Let us worry


North Korea has apparently tested another nuclear weapon. They have announced that it was an underground detonation of a hydrogen bomb.

I have a son in South Korea and will be traveling there myself in May — but whether I have a connection there or not, this is a terrible prospect.

Comments

  1. redwood says

    Kim Jong Il is such a despot. The world would be a much better place without him. Aren’t the idiots in Oregon a bit like him? They’ve taken over a small corner of the country (world) and threaten anyone who interferes with them. In the meantime, they bloviate about how others are out to get them and how they have to defend themselves.

    On a separate note, any chance of you stopping by Japan on your way to the ROK, PZ? I’m sure there are many of your fans here who would love to meet you and treat you should you stay over for a couple of days. You could enjoy being in a country that is around 1% Christian (unlike South Korea, which is around 50-60% Christian, I believe). Plus, you don’t have to tip. Ever.

  2. brett says

    I suspect it’s time for another round of bad faith bargaining over their nuclear program by North Korea.

    Step 1: Announce that in exchange for food aid, North Korea is willing to discuss the dismantling of their nuclear weapons program.
    Step 2: Start negotiations, get the aid
    Step 3: Drag feet until the negotiations collapse.
    Step 4: Start again in a few years.

    They’ve done this twice in the past 15 years.

  3. JohnnieCanuck says

    Not to worry, redwood @ 1, 3. He lives on, carrying out his duties as, amongst other things, the “Eternal General Secretary” of the WPK. Like his father before him, he is now an immortal, god-like being and still leads his loyal subjects.

  4. Sili says

    Much like their last attempt at fission bomb most likely never reached criticality either.

  5. says

    When you get to Korea, tell them williamgeorge sent you.

    In the resulting confusion as to who williamgeorge is immigration at Incheon will rush you through.

  6. Holms says

    #3
    This suggests the Iran deal should be used as a model for how such things should proceed: provide aid after progress has been made, subject to on-site inspection.

  7. Thomas McKnight says

    Let us not worry too much, yet. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  8. erichoug says

    Yawn!!! The Kim Regime needs some aid so they do what they always do: something provocative. While the people of the DPRK might think they could prevail in a war against the South and the US, their leadership is not so ill informed and stupid. If the Kim regime were to launch a nuclear strike, they would likely target either Seoul or Tokyo though I doubt they could hit Tokyo and might only succeed in boiling part of the sea of Japan. Their artillery in the DMZ would vaporize Seoul in any case. After that, the combined US, SK and JDF would roll up their starving, poorly equipped forces to the border with China in a fashion similar to what happened to Saddam’s army in Kuwait. The high ranking regime members would probably meet the same fate as Benito Mussolini.

    So, since the regime is neither insane or stupid, I have little worry that any of that’s going to happen

  9. gmacs says

    @10
    From what I understand, Iran doesn’t need aid. What they need is for sanctions to be lifted so they can trade with people. They don’t seem to have a shortage of food, but they need what medical supplies they can’t produce themselves.

    I have a friend and former office-mate from Iran who hates the regime as much as he hates the sanctions. His biggest deal with them is that his mother has trouble getting medication for her chronic pain.

  10. consciousness razor says

    The Vicar:

    Still too early to be sure this isn’t just another batch of lies and braggadocio from the North Korean leadership. They aren’t at all above claiming a normal earthquake was a successful nuke test.

    The reports I’m seeing are all fairly confident about asserting it was a nuclear test of some kind, but there could be reason to doubt NK’s claims about the size and type of bomb, or how successful the test was. I couldn’t tell you much about it honestly, but you can do more than look at only seismic waves to determine things like this: even with an underground test, there could be some detectable radioactive material that escapes. Plus, with only the acoustics, you could hear the difference between an explosion and an earthquake. On the other hand, a temperature increase might be too hard to detect or not reliable enough. In any case, it wouldn’t be indistinguishable from a normal earthquake, if you’re able to look closely enough at all of the evidence. But who knows how much access they really have there, to get data like that so quickly after the initial reports. Anyway, most people aren’t too gullible when it comes to NK’s lies and bullshit, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re not jumping the gun and already have enough evidence to know what they’re talking about.

    gmacs:

    From what I understand, Iran doesn’t need aid. What they need is for sanctions to be lifted so they can trade with people.

    Well, that’s how it often works, isn’t it? We tend to “provide aid” simply by being slightly less shitheaded toward people. Even then it’s usually not a fair trade. But we stop using words like “sanctions” amongst ourselves, so something must have improved, right?

    … Sorry, I’m feeling really bitter today.

  11. says

    you can do more than look at only seismic waves to determine things like this: even with an underground test, there could be some detectable radioactive material that escapes

    I don’t know if the old VELA satellites are still in operation, or not. Presumably there are newer (more sensitive) detectors.
    The detonation of a hydrogen bomb is unique because you’ve first got a fission bomb going off, then very very very quickly following that, a fusion explosion. You get a sort of “double click” in your EMP that is literally unlike anything else known to man. I wonder if you’d have some kind of similar waveform with the vibrations produced? Presumably there are a lot of sensors all over the area… There’s probably enough information to determine, without having to go into isotope analysis and actually having samples from the area. When you get samples, according to Reed et al (“at the brink”) and Rhodes (“twilight of the bombs”)* nuclear forensics is good enough they can tell what reactor bred the fuel, and a great deal about the centrifuge cascade that enriched it. Getting samples of whatever the N Koreans are doing is presumably a pretty high priority since it’d be useful for fingerprinting any other nuclear materials that crop up elsewhere.

    The N Koreans, for all that many americans parody them, are not stupid. Kim Il Sung** once accurately laid out the nuclear balance between the US and N Korea: “Even if we had a bomb and fired it at the US all that would accomplish is the death of the Korean people.”

    (* optimist!)
    (** reported in Rhodes)

  12. says

    Why is it worrying? You think they’ll repay the US for the destruction of their capital back in the day?
    So far, they have proven to be more reasonable and less thieving than the US.

  13. consciousness razor says

    Marcus Ranum:

    I don’t know if the old VELA satellites are still in operation, or not. Presumably there are newer (more sensitive) detectors.

    I guess the ones you’re referring to were designed for above-ground explosions, but yes, I’m sure they do have better satellites for that now.

    The detonation of a hydrogen bomb is unique because you’ve first got a fission bomb going off, then very very very quickly following that, a fusion explosion. You get a sort of “double click” in your EMP that is literally unlike anything else known to man. I wonder if you’d have some kind of similar waveform with the vibrations produced?

    Well, I don’t know if it’s as straightforward as you might be imagining, but they would (almost certainly) be noticeably different patterns. I mean, it is possible that some rocks moved to make whatever kind of pattern you like … they could spontaneously play The Star-Spangled Banner for you (with lyrics!), if things happen to be just so. But I figure the chances of false-positives like that are extremely small. And whatever they may be, if someone were working on this problem rigorously (which they are) they’d be able to say precisely how small they think those chances are.

  14. erichoug says

    @Nikolaos Mavrantzas

    Hmmmm, let’s see, A regime that doesn’t allow it’s citizens to travel internally or externally, doesn’t allow access to the internet , determines where you are going to live and bases your entire future on whether or not your grandfather was loyal enough to Kim Il Sung. yeah, they sound like good people.

    I like the part where Kim Jong Il was the worlds largest customer of Hennessy Cognac during the time when millions of his people starved to death.

    The government of the DPRK is a criminal gang that is holding the entire country for ransom from the rest of the world

  15. Trickster Goddess says

    Not proof one way or the other, but USGS lists the time of the “earthquake” as UTC 01:30:01 which is basically exactly 10:00 am local N. Korea time. Co-incidence or scheduled?

  16. David Eriksen says

    For whatever it’s worth, I’m also stationed in South Korea. I spend more time at work with Koreans than with Americans. No one here seems to give a shit about this. There has been no change to our threat level (it went up after the Paris attacks) and I haven’t heard a single person mention it outside of US based media.

    re: erichoug @12
    The current thinking is that the north has no intention of targeting Seoul if things were to kick off. They’d probably try to vaporize Yongsan-gu but the rest of the city would be better as a prize they could claim. Afterall, there aren’t that many infantry type soldiers stationed in Seoul. They’re mostly closer to the border or in the south to be held in reserve.

  17. says

    Rachel Maddow hosted an excellent segment on North Korea’s claim that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.

    Maddow covers the history of atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. She managed to give the audience a really good idea of the size of these bombs, and the truly huge difference between fission and fusion bombs.

    Maddow interviewed Joe Cirincione, president of The Ploughshares Fund, who also added much-needed facts and reality checks to the claims from North Korea.

  18. autumn says

    Maddow was sloppy in that report. A fusion bomb has to, by definition, be larger than a fission weapon. A fusion weapon needs a fission weapon as a trigger. Maddow consistently talked about H-bombs being somehow more transportable than regular old atom bombs. The gist of the report was okay, but the ignorance of the basic tech was not.

    Also, the idea that an enemy being able to destroy an entire city is fine, but an enemy being able to destroy a city and a neighboring city is horrible, smacks of cold war scare tactics.
    I expected better.