Canada raises the bar: Noble gas lab certification to support the banning of global nuclear weapons testing

August 28, 2023

In June 2022, Health Canada achieved a significant milestone in its contribution towards banning nuclear weapons testing around the world by obtaining the certification of its Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) laboratory for noble gas analysis.

Its Radiation Protection Bureau conducts environmental radiation monitoring, which includes contributions to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty , and this certification means that the team can now detect nuclear activity with even greater precision.

Adrian Botti, Linda Genovesi, and their team support Health Canada’s CTBT operations. If there is a nuclear explosion or radiological incident, radioactive particles and noble gases are released into the atmosphere and are detected by the monitoring stations around the world, including the ones operated by Health Canada.

What is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)?

The CTBT aims to ban all nuclear explosions worldwide and ensures that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. This is done though a network which, once complete, will be made up of 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories around the world.

The information collected from the stations is then sent to an international data centre where it is analyzed to confirm a nuclear explosion. To ensure the quality and accuracy of the data reported to the IMS, labs and stations must be certified to meet standard global criteria.

Map of International Monitoring System (IMS)

The International Monitoring System (IMS) spans the globe with a unique network that, when complete, will consist of 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories hosted by 89 countries around the world.

Raising the bar on banning nuclear weapon testing

In the Health Canada laboratories, instruments are used to detect environmental radiation. This is a very technical process, which includes the analysis of particles and of noble gas. Together, the presence of radioactive particle and noble gases can provide evidence of a recent nuclear detonation. Based on where the explosion took place, solid particles are not always present – that’s where the noble gases can help provide further evidence of nuclear activity.

Adrian says, “We provide independent analysis of the samples to ensure that the labs and stations are within a certain level of accuracy.” The analysts use this information to verify if a nuclear explosion or radiological incident has occurred.

If the analysts confirm that an incident has indeed happened, the data is analyzed in greater detail to find out where it happened, the amount of particles or noble gas present and the timeframe of the release. This helps determine whether additional action needs to be taken to protect the health, safety, and security of people in Canada.

The certification of the laboratory for noble gas analysis is a great accomplishment for Health Canada, as it is only the fifth lab in the world certified for noble gas analysis under the CTBT, serving a unique purpose internationally.

Adrian and his team continue to improve their methods, processes, and capabilities.

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