Tuesday, September 3, 2013
New CTBTO Head Works Toward Nuclear-Free World
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which seeks to prohibit nuclear testing anywhere, including in outer space, Earth's atmosphere or underground, is still far from ratification. But the Preparatory Commission for the treaty organization, known as the CTBTO, is already active in advocating the role of the treaty as a deterrent to nuclear testing. Lassina Zerbo on Aug. 1 became the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, headquartered in Vienna.
- Lassina Zerbo on Aug. 1 became executive secretary of the CTBTO. (Photo courtesy CTBTO)
Zerbo, from the west African nation of Burkina Faso, studied in France and Canada, earning a Ph.D. in geophysics in France. Although he is an engineer by training, diplomats in Vienna describe him as a capable coordinator with a personal magnetism that will help him to win broad support in the international community.
He was elected to head the CTBTO last autumn from among five candidates, of whom he was the only one who was already within the organization. Before joining the CTBTO as director of the International Data Centre Division in 2004, he held key positions in administrative and research and development departments of major Western resource companies such as BHP Billiton. He decided to work for the CTBTO so as to utilize his experience for the international community, he said.
The treaty requires ratification by the 44 countries around the world that own nuclear reactors. Of these nations, eight, including the U.S. and China, have not yet ratified the pact, however. North Korea, which has conducted nuclear tests repeatedly, poses the biggest obstacle to implementation of the treaty.
The prevailing view is that it is not realistic to expect North Korea to sign and ratify the treaty. But Zerbo appreciates the international community's posture toward North Korea, saying that it has strongly condemned that nation's nuclear tests and stood firm against the country. He chose China as the first nation to visit after he took office.
By doing so, he appears to be aiming not just to prompt China to ratify the treaty but also to emphasize the CTBTO's stance not to tolerate North Korea's nuclear development.
The hurdles in the way of the treaty are significant. But Zerbo said he is optimistic and intends to intensify his efforts to bring the treaty into force. Ahead of a conference next month in New York to facilitate the treaty's entry into force, Zerbo is planning to launch an advocacy group to advance the treaty. The group is to be composed of a dozen knowledgeable people such as former ministers, heads of international organizations, ambassadors and academics from around the world, including Japan, to help raise awareness and build enthusiasm for the treaty.
Meanwhile, the International Monitoring System (IMS) is nearing completion. The CTBTO plans to set up 16 radionuclide laboratories and 321 monitoring facilities, which can detect traces of nuclear explosions such as radioactive materials, seismic waves, sound waves traveling through the ocean and ultra-low frequency sound waves, all over the world. Already 86% of these facilities are in operation. They detected North Korea's nuclear test in February this year.
Zerbo is pushing the concept of applying the system to other purposes which would contribute to the public interest. The IMS is already contributing to the observation of climate change, tsunamis, earthquakes and the like by cooperating with related organizations and providing them with data from the system.
The idea may look as if it has little to do with the treaty's original purpose of banning nuclear tests. But he argues that it is important to take both political and scientific steps to publicize the significance of the treaty.
When the massive earthquake and tsunami hit eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, the system monitored the spread of radioactive particles leaking from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and distributed the data to the world's governments and research institutions. If the technical applications of the IMS are broadened, Zerbo said, it will help boost the reliability of the system.
Zerbo's long-term wish is to realize a world without nuclear weapons. He has strong feelings toward Japan, the only country to have suffered atomic bombings, and stressed that the support of the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the treaty has been encouraging. He is fully aware that, although the CTBTO is small, with a staff of only a little over 250, it has assumed a major role in global security and peace building.
Translated from the People in the News column in The Nikkei, Aug. 15.