Pacific Scoop

Agreement Sees Better Protection Against Nuclear Fallout

Press Release – Institute of Environmental Science And Research

A new agreement announced today between Australia and New Zealand will see scientists on both sides of the Tasman working together to beef up detection of any nuclear explosions under the framework of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). …
Trans-Tasman Agreement Sees Better Protection Against Nuclear Fallout

A new agreement announced today between Australia and New Zealand will see scientists on both sides of the Tasman working together to beef up detection of any nuclear explosions under the framework of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The move will see Environmental Science and Research (ESR) working more closely with its Australian counterparts, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and Geoscience Australia to enhance their capabilities to detect nuclear tests.

In New Zealand, ESR operates a specialist unit called the National Radiation Laboratory (NRL) which is a National Data Centre (NDC) under the Treaty. There is a worldwide network of these centres established by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) based in Vienna to monitor nuclear-weapon testing around the globe. ESR’s Wim Nijhof, NRL programme leader, says that a range of data is collected and analysed to identify a nuclear test, with the radioactivity monitoring also picking up material from other releases of radioactive material.

“Radioactivity monitoring involves measuring radioactivity in particles and gases collected from the atmosphere. NRL reports directly to New Zealand’s “National Authority” under the Treaty, MFAT (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) assisting the Ministry in assessing the significance of any detected nuclear events.”

“The CTBT International Monitoring System (IMS) uses a number of different technologies to detect signals from potential nuclear tests. These technologies include atmospheric radioactivity monitoring at over 60 stations globally to date, enabling the NDC to also provide early warning of any contamination threats heading our way.”

“As the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolded last year, NRL scientists provided advice and assistance to government agencies, industry and the general public on how to prepare for and protect against any fallout if it reached our shores,” says Wim. “We can also measure radioactivity levels in food products imported to New Zealand, as well as providing certificates authenticating levels of radioactivity in foodstuffs for the New Zealand export market.”

Wim says this area of work requires a range of specialist scientific expertise. “Working more closely and sharing expertise with our Australian counterparts, will mean better planning and protection in the event that a nuclear incident is detected by our monitoring and analysis.”
ESR Chief Executive, Graham Smith also welcomed the agreement saying the cooperation is important to both countries. “The monitoring work NRL does for the CTBTO is not widely known but is critical to both the international surveillance of nuclear testing, and to protecting New Zealand interests from any radioactive pollution which might come our way. This agreement will boost the science capabilities of both our counties in this important work.”

Under the Treaty, ESR is contracted to provide monitoring services at a number of sites in New Zealand and elsewhere. ESR operates six radioactivity monitoring stations – at Kaitaia, Chatham Island, Rarotonga, Fiji, Kiribati and Mauritania – that are part of a planned network of 80 such stations covering the globe. In addition ESR operates an infrasound station on Chatham Island. (Infrasonic sound waves travel great distances in the atmosphere from explosion sites and can be used to locate events).

As part of ESR’s work to support New Zealand’s Treaty obligations it also runs a Certified Radionuclide Laboratory to perform confirmatory measurements on samples at the request of the CTBTO. It is one of a global network of sixteen laboratories to perform this vital testing.
CTBT monitoring station in Rarotonga

During the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, NRL scientists played a vital role for New Zealand by providing reports on airborne radioactivity levels as the material spread from Japan. This was made possible through the provision of IMS data collated and reported by the NDC.
Their work included:
• Interpreting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) daily Fukushima reports for government agencies including the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, MFAT and the Ministry of Health (MoH)
• Assisting the MoH to develop public health guidelines for General Practitioners and the general public
• Providing technical support for the search and response team sent to Japan
• Advising industry and government organisations who had staff in, and travelling, to Japan
• Assisting MFAT to prepare travel advisories and situation reports
• Responding to public enquiries via the helpline established by the MoH.

Radiation emergency response training exercise

About the National Radiation Laboratory
NRL was formerly part of the MoH and joined ESR on 1 December 2011.
NRL is now a specialist unit of ESR. It is based in Christchurch and enables ESR to provide expert advice, services and research capability on public, occupational and medical exposure to radiation, the performance of irradiating equipment, and the measurement of radiation and radioactivity.
NRL is a CTBT NDC. The role of the NDC is to examine and collate data from the IMS established by the CTBTO based in Vienna. The NDC reports directly to MFAT, assisting it in assessing the significance of any detected events.

About ESR
ESR is a Crown Research Institute. ESR’s world-class laboratories and scientists are the first line of defence against threats to New Zealanders health and well-being.
ESR’s scientists, researchers and analysts are entrusted with running a number of New Zealand’s critical science infrastructure and facilities:
• National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease
• National Influenza, Polio and SARS Centre
• DNA Profile Databank
• National Vaccine Services
• New Zealand Reference Culture Collection (Medical section)
• National Radiation Laboratory (NRL).
For more information about ESR refer to

About the CTBTO
The role of the CTBTO is to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Many attempts were made during the Cold War to negotiate a comprehensive test ban, but it was only in the 1990s that the Treaty became a reality. The CTBT opened for signature in 1996. So far, 183 countries have signed the Treaty, of which 157 have also ratified it (as of September 2012), including three of the nuclear weapon States: France, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT. The most recent nuclear technology holder country to ratify the Treaty was Indonesia on 6 February 2012. Since the Treaty is not yet in force, the organisation is called the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation. The organisation was established in 1996, has over 260 staff from over 70 countries, and is based in Vienna.

For more information about CTBTO refer to .

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