The Obama administration is putting a lot of stake in the ability to detect whether or not Iran cheats on his deal with them. And one of the theories at play is that Iran would test any nuclear bomb it makes before trying to destroy the Great Satan with it.
Technologyreview.com tells us about efforts to detect nuclear testing in How International Monitors Spot Nukes and Other Rumblings. There we learn that as a result of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996, the International Monitoring System has four ways to detect a nuclear explosion anywhere on earth:
1. Atmospheric radionuclide sensors -
Eighty monitoring outposts and 16 laboratories in IMS are equipped to pick up and analyze atmospheric traces of noble gases and radioactive particles that provide a definite “smoking gun” sign of a clandestine nuke blast, such as those from North Korea’s nuclear tests. The IMS radionuclide network got an unexpected but vital workout in March 2011, measuring and tracking the radioactive plume released by the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.
2. Seismic equipment -
With 50 primary and 120 auxiliary stations, the IMS seismic net identifies about 130 events per day: earth tremors, mining explosions, or anything down to the equivalent of a magnitude 3.0 quake, a nearly undetectable rumble.
3. Underwater listening stations -
The capabilities of the seismic net are supplemented and extended by 11 stations listening for the acoustic underwater signature of a nuclear explosion. Five of the stations are on shore, detecting sound waves that travel through water and then change to seismic waves upon hitting the coastline. The other six stations are hydrophones—underwater microphones moored about a kilometer beneath the surface in order to detect and determine the direction of acoustic waveforms. Because sound travels so efficiently under water, 11 stations can cover the entire world, says George Haralabus, head of the IMS hydroacoustics section.
4. Infrasound sensors -
The earth is never quiet in this acoustic realm, with infrasound generated not merely by nuclear explosions but by the motions of the atmosphere and the earth’s crust, volcanoes, human activities of all kinds, and even meteors and space junk penetrating the atmosphere. Forty-eight infrasound stations are currently operational out of a planned 60, featuring arrays of microbarometers.
Iran could probably buy a pretested nuke from North Korea, so never mind.