The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. The treaty has a unique and comprehensive verification regime to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. To achieve this, the CTBT has designated over 300 facilities in its International Monitoring Stations (IMS) around the world. These facilities employ state-of the art technologies, which include seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide monitoring. It also deploys on-site inspection and collects and analyzes data from the IMS stations at its International Data Centre at its headquarters in Vienna.
The CTBT makes it very difficult for countries to develop nuclear bombs for the first time, or for countries that already have them, to make more powerful bombs. It also prevents the huge damage caused by radioactivity from nuclear explosions to humans, animals and plants. Since the treaty is not yet in force, the organisation responsible for its activities is known as the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). It was founded in 1996, has over 260 staff from over 70 countries, and is based in Vienna.
On the 24th September 2000, the then President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Treaty in New York, USA. The article for ratification was deposited on the 8th of September, 2001 making Nigeria the 84th state signatory worldwide and the 12th from Africa to have ratified the CTBT.
The CTBT came into existence to synergise several efforts at bringing nuclear weapons tests to an end. The United States of America ushered in the age of nuclear explosions in the world, when it carried out its first nuclear test on July 16, 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico. One month later, following Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the U.S. dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan – on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, bringing an end to World War II. However, nuclear testing did not end. Instead, five decades (until the
CTBT in 1996) of efforts to “put the nuclear genie back in the bottle” began.
In the five decades between that fateful day in 1945 and the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996, over 2,000 nuclear tests were carried out all over the world. The breakdown is as follows:
The United States being the first country in 1945 conducted 1,032 tests between 1945 and 1992.
The Soviet Union, the second country in 1949 carried out 715 tests between 1949 and 1990.
The United Kingdom was the third country in 1952, it carried out 45 tests between 1952 and 1991.
France joined the race in 1960 in the Sahara desert as the fourth country in the world and has carried out 210 tests between 1960 and 1996. It should be noted that the test by France in 1960 in the Sahara desert resulted in the establishment of the Radiation Protection Service at the Department of Physics, University of Ibadan to monitor its effects in Nigeria.
China, the fifth country entered the race in 1964 and it has carried out 45 tests between 1964 and 1996. India became the sixth state and carried out its first test in 1974, which was labeled “for peaceful purposes.”
Concerned over the threat posed by the escalation of nuclear testing around the world and the increasing yields of these tests, the United States, the Soviet Union, the UK and 58 other countries signed the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on 1 July 1968. Nigeria is signatory to all treaties and additional protocols on the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear energy including the NPT. The Treaty defined nuclear weapon States (NWS) as those countries that tested nuclear weapons before 1967 and all others as non-nuclear weapon States (NNWS). There are three pillars of the NPT: nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Treaty prohibits NWS from transferring nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosives or nuclear weapon technology to NNWS. Likewise, NNWS are obligated to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Each NNWS undertakes to accept safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). At the same time, NNWS have an inalienable right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Prior to the NPT in 1968 and alarmed at the prospect of nuclear technology proliferating around the world and the number of States with atomic bomb making capabilities increasing beyond US control, the then US President, Dwight Eisenhower proposed the “Atoms for Peace” programme to the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 8, 1953. In accordance with President’s Eisenhower’s initiative, the IAEA was created in 1957 in response to the deep fears and expectations generated by the discoveries and diverse uses of nuclear technology. The IAEA monitors the “upstream” dimension of nuclear weapons development while the CTBT is intended to monitor the “downstream” final proof of a State’s intention to develop nuclear weapons—that is, the actual nuclear test explosion.
Even after the CTBT was opened for signature in September 1996, nine nuclear tests have been conducted:
India which conducted its first test earlier in 1974 carried out additional two tests in 1998. Thereafter, Pakistan conducted two tests in 1998, while the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced that it conducted one nuclear test in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and two in 2016 including hydrogen bomb. Even in the New Year, the country has renewed its interest to continue with additional tests.
Although, there are no NWS in Africa, but as the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents have demonstrated, nuclear crises do not respect borders, African nations have prominent roles to play in the monitoring of nuclear weapons tests. There are network of monitoring stations in the world, including the ones in Africa. A breakdown of the CTBT monitoring stations in Africa, which are categorized as certified, installed, those under construction and planned indicate that there are 18 seismic, 8 infrasound and 11 radionuclide stations. These stations are scattered all over the continent and with deployment of trained experts they can assist in the detection of nuclear weapons tests.
Africa provides a valuable contribution to the treaty and many African countries participate in the meetings of the Preparatory Commission in Vienna. Africa is already a Nuclear Weapon-free Zone with the coming into force of the African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty on July 15, 2009. Known as the Pelindaba Treaty and in conformity with Article 12 (i.e. mechanism for compliance) the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) has been established to help member states in their non‐proliferation obligations as well as promote cooperation in the peaceful, safe and secure uses of nuclear science and technology. Other Nuclear Weapons Free Zones in the world are the Latin America and the Caribbean, the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, Zones of the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, and the South East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. These zones cover virtually the entire southern hemisphere.
With these Nuclear Weapons Zones and the activities of the CTBT in the world and especially, in Africa, it is hoped that the world would one day be free of nuclear weapons and devastating consequences.
This article is written under the auspices of the International Coalition of NGOs, think tanks and academics to promote the CTBT and move towards entry into force, the prohibition of nuclear weapon test explosions with focused action by civil society aimed at achieving universal adherence to the CTBT.
Jonah is a professor of Nuclear Physics at Ahmadu Bello University.