Top of the page right now at Drudge. We were tossing this possibility around last night and then again this morning. Even a small nuclear explosion would yield a blast equivalent to a few thousand tons of TNT. This one was in the ballpark of 500.
Here’s what “NPP,” a retired munitions expert, had to say in the comments to the previous post:
It’s definitely possible to make nuclear weapons with yields under 1kt, but it requires a level of expertise and knowledge the NK’s almost certainly do not have…
Although it’s not certain, this “test” is looking more like a dud. I think a solely conventional explosion is unlikely – the NORKO’s wouldn’t claim to conduct a nuclear test then actually conduct a seemingly pointless HE explosion; knowing it would be discovered as a non-nuclear event…
You won’t see any radiation information for a while, if at all. If the test was a dud, then no radiation escaped, so there is nothing to collect. If it was a successful test and the seismic data is innaccurate or wrong, then gas would still have to escape from underground (if the NK’s did their homework, this won’t happen) and then be collected by aircraft east of the peninsula. It will take time to collect and analyze that data and much depends on the weather and wind patterns.
Finally, expect another test. If this one was a dud, it’s likely the North Korean’s have another design or test weapon ready to go.
He wonders why the NorKs would use a plutonium implosion device for their first test instead of a uranium “gun” device. Good question. Gun devices are so reliable that the U.S. didn’t even test one before dropping the bomb on Hiroshima.
Keep your eye on Drudge and the Washington Times. I’ll update once the article is posted.
Update: Steven Den Beste also thinks the test was a misfire. A misfire, or a ruse designed to make us think they’d successfully tested a weapon?
I guess if they’d wanted to do that, they’d have used a lot more conventional explosives and made it more convincing.
Update: Spectacularly depressing analysis from the Times:
“What it tells you is that we started at the wrong end of the ‘axis of evil,’ ” former Senator Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who has spent his post-Congressional career trying to halt a new age of proliferation, said in an interview. “We started with the least dangerous of the countries, Iraq, and we knew it at the time. And now we have to deal with that.”…
“Think about the consequences of having declared something ‘intolerable’ and, last week, ‘unacceptable,’ and then having North Korea defy the world’s sole superpower and the Chinese and the Japanese,” said Graham Allison, the Harvard professor who has studied nuclear showdowns since the Cuban missile crisis. “What does that communicate to Iran, and then the rest of the world? Is it possible to communicate to Kim credibly that if he sells a bomb to Osama bin Laden, that’s it?”
Update: The Gertz story is up at WashTimes. Quote:
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that seismic readings show that the conventional high explosives used to create a chain reaction in a plutonium-based device went off, but that the blast’s readings were shy of a typical nuclear detonation…
What U.S. officials have been unable to confirm is whether North Korea received small warhead design information from the Khan network.
Chinese-language documents on how to build a nuclear warhead for missiles were found in Libya and were supplied by Khan network associates. U.S. intelligence officials think Iran and North Korea received similar warhead design documents.
Update: A 500-ton blast would have required a sufficiently large amount of conventional explosives that U.S. spy satellites would have noticed them being brought to the site, notes the Times. WaPo says the NorKs told China that they were aiming for a four kiloton explosion, but by almost all accounts, they didn’t manage even a kiloton and could have fallen as low as 200 tons. More:
Intelligence officials were looking at four possibilities to explain the size of the blast, the most likely of which appeared to be that only a fraction of the device’s core exploded. If that were the case, the test would still be considered successful, officials said, because some plutonium was exploded. But it may also lead the North Koreans to conduct additional tests to determine what went wrong.
It is also possible, two analysts said, that Pyongyang used less plutonium because it has less stockpiled than U.S. intelligence believed.
It’ll be a few days before the atmospheric radiation data is harvested and analyzed.