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Monitoring the ban on nuclear tests


In terms of detecting the radioactive noble gas xenon, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) is among the best in the world: The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) has certified the highly sensitive BfS measuring system for radioactive xenon (SPALAX). In addition to the system for radioactive air-borne dust, the CTBTO has thus confirmed highest measuring quality also to the second BfS-operated measuring system for the monitoring of the world-wide ban on nuclear tests. The BfS measuring station near Freiburg is currently one of 60 stations world-wide and the only one in Middle Europe with the task to detect and report just the smallest traces of radioactive fission products from secret nuclear tests.

"Going beyond its core tasks, the measuring network showed its functional efficiency in an impressive way during the Fukushima disaster. Even the smallest traces of radioactivity from Fukushima could be detected by the BfS measuring station near Freiburg, which also furnished proof of the volumes being so small that they did not pose a risk to health," Dr. Klaus Gehrcke, Head of the BfS Department Radiation Protection and Health, said. Thus, the measuring network has proven its basic suitability to pursue and to quantify global distributions of radioactive substances in the atmosphere, which is a great benefit in terms of evaluating the radiological situation.

On the Schauinsland mountain near Freiburg, the BfS operates two measuring systems for the CTBTO: The RASA system detects radioactive substances bound to air dust; the SPALAX system detects radioactive xenon. In particular the detection of xenon is of great importance for the discovery of nuclear tests, as already small amounts of xenon can be discharged in underground tests and can be detected with high-sensitive measuring systems.

Monitoring of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The CTBTO measuring system is a global, unique network whose task it is to detect, identify and locate each breach of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, so that possible breaches of contract can be controlled by means of in-situ inspections and penalties can be imposed. Over 300 stations and laboratories with high-sensitive sensors for radioactivity, for seismic signals over landmasses, sound waves in the oceans or infrasound in the atmosphere measure continuously. They transfer their measurement results online to the "International Data Center" in Vienna where they are stored, analysed and forwarded to the member countries of the Organisation.

Annual co-ordination meeting

In 2013, the BfS hosted the annual co-ordination meeting of all German institutions taking part in the operation and further scientific-technical development of the monitoring system. In the presence of the German Ambassador to the International Organisations in Vienna, diplomats and scientists discussed topical political and scientific questions relating to the monitoring of the Nuclear Test Ban.

Source: Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (BfS)