The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the UN in 1996, imposing a ban on nuclear weapons testing. NORSAR researchers actively participated in the treaty negotiations, contributing to the establishment of the verification system. Although signed by 187 countries, the treaty has not been ratified by all nations, preventing its formal entry into force. Norway ratified in 1999 and decided to follow the Treaty as if it had entered into force. This means that NORSAR verifies compliance with the treaty, making the monitoring of potential nuclear tests our core business.  

In November 2023, the Russian Federation withdrew its ratification of the CTBT. While Russia remains a signatory state, the withdrawal is considered a set-back for acceptance of the Treaty.   

Upgrading the International Monitoring System  

The core of the verification system is the high-technology International Monitoring System (IMS), spanning the globe with more than 300 facilities and designed to immediate detect any nuclear explosion conducted anywhere – underground, under water or in the atmosphere. It is supported by an advanced software system that processes all the data and reports suspicious incidents (The International Data Centre). NORSAR has contributed several key algorithms to this system over the years and continues to share technology to ensure the system’s detection capacity. 

NORSAR was appointed as the Norwegian National Data Centre under the Treaty in 1999 and operates the six international monitoring stations on Norwegian territory. The technologies involved are seismology, infrasound, and radionuclide monitoring. In 2023, after over 20 years of service, the radionuclide station near Longyearbyen on Svalbard was renewed. The station conducts continuous air tests for radioactive substances that could originate from a nuclear explosion. The data is also utilized by the Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency (DSA) in its efforts to map radioactive pollution in Norway.   

Advancement through research 

Since the inception of the Treaty, NORSAR has played an important role in the design and development of its verification regime. The launch of our book NORSAR and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 2023 marked a milestone, encapsulating over 50 years of our dedication to the CTBT verification regime representing Norway in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   

NORSAR is committed to the development of the test-ban verification regime and engaging in ongoing technological advancements through our research. At the biannual Science and Technology conference hosted by the CTBTO in June 2023, we were a member of the science committee and shared our expertise in cutting-edge monitoring technologies as our team presented scientific advancements and discussed with our international colleagues.   

In 2023 we continued to monitor the seismic activity at North Korea's nuclear test-site, Punggye-ri. Historically not known for earthquakes, the six nuclear tests, particularly the largest in 2017, seem to have altered the crustal stress in the area. This means that seismic events are more likely to occur. Similar patterns have been observed at other nuclear test sites, and understanding these connections improves our ability to distinguish between natural and man-made events. 

On behalf of Norway, NORSAR will continue to be proactive in verifying treaty compliance, contributing to advancing methods and to a safer world.