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Radioactivity measuring station on Schauinsland equipped with cutting-edge technology

Detection of even slightest concentrations of radioactive substances in the air possible

Year of issue 2018
Date 2018.10.25

On Schauinsland, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) operates a station for the monitoring of radioactivity in the environment which is among the leading stations of that kind in the world. Today, Rita Schwarnelühr-Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry, and Inge Paulini, president of the BfS, inaugurated a new measuring device which can detect even lowest concentrations of radioactive substances in the air dust. The measuring station on Schauinsland is Germany’s most important contribution to monitoring the international Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Especially when international, nuclear disarmament treaties are questioned world-wide, this is a key component for ensuring the safety of the population.

Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter: "The recent nuclear weapons testing in North Korea shows that the monitoring of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is still of high relevance today. It requires cutting-edge technology. It is good that the BfS is now equipped with this technology."

New Schauinsland measuring station New Schauinsland measuring stationThe new measuring station on the Schauinsland

Inge Paulini added: "With the installation of the new measuring technology, the 70-year-old success story of radioactivity monitoring on Schauinsland continues. Since 1957, the natural and artificial radioactivity in the atmosphere has been monitored here continuously. The new measuring technology makes it possible for us to detect practically each aboveground nuclear weapons test worldwide."

The measuring station on Schauinsland is one out of 70 radionuclide stations of the International Monitoring System, IMS, for the monitoring of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The Treaty of 1996 is one of the central international treaties for the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Already shortly after the end of WWII, researchers from Freiburg had started to measure cosmic radiation on 1,200-m-high Schauinsland near Freiburg. In March 1953, they detected unusual values, which proved to be traces of the radioactive fallout of a nuclear weapons test in the Nevada desert (USA). With this, the researchers succeeded for the first time to detect radioactive substances from nuclear weapons tests carried out by other countries in Germany. It was also possible to detect the latest aboveground nuclear explosion in China in October 1980 on Schauinsland. Also the radioactive cloud that moved over Europe in spring 1986 after the Chernobyl reactor accident, was registered early on Schauinsland.

Today, modern measuring procedures make it possible to detect even lowest concentrations of radioactive substances in the air. For example, after the accident in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, minute traces of the radioactivity were measured on Schauinsland that were released in Japan and propagated to Europe via North America.

The new measuring station is placed in a purpose-built extension and has a large number of gadgets that are also used to obtain data in the scope of emergency response.

A special feature on Schauinsland is the measurement of the radioactive noble gases krypton-85 and xenon-133 in the atmosphere. By measuring krypton-85 over decades, it was possible to estimate the amount of weapon grade plutonium and thus the superpowers’ arsenal of nuclear weaponry during the Cold War. Of special importance for the detection of nuclear weapons tests is the detection of radioactive xenon, since small amounts of xenon may escape during underground nuclear weapons tests. There are only few laboratories worldwide which are familiar with this highly sensitive measuring technology.

State of 2018.10.25

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