The first measuring system to detect and quantify the radioactive gas xenon as “smoking gun” evidence of a nuclear explosion officially joined the CTBTO global monitoring network on 19 August 2010. The system is co-located with radionuclide station RN75 in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States.
A nuclear explosion ejects radioactive material – solid and gaseous – into the environment. These substances provide the ultimate evidence that a nuclear detonation has taken place. The gaseous residues are particularly important for detecting a well-contained underground nuclear explosion. While the radioactive particles would not be released into the air, radioactive noble gases would seep through the ground and reach the surface.
Since 1999, the CTBTO has been testing noble gas detection equipment. Forty of the 80 existing radionuclide stations will be equipped with these detection devices. As of August 2010, 26 stations had already been set up to sniff the air for xenon. Four years ago, when North Korea first set off a nuclear device, only ten stations had tested the new equipment. One of them, a station at Yellowknife in Canada, picked up the tell-tale traces of xenon as predicted.
With the certification of the Charlottesville station, the noble gas detection system has reached maturity. Five more stations are expected to be certified in 2010.
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