Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office: Annual Report 2012-13

Output 1.6: CTBT Implementation

Development of verification systems and arrangements in support of Australia's commitments related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Performance Measures

  • Australia's obligations under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) are met
  • Legal and administrative mechanisms which support Australia's commitments related to the CTBT are effective
  • Contribute to the development of CTBT verification, including through the work
    of the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission
  • Contribute to Australia's CTBT outreach efforts

Performance Assessment

International Obligations

Of the 21 facilities that Australia will host for the CTBT International Monitoring System (IMS), 20 are in place and certified as operating to CTBTO technical specifications. The final facility, an infrasound monitoring station at Davis Base, Australian Antarctic Territory, requires significant planning and will be installed in the coming years. A list of Australia's IMS facilities and their status is at Appendix F. Specific advances during 2012–13 in relation to Australian hosted IMS stations included the certification of the radionuclide monitoring station at Mawson Base, Australian Antarctic Territory.

Legal and Administrative Measures

ASNO continues to administer funding for Geoscience Australia to carry out nuclear test monitoring through its network of seismic stations. This arrangement, set out in a Letter of Understanding between Geoscience Australia and DFAT, has been administered by ASNO on behalf of DFAT since 1 July 2000. ASNO is satisfied that Geoscience Australia has met its requirements under the Letter of Understanding during the reporting period. ASNO and Geoscience Australia again reviewed the arrangement in 2012, concluding that it remained adequate for Australia's requirements.

The operation of a National Data Centre (NDC) to verify an in-force CTBT will require additional activities. ASNO, ARPANSA and Geoscience Australia, working with the Department of Defence, continue to hold the question of Australia's future NDC requirements under review.

Nuclear-Test-Ban Verification

On 12 February 2013, the DPRK announced that it had conducted a nuclear test. Seismic waves from the test were detected by global nuclear test monitoring infrastructure, including in Australia. Analysis indicated an explosion with a likely nuclear explosive yield of around 5 kilotons in the vicinity of the P'unggye nuclear test site in north-eastern DPRK (the site of the declared 2006 and 2009 tests). This is greater than the 2009 test (1–4.6 kilotons) and is many times larger than the first DPRK nuclear test (less than 1 kiloton) in 2006. Even before the DPRK made its public announcement, analysis of the seismic event was underway, offering a strong demonstration of the ability of the CTBT's IMS to detect nuclear explosions without difficulty. The 2013 nuclear test is discussed further in the separate article in the Current Topics section of this report.

While around 87 per cent of CTBT IMS stations are now in place worldwide, detailed preparatory work is continuing to bring the Treaty's verification to a good level of readiness. ASNO contributes to the verification work of the CTBTO in conjunction with technical specialists from Geoscience Australia and ARPANSA.

When the CTBT enters into force, it will provide for on-site inspections (OSI) to determine whether a nuclear explosion has taken place in a particular area. ASNO's Mr Malcolm Coxhead, as the Task Leader for the elaboration of an Operational Manual on the conduct of OSI, continued to chair discussions on this subject at the CTBTO Preparatory Commission's technical working group. To ensure that it will be ready to meet the significant logistical, technical and political challenges an OSI would present, the CTBTO is conducting a series of field exercises between 2012 and 2014. Three build-up exercises have been conducted in 2012–13 leading to a large scale test of the OSI mechanism in 2014 in Jordan. Mr Coxhead participated in two of the three build-up exercises, playing the role of a senior representative of a fictitious inspected State Party. An article at page 32 in the Current Topics section of this report provides further information.

Experts from Geoscience Australia and ASNO participated in a CTBTO hosted conference entitled CTBT: Science and Technology 2013 (SnT2013), which was
fourth in a series of conferences that help establish interactions and partnerships between the scientific and technological community and the CTBTO. Scientists made over 80 oral presentations and over 250 poster presentations at the conference to more than 750 conference participants consisting of scientists, diplomats, scientific representatives to the CTBTO's policy-making organs, representatives of civil society and the media attended.

The conference goals were: capitalise on scientific and technological innovations for verifying CTBT compliance; promote the wider scientific application of data that are used for test-ban verification; enhance the exchange of knowledge and ideas between the CTBTO and the broader scientific community; and enlarge the scientific community engaged in test-ban monitoring. Australia's scientific contribution to the conference included a poster on techniques to improve seismic location accuracy by Geoscience Australia and several other posters covering background levels and atmospheric transport of radionuclides, the earth's structure under Indonesia and ocean hydro-acoustics co-authored by experts from the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist, ANSTO, the Australian National University and the Australian Antarctic Division.

Consistent with principles set out in the CTBT, activities associated with the development of CTBT verification are funded primarily from the contributions of States Signatories. This includes training of people involved with the work of the Treaty, and participation in CTBTO workshops. ASNO coordinates the involvement of Australians in this training and during the reporting period, three Australians participated in these activities.


A fundamental requirement for an effective CTBT will be the ability of States Parties to form sound technical judgements about the nature of events detected by the IMS. Australia continues to work with and alongside the CTBTO to promote relevant technical capacity. ASNO is working with Geoscience Australia and ARPANSA to develop technical links with several countries in Australia's region. Geoscience Australia officers participated in several capacity building workshops in the South Pacific and Asia. These were aimed at both building capacity and enhancing co-operation between NDCs. While substantial efforts are required in the following years, significant progress has been made by a number of Member States.

Regular cooperation among NDCs offers a further way to enhance their effectiveness. With this in mind, ASNO and the New Zealand Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade concluded an MOU in August 2012 that provides a framework for cooperation between NDC agencies in Australia and New Zealand to support the CTBT. Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Carr welcomed the framework as part of Australia's efforts to promote a permanent and effective ban on nuclear weapon tests. He observed that international cooperation enhances the ability of scientific experts to provide advice to their governments on whether a nuclear test has occurred and that cooperation between Australia and New Zealand can serve as a model for others around the world and will strengthen the CTBT.

ASNO officer, Mr Malcom Coxhead, representing the fictional country of Forestia, at the CTBTO On-Site Inspection exercise in Austria, September 2012

ASNO officer, Mr Malcom Coxhead, representing the fictional country of Forestia, at the CTBTO On-Site Inspection exercise in Austria, September 2012