ALTHOUGH political tensions have eased significantly between the West and the former Soviet Union, nuclear proliferation remains a grave concern worldwide. Recent events underscore this concern. In the months following the Gulf War, United Nations investigators were surprised to discover the progress Iraq had secretly made toward developing a nuclear arsenal. Just this spring, the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan raised the frightening specter of unfriendly neighbors acquiring their own nuclear missile forces and triggered urgent appeals for all nations to sign and ratify promptly the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
This ban on "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion"* is the latest step in a decades-long quest to halt nuclear proliferation. The treaty calls for an international system of several hundred monitoring stations transmitting data continuously to an international data center in Vienna, which in turn distributes the data and summary reports to national data centers, including the U.S. National Data Center in Florida.
As the article beginning on p. 4 points out, the treaty presents an unprecedented monitoring challenge: namely, detecting low-yield, clandestine nuclear tests among thousands of seismically similar events, such as small earthquakes and routine mining explosions, that will be reported daily by the monitoring stations arrayed around the globe.
The Department of Energy is drawing on the expertise and technical strengths of its national laboratories to devise tools and techniques for monitoring this most restrictive of all test bans. For its part, Livermore is home to expertise in nuclear-test-related seismology, geology, engineering, chemistry, instrumentation, and computer science. During the nation's earlier nuclear testing program, Livermore seismologists, geologists, and engineers, many of them now a part of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Directorate, played a critical role in ensuring the containment of the underground tests at the Nevada Test Site. In addition, our seismologists have a long history of treaty monitoring research and, along with other Livermore experts, have provided technical support and advice to U.S. policymakers and treaty negotiators for all of the treaties limiting underground nuclear testing.
During CTBT negotiations in Geneva a few years ago, Livermore made major contributions to the selection of international monitoring station sites, the definition of on-site inspection procedures, and even the adoption of national monitoring concepts undergirding the treaty. For the past few years, Livermore researchers have been working on several projects to help the U.S. National Data Center prepare for a CTBT. One vital effort focuses on determining how the regional geology in key parts of the world, such as the Middle East, will affect seismic signals as they travel underground from explosions, earthquakes, and other sources to the international monitoring stations. As the article describes, fulfilling this task has taken Livermore people to remote corners of the world and even teamed them with colleagues in Russia to calibrate seismic wave propagation in areas of the former Soviet Union.
The research team's work supports Livermore's Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security Directorate-in particular, its Proliferation Prevention and Arms Control Program. Among this program's responsibilities are conducting analyses in support of DOE nuclear arms control policies and guiding the development of treaty verification technologies. Indeed, the directorate was created in part to use Livermore's core strengths in nuclear science and advanced sensors and instrumentation to help this nation prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and supporting technology.
Livermore and the other DOE national security laboratories have an essential role to play in providing the analyses and technologies needed to monitor compliance with arms control treaties. This role, as never before, demands technological inventiveness from experts representing a host of mutually supporting disciplines, with the overriding goal of enhancing national and global security.

*From the text of the CTBT, which can be viewed at

Back to September 1998