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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
CTBTO Announces Pledges to Limit Xenon

Tom Z. Collina

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) announced Nov. 13 that four medical isotope makers have pledged to reduce radioxenon emissions, a step that the organization said would help it in its mission of identifying nuclear test explosions.

The producers also have agreed to share information on emission levels, the CTBTO said in the announcement.

The increasing global production of medical isotopes has led to higher emissions of the radioactive noble gas xenon, the CTBTO said, and could affect one of the CTBTO’s key verification technologies by masking a potential xenon release from an underground nuclear test. CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said the cooperation with the medical isotope producers “helps us to provide confidence to our member states that, now and in the future, no radioactive release from a nuclear test will go unnoticed.”

The four companies that signed the pledge are the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals Corp. in the United States, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, and PT Batan Teknologi Company Indonesia. The CTBTO will assist producers in clarifying any concerns due to elevated xenon levels.

The Belgian-based Institute for Radio Elements signed the pledge in June.

The agreement was signed during a workshop at the CTBTO’s Vienna headquarters on the radioactive signatures of medical and industrial isotope production. The permanent representatives to the UN office in Vienna of Belgium, Indonesia, South Korea, and the United States attended the ceremony, along with 70 representatives from established and prospective producers of medical isotopes from 24 countries and representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space, underwater, and underground. The CTBTO’s global verification regime, which is to have 337 facilities when it is fully operational, monitors the globe for nuclear explosions. Once the CTBT has entered into force, on-site inspections can also be used to search for evidence of a nuclear explosion.