SPECIAL:Another day in the life of...

Just another day in the life of a CTBTO Radionuclide Maintenance Officer 

Awakening in total darkness, to allay my panic, my logic went like this: it must be 3:00 AM and not 3:00 PM because otherwise my colleagues would be worried about me by now! My hotel room was cloaked in the 24-hour gloom for which arctic island of Spitsbergen is famous in wintertime. I really did not know what time of day it was as it’s hard to tell the difference between night and day when the sun never rises. 

Belonging to Norway, Spitsbergen is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, located north of Scandinavia in the Arctic Ocean. On this remote island, the CTBTO maintains two monitoring stations as part of its global network called the International Monitoring System (IMS). One is the auxiliary seismic station AS72. The other, where I’m headed today, is radionuclide station RN49. 

RN49 provides two kinds of monitoring services. One is radionuclide particulate monitoring, which involves blowing air through a filter in order to capture dust that might contain radioactive particles; the other is a radionuclide noble gas system that analyzes the level of radioactive Xenon in the air. 

I had just joined the CTBTO a few weeks prior to this, my first maintenance trip in January 2008. My primary duty as a Radionuclide Maintenance Officer is to ensure that these radionuclide stations are not only functioning now, but also in future, by doing the work needed to ensure their reliability. 

Reading about my destination in preparation for my trip, I found out that polar bears might wander about near the town. I was prepared to exercise caution and be always aware of my surroundings. I had also read that the 24-hour darkness was not to be pierced by a single ray of sunlight for the entire duration of my stay. With that in mind, I hoped I would at least catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. Unfortunately the clouds conspired against me. 

Our journey to the station began. The fish-tailing vehicle that took us up and down the plateau where the station was located groaned in the arctic cold whenever we turned on the ignition.  As our boots squeaked through the powdery snow, I found myself feeling grateful that our work and responsibilities all lay safely indoors. Nevertheless, I was glad I brought multiple layers of clothing just for the dash between the car and the front door of the station building! 

Looking at the global map of the IMS network, I recognize that my work as a Radionuclide Maintenance Officer will take me to some interesting, often remote, parts of the globe. While the travel associated with my job is indeed a unique opportunity to explore cultures and places I would otherwise never be exposed to, the best part about working for the CTBTO Preparatory Commission is that I get to work with a dedicated team of scientists and engineers whose duty it is to ensure the reliable operation of this monitoring equipment.  

Already I feel what an honour and a privilege is it to be a part of this team—and I've only just begun!