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Nations consent to ban all nuclear tests.

Members of the United Nations' General Assembly voted last week to adopt a treaty barring nuclear detonations of any kind. A goal of negotiators for nearly 40 years, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) extends existing, less stringent agreements limiting the size and location of nuclear weapons tests.

To ensure that nations comply with the prohibition, the treaty provides for the establishment of a globe-girdling network of sensors called the international monitoring system (SN: 5/11/96, p. 298).

In the General Assembly, 158 nations voted to adopt the treaty, with only India, Libya, and Bhutan opposing it. It remains uncertain, however, whether the treaty will become international law. To enter into force, the treaty must be ratified by 44 specific nations-including India-known to have atomic weapons, power plants, or research reactors.

Arundhati Ghose, India's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said, "India will never sign this unequal treaty. Not now, nor later." India objects to the treaty because it does not include a pledge to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Diplomats remain hopeful that India will soften its stance. If the treaty has not entered into force within 3 years, states may accelerate the ratification process, possibly by circumventing objecting nations.

During the next few years, the CTBT organization is scheduled to begin setting up the International Data Center in Vienna to serve as the collecting station for data from the international monitoring system. As the Vienna center takes shape, the U.S. Defense Department plans to begin shutting down a prototype center it had established in Arlington, Va., to develop the necessary software and systems, says Ralph W. Alewine III, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear treaty programs.

The backbone of the monitoring system-a network of 50 seismic stations-is already near completion. Many of the stations have functioned in earlier networks operated by the United States and other countries. The monitoring system also is to include 11 underwater hydroacoustic sensors, 60 infrasound listening posts, and 80 radionuclide stations. Most of these are not yet available.

Under the provisions of the treaty, if the international monitoring system or any other network records a suspicious event, a committee of 51 nations will evaluate the available evidence. The CTBT organization can conduct an on-site inspection of the questionable event if at least 30 states on the committee deem it necessary.

Although such inspections cannot begin until the treaty enters into force, the monitoring system is already policing the globe in concert with many other secret and open networks. The combined observing power will probably hinder nations from violating the spirit of the treaty even before it enters into force, says Katherine Magraw of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in Washington, D.C. "If a suspect event is picked up, it would be known, and I suspect there would be quite a political outcry."
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Title Annotation:the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is approved by members of the United Nations General Assembly; provisions of the treaty are described
Author:Monastersky, Richard
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 21, 1996
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