The most sophisticated on-site inspection exercise conducted to date by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) formally concludes this week.

The Integrated Field Exercise IFE14 in Jordan started on 3 November and involved four years of preparation, 150 tonnes of specialized equipment and over 200 international experts.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said: “Through this exercise, we have shown the world that it is absolutely hopeless to try to hide a nuclear explosion from us. We’ve now mastered all components of the verification regime, and brought our on-site inspection capabilities to the same high level as the other two components, the 90% complete network of monitoring stations and the International Data Centre.”

During the five-week long exercise, the inspection team searched an inspection area of nearly 1,000 square kilometres using 15 of the 17 techniques permissible under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some of these state-of-the-art techniques were used for the first time in an on-site inspection context, including equipment to detect traces of relevant radioactive noble gases on and beneath the ground as well as from the air. Other techniques scanned the ground in frequencies invisible to the human eye. Key pieces of equipment were provided by CTBTO Member States as voluntary and in-kind contributions.

Throughout the inspection, the team narrowed down the regions of interest to one limited area where relevant features including traces of relevant radionuclides were successfully found. Inspection team leader Gregor Malich said: “We started off with the inspection area, 1,000 square kilometres, using all the information from our archive satellite imagery, and on the ground started with the overflight, visual observation, supported by the seismic network that we put out. This guided us into a region where we then identified approximately 20 polygons of interest which we then visited on the ground, read radionuclide measurements, and in the end we found radionuclides that were relevant for an on-site inspection, which we thought was a place where potentially an underground nuclear explosion occurred.”

The exercise also tested the CTBTO’s elaborate logistical system, which features specially developed airfreight-compatible containers that allow for field equipment, sensors or generators to be used straight from the containers. Thanks to a strict safety and security regime, not a single health or security incident occurred throughout the exercise.

“Grateful for Jordan’s outstanding cooperation and hospitality”

The CTBTO’s Executive Secretary said that “Jordan was chosen by CTBTO Member States for its generosity in supporting the exercise and because of the special geological features of the Dead Sea region. By hosting IFE14, Jordan is reconfirming its role as an anchor of peace and stability in the region. I am inspired by the fact that His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan has generously placed the exercise under his royal patronage and grateful for the outstanding cooperation and hospitality from all branches of the Jordanian government.”

Over the coming year, the CTBTO and its Member States will analyse the lessons learnt from IFE14 and identify possible gaps. In a preliminary assessment, the head of the evaluation team, John Walker said: “It’s very clear that on its own terms, the exercise has been successful, and has also clearly shown improvements on IFE08 [the previous Integrated Field Exercise held in Kazakhstan in 2008] as well as the three build up exercises that we’ve run over the two preceding years before we ran this one.”

Hungary has contributed experts and equipment for the exercise.