Argument: New technologies enable detection and ban of nuclear tests

Issue Report: Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty


“The Test Ban Treaty”. New York Times Editorial. May 24, 2009: “Mr. Shultz was right when he said in Rome last month that the old arguments against the treaty — cheaters might not be detected and the safety and viability of American weapons could not be guaranteed without testing — have been put to rest by advances in technology.”

Paul G. Richards and Won-Young Kim. “Advances in Monitoring Nuclear Weapon Testing”. Scientific American. March 2009: “Detecting a test of a nuclear weapon has become so effective and reliable that no nation could expect to get away with secretly exploding a device having military significance.Seismic monitoring can now detect a nuclear explosion with a yield of a kiloton or more anywhere on Earth. In many places, detection is far more sensitive than that.In our view, those concerns about monitoring are groundless—and have been for several years. The scientific and technical community has developed a well-honed ability to monitor militarily significant nuclear test explosions anywhere in the world, above ground or below, and to distinguish them from mine collapses, earthquakes, and other natural or nonnuclear phenomena. For example, the yield of the North Korean test conducted underground in 2006 was less than a kiloton (the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT). Yet it was promptly detected and identified. Given such demonstrated capabilities, as well as continuing improvements in monitoring, the concerns about clandestine nuclear testing no longer provide defensible grounds for opposing the CTBT.”

Jonathan Medalia, Specialist in National Defense;Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service. “Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Pro and Con.” June 28th, 2005: “Scientists recognize that below a threshold, nuclear explosions cannot be distinguished from earthquakes or industrial explosions, and that improved monitoring ability lowers the threshold. CTBT supporters expect technical progress to lower the threshold further. They expect evasion technology will not progress as fast because would-be nuclear states lack the data on weapon yield and explosion containment required for an evasion attempt. Key treaty provisions aid monitoring. The treaty would provide a central point for data acquisition and distribution, would allow on-site inspections to investigate suspicious events, and would establish a worldwide network of seismic and other sensors that greatly increases capabilities. The International Monitoring System (IMS), set up by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, is to contain 321 monitoring stations; as of December 2004, 119 stations had been certified, and 204 had been completed or fully upgraded to specifications. The NAS report of July 2002 judges that IMS, when done, will prevent a 1 or 2 kiloton nuclear test from being confidently hidden even with evasion techniques.”