Some 40 scientists and technicians from around the world will descend on Jordan in November to take part in a simulated on-site inspection of a suspected nuclear test site on the banks of the Dead Sea.
Playing the part of inspectors, the experts will have access to a wide range of sensor technologies to look for signs of whether a nuclear explosion has taken place. At the same time, other role-players representing the state under inspection will try to put them off their scent.
The aim of this elaborate exercise, as science writer Edwin Cartlidge explains in this month's Physics World, is to prepare for the on-site inspections foreseen under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Opened for signature in 1996, this agreement bans all signatory nations from carrying out nuclear tests anywhere on Earth or in space.
The CTBT has been signed by more than 180 nations to date, but to become legally binding all 44 countries that possessed nuclear technology in 1996 must sign it and then ratify it, which typically means that their parliaments must approve it in a vote. However, eight of those countries, including North Korea and the US, have still to do so.
Until the CTBT gets the backing of all the relevant nations, scientists cannot perform the final and crucial part of the verification regime specified in the treaty: on-site inspection, which would be invoked following initial evidence of any nuclear testing provided by a global network of sensors known as the International Monitoring System (IMS).
In the article, Cartlidge explains in more detail the role that the IMS's 279 facilities currently play in detecting four types of physical phenomena than can provide evidence of a nuclear explosion having taken place.
Data produced by measuring these phenomena – seismic waves, radioactive nuclei, underwater sound waves and infrasonic waves – are continually sent in near real-time to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna, Austria, where they are pieced together and used to look for any suspicious or unnatural events.
"Unfortunately, the evidence from the IMS is not always enough to convince signatories of the CTBT that a nuclear test has taken place. The network did not, for example, detect any radionuclides following a test North Korea carried out in 2009, and it was nearly two months before stations in Japan and Russia picked up radioactive noble gases after [North Korea's] 2013 test," Cartlidge writes.
Once the experts arrive at the roughly 1000 km2 of mountainous desert and scrubland in Jordan, they will have access to almost all of the sensor technologies available to them under the terms of the CTBT, including ultraviolet light to search for vehicle tracks in the dirt, infrared radiation to hunt down the exact point of any possible explosion, and noble-gas detection systems to measure the telltale gases xenon and argon.
"While the treaty remains on hold, CTBTO scientists will continue to refine and test their monitoring techniques, ensuring that they are as ready as they can be should they finally be called upon to investigate what could be the explosion of a real nuclear weapon. "The exercise in Jordan should provide a stern test of that preparedness," Cartlidge concludes.
Also in this issue:
Please mention Physics World as the source of these items and, if publishing online, please include a hyperlink to: http://physicsworld.com
Notes for editors:
1. Physics World is the international monthly magazine published by the Institute of Physics. For further information or details of its editorial programme, please contact the editor, Dr Matin Durrani, tel +44 (0)117 930 1002. The magazine's website physicsworld.com is updated regularly and contains daily physics news and regular audio and video content. Visit http://physicsworld.com.
2. For copies of the articles reviewed here contact Mike Bishop, IOP Publishing Senior Press Officer, tel: +44 (0)11 7930 1032, e-mail: email@example.com
3. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.
We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications.
In September 2013, we launched our first fundraising campaign. Our campaign, Opportunity Physics, offers you the chance to support the work that we do.
Michael Bishop | Eurek Alert!
Ground-breaking research could challenge underlying principles of physics
23.11.2015 | University of Southampton
Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism
20.11.2015 | Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...
AWI researchers’ unique 15-year observation series reveals how sensitive marine ecosystems in polar regions are to change
The warming of arctic waters in the wake of climate change is likely to produce radical changes in the marine habitats of the High North. This is indicated by...
Berkeley Lab researchers develop nanoparticles that can carry therapeutics across the brain blood barrier
Glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer of the brain also known as "octopus tumors" because of the manner in which the cancer cells extend their tendrils into...
17.11.2015 | Event News
21.10.2015 | Event News
20.10.2015 | Event News
24.11.2015 | Trade Fair News
24.11.2015 | Trade Fair News
24.11.2015 | Life Sciences