January 7, 2016 Leave a comment
Intelligence agencies outside North Korea, including those of South Korea and the United States, are skeptical of Pyongyang’s claims that it conducted a successful test of a hydrogen bomb. On the surface, North Korea’s announcement on Wednesday that it tested a hydrogen bomb is consistent with the policies of the Kim Jong-un administration. The North Korean leader, who succeeded his father as the nation’s supreme leader in 2012, has repeatedly said that he intends to strengthen and modernize the country’s nuclear arsenal. In December, North Korea issued several warnings that it would soon test a hydrogen bomb, nearly a decade after the regime announced its first successful test of an atomic weapon. Unlike atom bombs, which rely on nuclear fission to release energy, hydrogen bombs are based on nuclear fusion; they are far more powerful than atom bombs, which they use as a trigger to reach even more massive levels of energy release.
There was initial shock on Wednesday when Pyongyang announced it had successfully detonated a “miniaturized hydrogen bomb”. A 5.1 magnitude earthquake was registered at a site that had been used in the past by North Korea to test nuclear weapons. A few hours later, however, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington that “initial analysis” conducted by US intelligence agencies was “not consistent” with North Korea’s claims. The explosion had been measured “in the single digit kilotons”, he said, whereas a thermonuclear device, which uses the energy from an initial nuclear device to ignite a secondary, much larger nuclear reaction, is typically measured in megatons. South Korean intelligence observers agreed that some kind of test occurred on Wednesday, but it did not display signs of a hydrogen bomb. Some South Korean officials cautioned that it could have been a failed test of a hydrogen device, or that the North Koreans could have tested only the initial trigger of a hydrogen bomb, which would be a much smaller explosion caused by fission. But Earnest insisted on Wednesday that “nothing [had] caused the US government to change our assessment of North Korea’s technical and military capabilities”.
Some media reports indicated that US intelligence agencies had expected a nuclear test by Pyongyang in 2015 or 2016, but had no specific information on a precise timeframe. It is also worth noting that assessments by US and South Korean intelligence agencies indicate that China was not informed by North Korea about an impending nuclear test and that Beijing was caught by surprise by Wednesday’s developments. China issued a statement condemning the alleged nuclear test soon after it was announced by North Korea.
► Author: Ian Allen | Date: 07 January 2016 | Permalink