08 October 1999
(Sensor stations relay real-time nuclear test data) (840) By Jacquelyn S. Porth State Department Washington File Security Affairs Writer Washington - Even as the Senate debated the pros and cons of ratifying the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a cadre of highly skilled scientists and engineers were busy analyzing data from around the world that will ensure that the Treaty's requirements are met. The Prototype International Data Centre (PIDC) hums around-the-clock with computers and software tucked in a skyscraper looming over the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. The PIDC, housed with Defense Threat Reduction Agency's (DTRA) Center for Monitoring Research, currently collects data on atmospheric, underground and underwater tests drawing on around 110 seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide sensing stations positioned around the world. Since 1995, the PIDC has detected over 82,000 events, most often earthquakes, but that number also includes data collected on 13 nuclear tests. Among its successes, the PIDC detected all of the 1998 nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan. As one senior DTRA official, affiliated with the Center noted, "our beepers went off within the hour" of these explosions. (Neither India nor Pakistan are CTBT signatories.) Independent analysis of the PIDC, written up in the September 1998 issue of Science magazine, found that it was able to monitor the May 11, 28, and 30 nuclear tests in South Asia in an effective and timely manner. The authors concluded that the data collection network will have "sufficient scientific and technical capabilities to perform global treaty monitoring to verify low (nuclear) thresholds." Demonstrating the distinct patterns that seismic events, for example, generate, analyst Pierre Caron, pointed to specific examples of data generated recently by the 1998 100-ton chemical detonation in Kazakhstan's Degelen Mountain. He said it is necessary to assemble a variety of data to determine the exact nature of detected events likening it to assembling pieces of "a puzzle" to form a judgment. Center officials stress, however, that they only provide raw data to their customer; it is up to individual nations to draw their own conclusions based upon the data provided. Dr. Richard Gustafson, the principle program director for the project, said the PIDC is an outgrowth of the U.S. commitment to develop a data collection, analysis and distribution system that will be turned over to the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna, Austria by the summer of 2001. In its permanent configuration, the PIDC will be served by 321 monitoring stations, including 38 that the United States will maintain. Even now, with only half that number of sites reporting, Gustafson said some three to five gigabytes of data is coming into the facility daily. Already, there is "pretty good coverage of the entire world," he said. In a brief interview on October 8, Gustafson said the data is collected and distributed with complete transparency. It will be available to all parties to the CTBT when the Treaty enters into force after 44 nations have signed and ratified it. In the meantime, all of the data is available on the PDIC's web site (at: http://www.pidc.org). The PDIC is working with both the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT and CTBTO. Some countries, he said, are eager to acquire all existing data for critical review. Other nations, however, request data only for certain regions or nearby nations. Having accurate data about what a potential adversary may be doing - or not doing - can serve as a stabilizing measure. The PIDC has hosted a number of international visitors over the years, including the ambassadors to the Conference on Disarmament in the lead-up to the signing of the CTBT in September 1996. Some of the visitors come for an education about the capabilities of the facility while others receive training on the computers and software so they may better use the technologies at home. Gustafson also said the PIDC has received visits from a few members of Congress and "lots of staffers" as well as many senior Defense Department officials. Dr. Robert North, director of the CMR, says even with the existing , incomplete data collection network, small nuclear tests can be detected. Its capabilities will improve even further when the full network is up and running, but he said it was never designed to detect down to a zero-yield. The PIDC has successfully identified everything ranging from explosions in gold mines, to space shuttle launches, to 10 to 15 kiloton nuclear explosions in India. The data is unique in both its collection and dissemination. As Gustafson points out, "This is a totally transparent Treaty and organization," unlike the International Atomic Energy Agency which restricts access to data. But with the CTBT, he explained, "every state has the right to everything, including all the software, all the raw data from the stations, all the processed data" (as well as) to access the data base within the Centre. The magnitude and accuracy of the data will be a valuable asset for current and future users.