DEC 29 1997


The Straits Times (Singapore)
Network to keep tabs on nuclear test ban to undergo tests soon

By R. Senthilnathan
in Vienna

A MILESTONE in nuclear disarmament will be reached early next year when a UN office runs the first trials of the global system to monitor the nuclear-test ban treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), officials here said.

Mr Wolfgang Hoffmann, head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), said his office would begin test runs of the global monitoring network around April next year.

The trial will include the running of application software at a Vienna office which will receive, analyse and disseminate data pertaining to seismic events around the globe.

The office, the International Data Centre, will be the heart of the whole test-ban treaty-monitoring system, whose second component will be the 321 mostly seismic, but also radiation and acoustic monitoring stations around the globe.

The necessary software is being developed and modified in Arlington, Virginia, where a so-called prototype monitoring network is collecting and analysing data from about 100 stations worldwide.

According to officials at the organisation, which will have the status of a provisional secretariat until the treaty enters into force, the software is sophisticated enough in the fields of data acquisition, processing and seismic-event location.

It is also being worked on to improve the data distribution, event screening and documentation sectors.

Some of the 321 stations are already functioning and the CTBTO just has to sign the contracts with the respective countries and install its own software while, in others, everything has to be built from scratch.

Mr Hoffmann said that work is expected to begin or finish by the end of next year on 150 of the 321 monitoring stations worldwide.

All work is expected to be completed by 1999 when the future of the treaty is expected to be determined.

CTBTO officials are upbeat about the financial contributions of member countries.

According to Mr Hoffmann, more than three quarters of the pledged budget for this year has been paid.

The so-called preparatory committee -- the temporary governing body of the organisation where signatories sit, talk and take decisions -- has already passed a budget of US$58.4 million (S$96 million) to cover next year's expenses.

Roughly half the money will go towards establishing or upgrading the 150 stations.

The office has already begun talks with countries where 66 of the stations will be located and 15 of them are in an advanced stage.

The talks would conclude with the signing of bilateral agreements allowing the CTBTO to use their territories for the stations.

Of the 321 stations, about 80 will be in Asia, including Australia, Iran, Mongolia and New Zealand.

India had offered four stations initially but later withdrew its offer.

The CTBTO will ensure the implementation of the CTBT, which was adopted at the UN General Assembly late last year.

To date, it has 149 signatory states and eight ratifications, including Japan.

All the five weapons states -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- have signed, but none has ratified it.

The treaty will come into force after ratification by all the 44 countries which are either part of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva or possess some kind of nuclear facility in their territory.

Thus, the enforcement of the treaty will depend on the ratification by India, Israel and Pakistan, but not many here in Vienna and in New York feel very positive about getting India's signature.

Should the treaty not enter into force by 1999, the CTBT foresees a conference of all signatories to discuss how to proceed.