

“Today our monitoring stations picked up evidence of an unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The event shows clear explosion-like characteristics and its location is roughly congruent with the 2006 and 2009 DPRK nuclear tests. For now, further data and analysis are necessary to establish what kind of event this is. If confirmed as a nuclear test, this act would constitute a clear threat to international peace and security, and challenges efforts made to strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, in particular by ending nuclear testing.”

CTBTO Says it Can Detect Nuclear Test by N. Korea "Within Minutes"

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced this week that the organization is able to detect seismological activity in North Korea "within minutes" of an explosion. Following North Korea's previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, the CTBTO was able to determine "within a couple of hours" of each event that they were explosions, not earthquakes. 

Sandia Designs UAV to Monitor Nuclear Test Explosions

Sandia National Laboratories recently tested an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), nicknamed "Harvester," for use in detecting nuclear test explosions. The UAV's airborne pods are equipped with radiation sensors and debris samplers, which can track radiation to its source and use particulates and gases to identify the location of a nuclear test explosion, according to a press release from Sandia.

Harvester differs from traditional nuclear test monitoring technology in that it actively investigates sources of radiation, as opposed to the immobile monitoring stations used by the United States and CTBTO, while avoiding the health risks involved with sending a manned aircraft to investigate a radioactive plume.


North Korea Announces Intention to Test Nuclear Weapon

Today, North Korea’s National Defence Commission released a statement ramping up the rhetoric towards the United States. Pyongyang announced its intention to conduct a nuclear explosion of a higher yield than its previous tests in 2006 and 2009. The country also announced that it plans to continue to launch satellites and long-range rockets in direct violation of several UN Security Council resolutions.

Pyongyang stated that its “upcoming all-out action” would target the United States and that “settling accounts with the U.S. needs to be one with force, not with words.”