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Nuclear Test Monitoring Station Press Release

MEDIA RELEASE, March 07, 2000

Nuclear Test Monitoring Station Press Release

Health Minister Annette King today opened a Chatham Islands monitoring station, which will help police a worldwide ban on nuclear testing.

The opening had been scheduled yesterday, but was delayed a day because fog closed the Chathams airport. Disarmament Minister Matt Robson was unable to change his schedule to attend today's opening with Mrs King.

The $800,000 state-of-the-art station monitors radionuclide activity or the minute particles of radioactive dust released into the atmosphere by nuclear explosions. It is one of three monitoring stations operated by New Zealand and will eventually have the ability to detect radioactive gases and very longwave infrasound waves.

The station, which was officially connected to the international network on March1, is part of the international Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which will see more than 300 international monitoring stations (IMS) set up world-wide to prevent nuclear testing being performed in secret and in breach of the treaty.

Four technologies (radionuclide, infrasound, seismic and hydroacoustic) will be used in a chain of monitoring stations around the world to detect explosions regardless of whether the blasts are underground, under the sea or in the air.

Mrs King said the Chatham Islands site was strategically important for the treaty because it could monitor large parts of the southern ocean, considered a possible contender for any clandestine testing. The other New Zealand operated sites are in Kaitaia and in the Cook Islands.

All three stations are equipped with sophisticated radionuclide detection equipment imported from the United States and Germany, and will use a New Zealand-developed software programme to communicate with the International Data Centre in Vienna.


"Radionuclide detection is the most critical of the four technologies, regarded as 'the smoking gun' in terms of proving beyond doubt that a nuclear explosion has taken place," Mrs King said. "Next year the Chathams station will also have infrasound capability, and in 2002 radioactivity detection equipment will be installed to identify unnatural radioactive inert gases. This will make the station one of the most complex in the international chain.

"I think it is somehow fitting that the Chatham Islands, one of the more remote parts of the world, should be among the first places in the world to play a role in making it more likely the world will become safer and more peaceful."

Mrs King said weather patterns were also an important part of determining drift of any radioactivity. "The stations are all full meteorological stations in their own right, or linked to one, as in the Cook Islands. They will measure wind speed, wind direction, rainfall and humidity.

"Radioactivity samples are taken every 10 minutes. The samples are collated and reported via satellite every two hours to the control centre in Vienna. The stations will operate seven days a week, 365 days a year."

Mrs King said nuclear disarmament and an end to weapons testings had huge and significant implications for long-term global health.

"Weapons testing in the South Pacific has caused substantial health concerns. The effective implementation of the CTBT should mean the region never again has to worry about the impact of nuclear weapons testing upon personal and community health.

"New Zealand will be working hard to persuade those nuclear weapons states, who have not yet ratified the treaty, Russia, the United States and China, to do so quickly. New Zealand has a respected voice internationally on nuclear issues, and will continue to speak out."

ENDS

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