What if the North Korean nuclear test wasn’t a dud?

More people are questioning whether the North Korean test was successful. Why? Maybe because no one wants to consider the alternatives:

  • If the explosion was nuclear and successful, the relatively small seismic shock suggests the yield was quite small, much smaller than the sweet spot of 15-20 kilotons most countries have used for their first nuclear tests. Designing smaller nukes is more difficult and normally done after testing larger devices. If North Korea already has small nukes, then North Korean’s nuclear program is more advanced. This could also suggest that North Korea is getting help from other countries who already have nukes or want nukes.
  • If the explosion was nuclear and relatively large yield, then North Korea designed a test site that effectively shields the true magnitude of the nuke. Although I’m way over my head here, the seismic shock is dependent on both the yield of the bomb and the coupling of the blast to the ground. Apparently, using a very large underground chamber is one way of decreasing the coupling. In this case, then the world’s visibility into North Korea’s nuclear program will be more limited.

Or, maybe the world knows the yield was large, the test was successful, and is just denying Kim Jong-il the congratulations he desires. ;-)