North Korea’s Nuclear Test

February 14th, 2013

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Since this is a subject of interest to many blog visitors, it seems worth creating it’s own post.

As all readers probably know, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, the third one in recent history.

In 2006, a nuclear test was conducted which yielded less than one kiloton and was almost certainly a fizzle, a major failure of the design.

In 2009, a second test was conducted.  This test seems to have had a yield in the range of four to five kilotons.  Although this represents a high enough yield to be a semi-viable weapon, it may well have been a partial fizzle, in which the weapon failed to detonate properly and efficiently.   However, it is difficult to know this for sure, and it could have been a scaled down test.

The more recent test has been estimated to have had a yield of more than seven kilotons and as much as ten kilotons.   This appears to be a weapon that is functioning more properly and is thus a viable nuclear explosive.  However, by modern standards, it remains a relatively small nuclear explosive.  The US inventory includes weapons of more than a megaton and only the smallest tactical nuclear weapons would be of a yield of ten kilotons or less.

North Korea has stated that the device was designed to be miniaturized in order to make it a more viable weapon for delivery by missile.  This cannot be verified.
Up until now, it has been presumed that the sophistication of North Korean nuclear weapons was probably comparable to the earliest US and Soviet Nuclear weapons, such as the Mark-3 Fat Man and the Soviet RDS-1 device.

The actual design and construction of the device is unknown.  Previous tests almost certainly used only plutonium, but North Korea has recently been developing the capability to enrich uranium.  It is not known if this was a uranium or plutonium bomb.  A uranium bomb can be constructed with much lower tolerances and will still function reliably.

All verifiable information comes from seismic data.  The tests were conducted underground and at a depth sufficient to prevent any discharge of fallout that could be subject to radiochemical analysis.

Currently it is unknown whether North Korea has any standing arsenal of nuclear devices or to what extent those devices may be suitable for use as a weapon.  However, if they do have any, it is certain that their inventory is quite small.


This entry was posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at 11:52 pm and is filed under Enviornment, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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13 Responses to “North Korea’s Nuclear Test”

  1. 1
    Apollo Says:

    Everytime someone brings up North Korea, I can’t help but imagine their diplomat jumping up and down right at the back of the UN ampitheatre, trying to get the attention of everyone in the room.

    “Oooh! Oooh! We’ve got nukes! And missiles! We can hit Australia from here! Oooh! Oooh!”

    At which point the room is filled with the sound of sighs and hands covering faces. It seriously wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve embarked on a nuclear program just to grab more attention on the world stage.

    That said, you’d think they’d wakeup and smell the 21st century already.


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  2. 2
    PsihoKekec Says:

    There is a long way from nuclear bomb to viable nuclear warhead for ballistic or cruise missiles. And given the sorry state of NK air force, the missiles are their only way for nuke delivery. Well, suicide An-2 sneaking near target might have some chance of success, but that’s it.


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  3. 3
    Robert Hargraves Says:

    The US should use N Korea’s next missile test for ABM target practice.


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  4. 4
    DV82XL Says:

    I suspect this may be the last hurrah for the North Koreans in the nuclear weapons game.

    First the Chinese made it clear after the last one that they were not pleased and if you recall, they demanded NK destroy their Pu production facilities, and this indeed was done. Thus at best the device just tested used up some of the stockpile they may have had left over. The same holds true even if this was an HEU device as North Korea has agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program in return for much needed food aid.

    Secondly the North Koreans are not getting as much mileage out of this test in terms of creating international angst as they did in the past. Like most things, the public becomes inured and doesn’t manifest the same level of threat they do at the beginning, thus the leverage NK can get out of testing is sharply reduced. In other words they are at the point of diminishing returns.

    This event does not represent a heightening of global nuclear tensions, or any real threat to anyone but the North Korean regime itself.


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  5. 5
    Q Says:

            DV82XL said:

    I suspect this may be the last hurrah for the North Koreans in the nuclear weapons game.

    First the Chinese made it clear after the last one that they were not pleased and if you recall, they demanded NK destroy their Pu production facilities, and this indeed was done. Thus at best the device just tested used up some of the stockpile they may have had left over. The same holds true even if this was an HEU device as North Korea has agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program in return for much needed food aid.

    Secondly the North Koreans are not getting as much mileage out of this test in terms of creating international angst as they did in the past. Like most things, the public becomes inured and doesn’t manifest the same level of threat they do at the beginning, thus the leverage NK can get out of testing is sharply reduced. In other words they are at the point of diminishing returns.

    This event does not represent a heightening of global nuclear tensions, or any real threat to anyone but the North Korean regime itself.

    North Korea takes great pride in not bowing to anyone’s wishes, even those of China. It’s engrained in their culture. That’s part of why I think they conduct these tests. They place great value on the ideal that they can do anything they want and have absolute sovereignty and that they are able to exist with no dependence on anyone outside the country. Hence, conducting tests like this is partially designed to reenforce the regime’s own power and capability to its own people.

    The fact that such a defiant regime would actually do something like suspend enrichment because China told them to, even in exchange for food aid, is, IMHO, a sign of truly desperate times.


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  6. 6
    DV82XL Says:

            Q said:

    The fact that such a defiant regime would actually do something like suspend enrichment because China told them to, even in exchange for food aid, is, IMHO, a sign of truly desperate times.

    Part of this it they must keep the army fed. The one thing that would spell real internal trouble for that regime is a hungry army because one could not keep it under control. Thus testing I suspect is an attempt to garner more food-aid for just that reason. They will probably get it too, because I strongly doubt the region’s other players want to see is that sort of unrest developing ether.


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  7. 7
    Q Says:

    I think North Korea may no longer be able to understand how the game is played internationally. They are so out of touch with the world, they have lost all perspective and no longer realize how far you can push things.

    They just stated they would consider a preemptive strike with nuclear force on the US. First, that’s ridiculous. I doubt they could stick one of their 1940′s-technology nukes on one of their 1950′s technology ICBM;s and have any chance of hitting the US. They certainly could not do it more than once or twice (not enough to destroy the US, but enough to make the US destroy them)

    But that is simply an insane thing to say.

    The US now has been given a perfect pretense to use a barrage of cruise missiles, stealth bombers and drones to blow up every single large North Korean air force base and missile launch site.

    They don’t have hardened silos. They can only launch their big missiles from a couple of launch sites. If the US blew up every single one of their launch pads, fuel tanks and assembly buildings, it would be hard for anyone else to condemn the US actions. After all, they did come right out and threaten a nuclear strike.


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  8. 8
    Shafe Says:

            Q said:

    If the US blew up every single one of their launch pads, fuel tanks and assembly buildings, it would be hard for anyone else to condemn the US actions. After all, they did come right out and threaten a nuclear strike.

    Yeah, but you don’t beat up the guy in the wheelchair, no matter how many times he says he’ll kick your ass.


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  9. 9
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Shafe said:

    Yeah, but you don’t beat up the guy in the wheelchair, no matter how many times he says he’ll kick your ass.

    True, but if the US did want to blow up some of their stuff, they certainly handed us a pretty good pretense for doing so.


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  10. 10
    Shafe Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    True, but if the US did want to blow up some of their stuff, they certainly handed us a pretty good pretense for doing so.

    No question. And, honestly, my comment above only meant to address the limited threat of a direct strike against the US. However, we do have a treaty with South Korea, for whom NK is a more credible threat. Now the guy in the wheelchair is running down kids on the playground. In that case, you don’t necessarily give him a black eye, but maybe you jam up his wheels with a broomstick through the spokes. Bombs away!


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  11. 11
    ChrisJL Says:

    I don’t care if he has only ONE warhead or bomb or whatever, once it is armed and airborne (either via missle or bomber or even civilian airliner) it is going to destroy SOMETHING, and something BIG. And if he had some plutonium two years ago, he has a truckload of it now. So what if he actually has hundreds of bombs? Remember the Computer? (after analysing every possible outcome of a nuclear conflict) The only way to win is to choose NOT TO PLAY. So, just do what he says, stop our military excercises (I know they were scheduled, but do we need to spend all that money right NOW? 48,000 troops plus guns and ammo for two months) THEN, if he STILL does something, HE’s the bad guy and the rest of the world will be (FINALLY) with us. I mean, either way, it would be a GOOD thing for our global image, and the only down side is that we would have to reschedule our war games to a later date.


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  12. 12
    Anon Says:

            ChrisJL said:

    So what if he actually has hundreds of bombs?

    They don’t have enough production capacity to have that many.

            ChrisJL said:

    Remember the Computer? (after analysing every possible outcome of a nuclear conflict) The only way to win is to choose NOT TO PLAY.

    That is what we call fiction, if you want to have a sound argument you must have more than just a movie reference (though IRL nuclear war would be bad enough that it’s better to avoid it, even for the leaders).

            ChrisJL said:

    So, just do what he says, stop our military excercises

    That’s the absolute worst way to respond, in technical terms it is called appeasement and whilst appeasement can be effective it doesn’t always work and is very unlikely to work in the current situation, better to send a clear message that overly aggressive action will not be tolerated.

            ChrisJL said:

    (I know they were scheduled, but do we need to spend all that money right NOW? 48,000 troops plus guns and ammo for two months) THEN, if he STILL does something, HE’s the bad guy and the rest of the world will be (FINALLY) with us.

    On the issue of North Korea the rest of the world is already with ‘us’ (even China are getting annoyed at them).

            ChrisJL said:

    I mean, either way, it would be a GOOD thing for our global image, and the only down side is that we would have to reschedule our war games to a later date.

    A bigger downside is that an insane dictator would’ve won, that only emboldens them.


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  13. 13
    Andrew Says:

    After the recent escalation in its rhetoric, the NK may have exhausted all the tricks it has in its bullying tactics.
    It seems it is likely to face a situation where it would lose face when it is ignored by all others.
    The international community should not resume or even consider to resume any talks with NK until it backs down by itself totally and completely.
    China should reduce its trade and particularly aid with NK each time the NK plays bully, to make NK’s life more difficulty to send signals that its wayward bully will not work in its own interests but only the contrary.


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