Nuclear Monitoring

Our nuclear monitoring role

Following a Government decision in 1984, Geoscience Australia actively engages in nuclear monitoring activities on behalf of the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) External site link (via the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office ASNO External site link). Australia signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) External site link in 1996 and ratified the Treaty in 1998. The obligations of the Australian Government under this Treaty are detailed in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998 External site link.

Geoscience Australia helps Australia fulfil its obligations under the CTBT by monitoring for nuclear explosions worldwide and by contributing to the development of the CTBT verification regime.

Our nuclear monitoring capabilities

State Signatories to the CTBT have committed to abstain completely from conducting or participating in any nuclear weapons test or any other nuclear explosion. In order to verify compliance with the Treaty, the CTBT mandates the establishment of a verification regime External site link. Part of this verification regime is an International Monitoring System (IMS) External site link comprising seismic, infrasound, hydroacoustic and radionuclide monitoring facilities supported by the International Data Centre (IDC) at the CTBT Organization (CTBTO) External site link in Vienna. When completed the IMS will consist of 337 monitoring facilities located all over the world, capable of detecting explosions as small as a few hundred tons of TNT anywhere in the world. Currently around 80 per cent of these facilities have been built and are sending data to the IDC in real-time. Construction of the remaining IMS facilities is planned to be completed within the next few years.

Geoscience Australia is currently responsible for the operation and maintenance of nine of Australia’s seismo-acoustic IMS facilities (six seismic stations, two infrasound stations and one hydroacoustic station). Additionally, Geoscience Australia is in the process of building a further two infrasound stations to complete Australia’s seismo-acoustic IMS network. Construction of these stations is expected to be completed within the next three to four years.

Geoscience Australia monitors data received from the IMS, the Australian National Seismic Network (ANSN) and other international seismic monitoring networks, such as the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) External site link networks, for the characteristic signals of large explosions. If an event of interest is detected, it is evaluated to determine its location, magnitude and its source characteristics (i.e. was it an earthquake or an explosion?). If an event is found to be consistent with a nuclear explosion, Geoscience Australia is required to notify the Australian Government and provide technical support to any Australian Government response. As part of its commitment to continually improve its capabilities, Geoscience Australia also performs research into new methods to better detect and characterise potential nuclear explosions.

Geoscience Australia actively participates in international fora dedicated to technological advances supporting nuclear non-proliferation and verification, and to the use of IMS data for civil and scientific applications. The latter include tsunami-warning and the monitoring of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Topic contact: Last updated: July 10, 2013