Many have speculated whether North Korea’s claimed nuclear test test was a dud, a fizzle, or an outright fake. U.S. Intelligence officials confirmed that North Korea’s claimed nuclear test was indeed nuclear. Whether it was successful is another issue.
Officials said intelligence indicated the North Koreans predicted an explosion the equivalent of four kilotons of high explosives — but the test released less than one kiloton. (Source.)
From what I’ve read, four kilotons is a small nuclear device for a first attempt. For nukes, smaller is more difficult. Was North Korea attempting to make a smaller device that could be delivered by one of their missiles, or were they just trying to conserve their limited nuclear materials?
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. ;-)
“Either this was a deceit using a few hundred tons of chemical high explosives or it was a nuclear device that did not go as intended,” said Bob Puerifoy, a former Sandia National Laboratories weapons executive. “I won’t call it a dud — a few hundred tons of explosives is not a dud — but a fizzle. And the designer probably has been shot by now.”
It’s particularly enjoyable that the two following inconsistent theories come from the same article.
“North Korea is living under constant threat from mentally unstable Bush regime since he included North Korea and Iran in his famous axis of evil speech.” The “NK is afraid of the US” excuse.
“The US is in no position to take any military action against North Korea to pursue their regime change policy or air strike on its Nuclear facilities because that will bring death and destruction in millions.” The “NK isn’t afraid of the US” excuse.
I’m sure there will be more theories proposed. How about:
It’s Iran’s fault. They talked North Korea into the test to distract the world.
It’s Israel’s fault. They talked North Korea into the test to justify their own possession of nukes.
It’s Hugo Chavez’s fault. The devil made him do it.
It’s the shadow government’s fault. They want us to give up more civil rights are on our relentless march to a one world government.
It’s Dennis Hastert’s fault. He had an e-mail warning of the test for two years and did nothing about it.
US intelligence has detected an explosion of less than one kilotonne in magnitude in North Korea but has not been able to determine whether it was nuclear or not, a senior intelligence official said. (Source)
Previously, North Korea caused a 2.3 magnitude seismic event using two metric tons of TNT. The event yesterday was magnitude 4.2, just about 100 times as powerful. Would that be equivalent to 2 metric tons X 100 = 0.2 kilotons TNT? If so, that’s not anywhere near the expected 20 kilotons of a nuclear test.
These are off the cuff questions by someone who has just enough knowledge to look stupid on the Internet. ArmsControlWonk has real equations, real knowledge, (a real funny picture) and comes to the conclusion that the test was a dud. Oops!
Update: Donald Sensing at One Hand Clapping says it’s too early to call the test a dud. North Korea may have design a small yield nuke intentionally, in which case the test could be a success. Or North Korea may have used a ton (actually, quite a few tons) of conventional explosives in an attempt to fool the world.
Update 2: Russia claims the test’s yield was between 5 and 15 kilotons, not the 0.550 kilotons as measured by South Korea. Russia also claims North Korea warned them about the test two hours before it happened.
Update 3: U.S. intelligence agencies are questioning whether the explosion was nuclear.
“We’re still evaluating the data, and as more data comes in, we hope to develop a clearer picture,” said one official familiar with intelligence reports.
“There was a seismic event that registered about 4 on the Richter scale, but it still isn’t clear if it was a nuclear test. You can get that kind of seismic reading from high explosives.”
The underground explosion, which Pyongyang dubbed a historic nuclear test, is thought to have been the equivalent of several hundred tons of TNT, far short of the several thousand tons of TNT, or kilotons, that are signs of a nuclear blast, the official said.
The official said that so far, “it appears there was more fizz than pop.” (Source)
According to the AP, South Korea confirms detecting a magnitude 3.6 event. Australia and Japan also detected the event, but Japan says more information needs to be collected and analyzed to determine whether this was a nuclear event. Apparently, North Korea has caused other seismic events using tons of TNT.
The U.S. Geological Service places the magnitude at 4.2. I would guess that puts it out of the range of being caused by TNT…
“It’s one of the last cards they have left,” he said. “To have decided to play it now suggests an ominous development in the mood in Pyongyang.”
North Korea’s official news agency announced the successful test earlier this afternoon, describing it as an “historic event”.
“They’re playing hardball … and at the moment they have the upper hand,” Dr Huisken said.
Huisken doesn’t expect that warm glow that North Korea’s experiencing to last, though.
With there now being no doubt that the North has nuclear weapons, the reality of the threat the regime poses would affect how other nations deal with it, effectively forcing Washington and others to play hardball in return.
“I’m pretty certain North Korea will find life as a state with nuclear weapons is not safer or more rewarding than life without one,” he said.
Mount Mantap is approximately 17 Km North-Northwest from P’unggye-yok, a rail-road station, Kilju County, North Hamgyeong Province. (Source)
This GlobalSecurity.org article continues:
In the late 1990s, the South Korean Government became aware that a tunnel was being dug in the area. According to another report, US intelligence had been monitoring the Kilju area since 2002. US satellite imagery detected mounds left from the digging of tunnels. It was possible to estimate the depth of the tunnel based on the amount of soil removed.
Since late August 2004, US intelligence had reportedly monitored activity consistent with preparations for a nuclear test. The activities included the movement of materials around several suspected test sites, including one near a location where intelligence agencies reported in 2003 a series of tests of conventional explosives. Although there were several tunnels deep enough and with suitable terrain for a test throughout the country, there was only one place with a lot of activity.
By late April 2005, there were reports that North Koreans were constructing a reviewing stand and filling in a tunnel, both signs that an underground nuclear test was imminent. (Source)
Please follow the source links to read the entire article.
Another GlobalSecurity.org article shows satellite photos of the support building surrounding the suspected underground nuclear test site. The pictures don’t show a wide enough view to clearly show the location of Mount Mantap.
Fortunately, GlobalSecurity.org lists multiple other names for P’unggye-yok: Kilju, Kilchu, Kisshu, and Gilju. Google Earth was able to find Kilchu near the intersection of the blue lines shown on the picture above. (The blue lines are North-South and East-West lines from prominent coastal features of North Korea. The picture below shows the general location of the detailed view.) Going north from P’unggye-yok “approximately 17 Km North-Northwest” places Mount Mantap somewhere around the red oval (which is not a mountain, but a river bed…).
The Google Earth Community already has markers for other items around P’unggye-yok. Maybe in a few days, someone will find the exact location that matches the satellite pictures shown on GlobalSecurity.org.
Update: The pictures now link to Google maps or you can use the links below:
North Korea has constructed an underground tunnel for possible use in a nuclear weapons test, a Grand National Party lawmaker with close ties to the intelligence community said [September 21, 2006].
Chung Hyung-keun cited sources in the National Intelligence Service for his claim. He said a shaft 700 meters (0.4 miles) deep has been sunk into Mount Mantap in North Hamkyong province with a horizontal tunnel running nearby. (Source)
But where in the world is Mount Mantap? I cannot find it. At best I can limit it to the region shaded in the map. That’s where North Korea has its Musudan-ri missile facility.
While searching, I found this interesting opinion.
[C]arrying out nuclear tests inside North Korea would be an extremely sticky action. That is because this kind of nuclear testing could only be carried out underground. There is absolutely no way they could do in the air or above ground. Even with underground nuclear testing, you normally need a fifty to sixty kilometer square of desert for a nuclear test. In the U.S., this would be something like the Nevada desert. Unless you have the kind they have in India or Pakistan, you cannot do it. The reason for this is that the underground water system gets damaged. North Korea has a very abundant flow of underground water, and if you carry out an underground nuclear test in this kind of place, radioactive materials would get into the water supply for the whole of the Korean peninsula, and also flow out into the Sea of Japan. As a consequence, if there were any underground nuclear testing in the Korean peninsula, it would not be just the ecological system, but also the topography of the land that would be damaged. (Source: 1, 2)
If you know where Mount Mantap is, please tell me.