US Faces UN Pressure on Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

September 23, 2009 - 4:19 PM
This time around, U.S. Senate skeptics who killed the nuclear test-ban treaty a decade ago must take into account a new, $1-billion verification network underpinning the pact, the treaty chief said Wednesday.
United Nations (AP) - This time around, U.S. Senate skeptics who killed the nuclear test-ban treaty a decade ago must take into account a new, $1-billion verification network underpinning the pact, the treaty chief said Wednesday.
 
In 1999, "the system was a blueprint," Tibor Toth said of the high-tech web of stations on alert for nuclear bomb tests. Now "I could call it a `verification Manhattan Project," he said, referring to the all-out U.S. program that built the first bombs in the 1940s.
 
Toth, who heads the U.N.-affiliated Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, spoke with The Associated Press on the eve of a conference of some 150 nations convened every other year to urge those that have not ratified the treaty, including the United States, to do so.
 
The two-day session will be held in parallel Thursday with a summit of the 15 U.N. Security Council members on the subject of nuclear nonproliferation, presided over by U.S. President Barack Obama.
 
After eight years in which the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush rejected it, Obama has pledged to push for Senate ratification of the treaty, known as the CTBT, which would ban all nuclear tests everywhere.
 
The pact, signed by the U.S. and other nations in 1996, requires ratification - that is, full government approval - by 44 nuclear-capable states before it can take effect. All but nine of those have ratified, along with the governing bodies of 115 other nations.
 
Besides the U.S., the holdouts among the 44 are China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. and four other original nuclear powers - Russia, Britain, France and China - have observed testing moratoriums.
 
The treaty was defeated in 1999 in the Senate - then Republican-dominated, now with a Democratic majority - after opponents objected that the U.S. might need to test its weapons to ensure the reliability of its nuclear stockpile, and contended that the planned International Monitoring System might fail to detect secret tests by nuclear cheaters.
 
Since then, the CTBT agency has built up the network to more than three-quarters of its planned 320 stations, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, in all the world's oceans and on all continents. Each uses one of four technologies: seismic, sensing shock waves of an underground blast; hydroacoustic, listening for underwater explosions; infrasound, detecting the low-frequency sound of an atmospheric test; and radionuclide detection, sampling the air for a test's radioactive byproducts.
 
Experts of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences are studying the effectiveness of the system, along with the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without testing, and will report their findings this winter. Toth said he hoped this "nonpartisan" review will reassure enough Republicans to win the needed two-thirds ratification vote in the Senate.
 
It's "absolutely important" that senators are given "all the facts, all the information needed for such a judgment," the treaty chief said.
 
Indonesia has said it will ratify if the U.S. does, and analysts believe the Chinese would also follow suit. Most believe North Korea and Iran might be the final holdouts, and would be more deeply isolated internationally as a result.