Iran criticizes Turkmen-based nuclear monitoring station

Site is being used to monitor nuclear test ban compliance

Dan Schwind

2009-12-14

ALIBECK, Turkmenistan – A new seismic monitoring station in Turkmenistan used to keep track of nuclear tests around the world has drawn the ire of Iranian officials who claim it is a post for western powers to spy on them.

The Associated Press reported that Abolfazl Zohrehvand, an adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiator, told the state news agency IRNA that, "with the disclosure of the identity of such stations, it clears the activity … is to monitor Iran".

But other international officials say the monitoring station has no motives other than to measure seismic events and that Turkmenistan is merely keeping up the diplomatic promises it previously made with the international community.

Annika Thunborg, a spokesperson for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive -Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said the test detection site in Alibeck is one of 340 sites in 89 nations used to monitor compliance of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Of the 340 monitoring stations that are proposed or already operating, 120 are stations that monitor seismic waves within the earth to determine potential underground nuclear test detonations. Alibeck was designated to be a seismic detection location.

“The monitoring stations are an integral element of the treaty”, Thunborg said. “Both Turkmenistan and Iran are member states and were part of the negotiations for where these monitoring stations would go. This station is nothing new”.

Kenley Butler, an executive officer with the Center for Non-proliferation Studies, said there is no reason to believe that Iran’s allegations indicate any sort of dispute between its government and that of Turkmenistan, which borders Iran.

“This is simply Turkmenistan complying with their obligations as a member of the test ban treaty”, Butler said. “Iran is merely posturing and any complaints by Iran of Turkmenistan having the station would simply fly in the face of reason”.

Butler noted that Turkmenistan has signed and ratified the test ban treaty, meaning it has vowed not to test any nuclear weapons and will help monitor other nations’ nuclear testing status.

Butler and Thunborg said Iran, itself, has monitoring stations.

According to the CTBTO website, Iran has three stations– all seismic–and three more are planned, including one that would monitor radioactive materials in the air created by nuclear test detonations. Butler said that in addition to its role in monitoring nuclear tests, Turkmenistan is also providing regional geological support with its station.

“That is a very earthquake-prone region, so to have a seismic monitoring station located there will provide more data on seismic events, nuclear and non-nuclear”, he said. In 1948, Ashgabat, which is about kilometres of Alibeck, was devastated by an earthquake registering 7.3 on the Richter scale, according to CTBTO’s website. Almost 110,000 people died in the earthquake.

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