Project News

Is North Korea Preparing for Another Nuclear Test?

The Associated Press reported on Dec. 27, 2012 that satellite photos indicate North Korea has repaired flood damage at its nuclear test facility and is now capable of conducting a nuclear test explosion at the site. According to 38 North, a program of the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, North Korea is capable of conducting a nuclear test at the site "in as little as two weeks" from the point a decision to proceed is made.

North Korea conducted a satellite launch on Dec. 12, 2012, which many believe was meant to gather data to construct an intercontinental ballistic missile. The United States has called for additional international sanctions against the state and the UN Security Council is currently negotiating its response to the launch, which was a violation of past UN Security Council resolutions.

Moving Forward on the CTBT After the U.S. Election

Following the November 2012 election, the prospects for achieving U.S. ratification of the CTBT in 2013-2014 have improved. Moving forward and gaining the necessary 67 Senate votes in support of ratification of the CTBT remains difficult, but is within reach.

Since the beginning of his first term, President Barack Obama and other senior administration officials have consistently expressed support for the pursuit of U.S. reconsideration and ratification of the treaty. In March 2012, Obama said that: "... my administration will continue to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty." The 2012 Democratic Party platform also pledged to "work to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

In 2013, Democrats will have a 55-seat working majority, which means that the president and his allies would need to persuade at least a dozen pragmatic Republicans to secure two-thirds Senate support-an attainable goal.

South Korea Signs Tsunami Warning Agreement with CTBTO

The CTBTO signed an agreement with South Korea on October 31 to share tsunami early warning data with the country, making it the ninth CTBTO member state to do so. The International Data Centre (IDC) of the CTBTO, with assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), provides early warning data on tsunamis using a combination of seismic and hydroacoustic monitoring stations to detect "any strong, shallow earthquake under the seafloor" which could trigger a tsunami, according to UNESCO. The IDC currently utilizes data from 40 different monitoring stations in the Pacific to detect earthquakes beneath the ocean floor.

UNGA Overwhelmingly Approves CTBT Resolution

On November 5, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging states that have not yet signed or ratified the CTBT to do so "as soon as possible." The resolution garnered 44 co-sponsors, including China and the United States, and was approved by a 166-1-3 margin. North Korea, which was referenced in the resolution in connection with its 2006 and 2009 nuclear test explosions, was the only "no" vote.

Australia and New Zealand Sign Nuclear Detection Cooperation Agreement

Australia and New Zealand recently announced an agreement to increase scientific cooperation between the countries' nuclear detection networks. Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and Geoscience Australia will work with New Zealand's Institute of Environmental Science to enhance the two states' ability to detect nuclear test explosions. The Institute of Environmental Science and Research plays a key role in the CTBTO's nuclear detection network by managing six radionuclide-monitoring stations in the Pacific southwest, with two locations in New Zealand-one of which is the National Radiation Laboratory (NRL).

The two countries will exchange scientific and technical knowledge on radionuclide detection. According to NRL program director Wim Nijhof, "working more closely and sharing expertise with our Australian counterparts, will mean better planning and protection in the event that a nuclear incident is detected by our monitoring and analysis."

Preparatory Commission for the CTBTO Elects New Executive Secretary

Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso was chosen as the next executive secretary of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission on October 23. Mr. Zerbo who is currently the director of the CTBTO's International Data Center, will succeed Tibor Toth as the head of the organization on August 1, 2013. For a complete description of the election and the five candidates, please see the full article in Arms Control Today.

Zerbo's February 29, 2012 presentation on "Progress to Date with the International Monitoring System" is available in the new ACA conference report "CTBT at 15: Status and Prospects."

Special Rapporteur Delivers Report on the Marshall Islands after U.S. Nuclear Tests

The Report of the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights effects of U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands was recently released to the public.  The report addresses lingering health and human rights effects from the 67 atmospheric nuclear test explosions that were detonated from 1946 to 1958 by the United States in the Pacific islands.  One of the central conclusions of the report was that "the nuclear testing resulted in both immediate and continuing effects on the human rights of the Marshallese."

The Special Rapporteur noted that the prevalence of thyroid cancer in the Marshall Islands is associated with an increase in intake of radioactive iodine.  The report also documents a range of reproductive problems in women from the Rongelap Atoll; however, a link between these reproductive issues and nuclear testing cannot not be definitively established due to a lack of scientific data from that period, according to the report.  The report notes the lingering psychological effects among the Marshallese population resulting from the extensive nuclear testing, noting that a significant portion of the population believes that radiation continues to contaminate the land and affect the health of the local population. 

Foreign Ministers Call for Action on the CTBT

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and state foreign ministers met in New York on Sept. 27 at the UN headquarters to publicly advocate for the entry into force of the CTBT. The foreign ministerial gathering on the CTBT has been held every 2 years since 2002. The statements from the Secretary-General and the foreign ministers were especially poignant given the widespread references to Iranian nuclear activities in speeches given at the UN General Debate.

In the Joint Ministerial Statement, the leaders noted the significant progress made by the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO on the verification infrastructure of the International Monitoring System and the International Data Centre. The ministers also stressed the importance of the CTBT in promoting eventual nuclear disarmament "by constraining [nuclear weapons] development and qualitative improvement," which would "strengthen the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime."