SCK•CEN reinforces the international monitoring system for the detection of nuclear tests

Award CBTBOSCK•CEN has acquired an international renown in research that will make a contribution to the enhancement of the global monitoring system for the registration of nuclear tests. Our colleague Johan Camps (head of Crisis Management and Policy Support unit) presented a paper on SCK•CEN research during the International Science and Technology Conference in Vienna, organised by the CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation). A jury voted Johan Camps’s presentation as the best from more than 80 scientific presentations, and awarded it an EU Star Award.

The CTBTO (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation) is the organisation set up with the purpose of verifying compliance with the overall ban on nuclear testing throughout the world. The organisation has developed an international monitoring system for this purpose that carries out seismic and acoustic measurements, as well as radioactivity measurements (particles and noble gases).

The key components of this system are seismic and radioactive measurements. The seismic measurement of a nuclear explosion cannot always be easily distinguished from an ordinary earthquake. But a combination with measurements of short-lived fission products in the relative proximity of the seismic shock may provide conclusive evidence that a nuclear test has been performed. The short-lived fission products that are measured are xenon isotopes with half-life periods of less than 1 day to 11 days.

In the Northern hemisphere in particular, however, there is a background of these short-lived xenon isotopes due to the production of medical radioisotopes. The production of medical radioisotopes causes the same short-lived xenon isotopes. The result is that there may be a high background of radioactive xenon, particularly in the Northern hemisphere. Because xenon is an inert gas, it is very difficult to prevent its dispersion through the atmosphere. On the basis of radiation protection, this is also absolutely unnecessary. But this background is upsetting the measurements of radioactive noble gases by the international monitoring system. In order to improve this, the SCK•CEN, in cooperation with the IRE in Fleurus, which produces medical radioisotopes, is carrying out research that will lead to the development of a prototype adsorption plant for radioactive inert gases. These facilities should capture the short-lived xenon isotopes until the major part has expired before they leave the chimney of the IRE. This would considerably reduce the xenon background, and ensure that the international monitoring system operates more efficiently.
The project represents much of SCK•CEN’s purpose for existing; our social commitment through working towards a world that is free from nuclear weapons; our scientific know-how that is used to better identify the adsorption characteristics of various materials, and our technological knowledge that will be used to build a prototype adsorption unit.

Picture: © CTBTO - Marianne Weiss 

Interesting links

CTBT: Science and Technology 2013 Conference

Wie das Verborgene entdeckt werden kann