‘Critical point’ for ridding world of nuclear tests, says watchdog chief

Delegates participate in a conference on the CTBT treaty at the United Nations headquarters in New York, November 2001. (Keystone/AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – the international agreement that outlaws nuclear test explosions – turned 25 this year, marking its official birthday in September.  

Signed by 185 countries and ratified by 170, the treaty has brought down nuclear tests from over 2,000 before it was created in 1996 to less than a dozen since then.

However, the treaty has yet to enter into force due to eight crucial nations so far refusing to ratify it, including China, Iran and the United States.

“We are at a critical point in our fight to rid the world of nuclear tests and the weapons they create,” Robert Floyd, the head of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. He added failure to do so was “not an option”.

The world’s first nuclear test was conducted in New Mexico by the US on 16 July, 1945.

The average explosive yield of the tests carried out in the five decades before the treaty was equivalent to nearly 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.

“More importantly, these tests allowed for the development of nuclear weapon designs that were over 3000 times more destructive than the one used in the bombing of Hiroshima,” Floyed added. “These tests have inflicted serious impacts on human health and the environment.”

Even without having entered into force, the treaty has made the world a safer place with “near-universal” adherence to the ban on nuclear explosions, he said.

The three states that had conducted nuclear tests since 1996 were the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, and Pakistan, and only the DPRK had done it in the last two decades.

The CTBTO has put in place over 300 monitoring stations around the world that can detect the slightest explosion, even commercial rocket launches.

It would also have the power to carry out on-site inspections if the treaty came into force, although with eight countries of the  44 “nuclear‑capable” states listed in Annex 2 of the Treat, this could still be a long way off.

China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified it.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India and Pakistan have yet to sign it.

“We have the tools in place to end nuclear tests everywhere, by everyone, and for all time. I know that we can achieve a world free of nuclear testing because failure to do so is not an option.”