North Korea has been threatening this for a while and now, at 10 am local time, they claim to have detonated a hydrogen bomb. The only real indication that something happened thus far is that they managed to trigger a 5.1 magnitude earthquake. (CNN)

The South Korean defense ministry said it too could not immediately confirm the test’s success, but the country’s foreign ministry hastily convened an emergency meeting. Officials in Japan were also holding discussions.

The test took place at 10 a.m. local time, the regime said in a televised statement.

The seismic event, which measured the event at a magnitude of 5.1, occurred 19 kilometers (12 miles) east-northeast of Sungjibaegam, the United States Geological Survey said.

If it’s true, this would be a significant upping of the ante in an already tense area of the world. Their previous tests were all of plutonium based fission weapons with yields measured in kilotons. A hydrogen bomb can produce blasts measured in megatons and do a lot more damage. But did they really pull it off? It’s apparently going to take a couple of days before all the data is analyzed, but some experts are already expressing doubts. (Time Magazine)

Notably, the prior atomic tests in North Korea resulted in seismic activity of a similar force as Wednesday’s explosion, rather than a more powerful tremor that might be associated with a hydrogen payload. “I doubt the ability of North Korea to conduct a real hydrogen-bomb test,” says Cai Jian, of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. “In the past, they always exaggerated their power.”

Pyongyang’s nuclear experimentation has angered its only political ally, Beijing, which has signed off on U.N. sanctions punishing North Korea for its weapons program.

There was a time when it looked like China might finally get tired of North Korea’s provocations and bluster and throw them under the bus. As long as their biggest concern was shipping enough products to sell in the United States and ensuring we were healthy enough to keep paying the interest on the massive debt they hold over our heads it was a sound move to stay on our good side. Lately, though, relations between Washington and Beijing have been pretty much in the toilet and they’ve been growing increasingly bold in their military expansion. China may be North Korea’s only true remaining “friend” in the world right now, but Kim Jong-un is a useful stick to poke in Barack Obama’s eye if China feels like stirring the pot a bit.

With that in mind, I’m not quite as hopeful as some folks at the Atlantic and elsewhere who seem to think that Kim has finally “gone too far” and that the Chinese might at last get on board with the idea of choking off the little nation’s supplies. They may as well keep them on the playing field if things are going to get tense with the west again. But all of that comes back to the question of whether or not this was a real test or just vaporware to celebrate Kim’s birthday. (Which is coming up shortly.) As noted by the analysts above, their older, fission bombs generated earthquakes of about the same size as this one. If this was actually a megaton size hydrogen bomb, shouldn’t there have been a bigger boom? I’m not familiar enough with all of the technology involved to say precisely how we will make the final determination, but I’m sure there’s some sort of a “signature” for a hydrogen bomb explosion that we’ll be looking for.

In the end, though, North Korea was already a nuclear state. This doesn’t really seem to change the geopolitical landscape all that much and it won’t until Kim decides to actually use one on somebody. And that would spell the immediate end of his nation, so it’s probably not time to panic over this.

HBomb