Five Chinese Test Detection Stations Certified

By Shervin Taheran

In just twelve months, China has certified its first five International Monitoring System (IMS) stations, of the twelve it is treaty-bound to certify in order to realize the completion of the global nuclear test detection system managed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

China, as well as the United States, are two of eight countries left which need to ratify the CTBT for the 1996 treaty to enter into force. Both countries have signed, but not ratified, the treaty.

The first Chinese IMS station, radionuclide station RN21, was certified in December 2016. The most recent four stations include two primary seismic stations, and two other radionuclide stations, all certified between the months of September to December of 2017. These most recent certifications will “fill in an important geographical coverage gap in terms of event detection in the region,” according to a CTBTO press statement.

During a certification ceremony at the end of January 2018 in China, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo commended China for setting a “positive example” for other Member States in regards to its technical engagement, and Vice Director of Equipment Development at the Chinese Department of the Central Military Commission Lt. General Zhang Yulin noted that the certification of the five stations in one year was “of landmark significance.”

It a statement released following a meeting with Zerbo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the CTBT is “an important pillar of international nuclear disarmament,” and has an “irreplaceable” role. He also noted that China is “willing to deepen” it’s cooperation with the CTBTO and further “promote the construction and certification of follow-up stations,” which will provide further concentrated monitoring of potential nuclear test activity in the region, particularly North Korean activity.

Less than a month after these remarks, the chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress Fu Ying explicitly noted at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 17 that China is “in support of a CTBT.”

"Having five stations certified within one year is excellent work and is indicative of China's increasing role as a global leader in advancing peace and nonproliferation," said CTBTO Executive-Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo. In it's recent Nuclear Posture Review, the United States has rejected CTBT ratification and the NNSA shortened its testing readiness timeline. 

China is not the only Asian country to ramp up its support of the CTBTO’s IMS in the past year. The government of Japan made a voluntary contribution of $2.43 million to the CTBTO in February 2017, to further enhance the IMS’s ability to monitor the air for radioactive isotopes of the noble gas xenon (radioxenon), the primary indication of whether an explosive event was of a nuclear nature or not. With this contribution, Japan has recently installed two transportable radioxenon detection systems, which will aim to more accurately identify suspicious detections.

The CTBTO’s monitoring system is around 90% complete, with over 290 stations currently certified. Once completed, the IMS will have 337 facilities in operation—321 monitoring stations consisting of hydroacoustic, infrasound, seismic, and radionuclide stations, and 16 laboratories worldwide.