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India Shuns World's Largest Scientific Nuclear Network

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By Pallava Bagla *

This network has cost one billion dollars. It has been funded by 183 countries. And it has one agenda - to detect within minutes nuclear explosions that are conducted on land, air or even under the sea.

India has not signed up.

So the network, referred to as Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation monitoring network will rely on monitoring stations in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka to snoop on nuclear activity in India.

The United States, Germany and the UK are among the nearly 180 member countries who've ensured that close to 300 high-tech stations are placed across the globe including the Arctic and Antarctica. The stations transmit in real time humongous quantities of data to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) located in Vienna. The goal is to keep the world safe from nuclear weapons.

Since 1945, about 2000 nuclear bomb tests have been conducted by the global powers, with India having conducted two sets of nuclear explosions in 1974 and 1998. China has conducted 45 nuclear bomb tests, the USA more than a thousand.

India has not signed the CTBT which calls for a complete ban on any further nuclear bomb tests but has declared a 'unilateral moratorium' on nuclear bomb testing after 1998. India's stand is that the world needs to be free of all nuclear weapons and it rejects the notion that some countries can be more equal to possess nuclear weapons while its right is forfeited. Yet, India says it will not come in the way of the treaty coming into force and India can be excluded since New Delhi does not want to breach any international laws it signs up to.

Others who do not subscribe to the CTBT are USA, China, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Egypt and Iran.

According to estimates by the analysts of the CTBTO, the atomic weapons tests carried out in the last 60 years had immense explosive power; collectively, they would have been as dangerous as 26,000 Hiroshima-type weapons.

The best way to search for a nuclear bomb test is to record the shock waves it generates in its aftermath that are almost very similar to those generated by earthquakes.

So the seismic stations set up by the CTBTO record almost every earthquake on the globe.

There was much jubilation among the scientists when 96 CTBTO stations were able to detect the small nuclear bomb test carried out by North Korea on February 12, 2013. Tibor Toth, the executive secretary for the CTBTO said "It was like looking for a needle in the haystack, yet within hours the explosion was accurately pinpointed."

The network can literally smell nuclear weapons; some 80 stations are equipped to search out signatures of atomic explosions by detecting specific radioactive particles that get released in almost every test.

Another 71 stations spread all over the globe listen very carefully to every sound made on earth and these listening posts are carefully tuned to look for specific types of sound made when atom bombs detonate. About a dozen of these look for atomic explosions conducted under water. Since nuclear explosions are such a rarity usually scientists just sit back and enjoy the songs of whales that get picked by their sensitive microphones.           

* NDTV's Science Editor Pallava Bagla was given rare access to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) located in Vienna. NDTV was invited to attend the 2013 CTBT Conference on Science and Technology held in Vienna.

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