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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

H-Bomb Test - 06 January 2016

On 06 January 2016, North Korea announced that it had conducted a successful test of a Hydrogen bomb. No reason was given as to why the test was conducted this week but January 8 does mark North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's birthday. The test was reported to have been conducted at 10:00 AM local time, on Wednesday, Juche 105 (2016). KCNA reported that the order to conduct the test was issued by Kim Jong Un on 15 December 2015 and signed on 03 January 2016.

Prior to official North Korean confirmation, an earthquake described as being of an 'artificial nature' was detected in the general vicinity of the town of Kilchu. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake was of 5.1 magnitude with the epicenter located in Pekam county, in Yangkang province, in the same area as the Punggye-ri site where prior North Korean nuclear tests had previously taken place.

According to the statement released by the North Korean government, "this test is a measure for self-defence the DPRK has taken to firmly protect the sovereignty of the country and the vital right of the nation from the ever-growing nuclear threat and blackmail by the U.S.-led hostile forces and to reliably safeguard the peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional security." In its televised announcement, the announcer said Pyongyang planned to continue to develop its nuclear technology “until the sky falls.”

After North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions banning Pyongyang from conducting further nuclear and offensive weapons tests and imposed harsh economic sanctions against the Kim Jong Un regime.

South Korean President Park chaired an emergency meeting of the National Security Council soon after the North's claim of a hydrogen bomb test and the South Korean government released a statement on the situation in a matter of hours after the North confirmed its attempt. President Park Geun-hye said North Korea's claim of a fourth nuclear test would be a direct challenge to South Korea's national security, threatening the survival of its citizens.

She said the latest provocation had the potential to shake up the security landscape in Northeast Asia and stressed the North must pay for its nuclear ambition and actions that go against international peace and stability. Seoul condemned Pyongyang and said a nuclear test would violate UN Security Council resolutions. It said it is seeking further sanctions to denuclearize Pyongyang in cooperation with the international community.

North Korea's closest ally China showed firm opposition in a daily briefing at itsforeign ministry, denying any prior knowledge of the alleged experiment. "China will firmly promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and insist on solving the Peninsula nuclear issue within Six-Party Talks framework."

United States National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the U.S. has consistently made clear it will not accept a nuclear North Korea. "We will continue to protect and defend our allies in the region, including the Republic of Korea, and will respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations," Price said.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who was in a two-day visit to China's capital Beijing, said that if the test reports are true, it is quote "a breach of UN resolutions and a provocation he condemns without reservation." He also told reporters that both the U.K. and China oppose the test and want to see resumption of UN six party talks for the North's denuclearization. "There can always be more done to strengthen them and tighten the way sanctions are applied and I would urge all of our partners to ensure that they are applied as constantly and effectively as possible."

The European Union, Japan and South Korea have agreed to coordinate a joint response to North Korea, within the framework of the United Nations after Pyongyang made allegations of carrying out a hydrogen bomb test, the European Union External Action service said. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held a telephone conversation with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Yun Byung-se and Fumio Kishida, respectively. The sides "discussed the way ahead, beginning this afternoon with an urgent session of the UN Security Council. They agreed on the need for a strong, coordinated and united reaction by the international community, including in the UN and in the G7, which Japan is currently chairing," the statement read.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also slammed the North's claims, declaring it a "serious threat" to his country and a "grave challenge`" to international nuclear non-proliferation efforts. "Japan will take a firm response, including at the UN Security Council, in cooperation with the United States, South Korea, China and Russia, on this."

France and Australia have also joined global condemnation of the alleged nuclear testing, while Russia's foreign ministry was more cautious with its statement. It called on "all interested sides to preserve maximum restraint and to not take actions that could rouse the uncontrolled growth of tensions in Northeast Asia."

"This act is profoundly destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international non-proliferation efforts," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the North Korean test. "I condemn it unequivocally." Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called the test a "clear violation" of the UN sanctions and said it is "deeply regrettable."

An atomic bomb involves fission reaction, in which a neutron collides with an atom's nucleus, splitting it into two nuclei and releasing nuclear energy. Also called an A-bomb. Nuclear reactors use fission to produce electricity. The US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 to bring an end to World War Two. A hydrogen bomb involves fusion reaction, in which nuclei collide to form a new nucleus. Also called a thermonuclear bomb, H-bomb, or two stage bomb, a hydrogen bomb is triggered by a small A-bomb. The sun and stars are powered by the fusion process. Fusion reactions allow for massive explosive yields – potentially thousands of times more powerful than an atomic bomb.

South Korea's defense ministry said it is unlikely that North Korea conducted a full-scale hydrogen bomb test, as an H-bomb is one-hundred to one-thousand times stronger than an atomic bomb, and added that it's hard to believe Pyongyang has obtained the technology. Military officials added that only a few countries including the U.S. and Russia have tested hydrogen bombs

While Pyongyang may well be overstating the extent of its nuclear capabilities, an H-bomb-armed North Korea is far from an outlandish proposition, say some experts. Policy analysts “seem pretty convinced that we are entering the age of the North Korean H-bomb”, said David Galbreath, professor of international security at Bath University and an expert on arms control. “Even if this was not a successful hydrogen bomb test it is something that is going to happen sooner or later, unless there is some kind of Iran-style nuclear agreement, which seems extremely unlikely.”

That North Korea may have carried out a successful H-bomb test “does not come as a surprise”, Dr Matthew Cottee, research associate for non-proliferation and nuclear policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed. “This is something we have been talking about for a while in relation to North Korea – an H-bomb test was only a question of when, not if.”

It is generally believed that the design and production of hydrogen bombs is difficult, and beyond the reach of some nuclear weapons states, such as North Korea. This is the "Ignorant Peon" view of North Korea. In "Dr. Strangelove," Air Force Gen. Buck Turgidson disparages the Soviets as "a bunch of ignorant peons" who are unable to "understand a machine like some of our boys." There is a tendency to disparage the North Koreans (as well as Pakistanis, Iranians and Indians) as ignorant peons whose weapons skills are consistently derided as "primitive."

This belief is probably incorrect. North Korea's first two tests were low yield affairs, widely derided as failures, because it did not replicate the multi-kiloton yield of America's first nuclear test. It did, however, coincide with the sub-kiloton tests of the fission trigger for a hydrogen bomb. The "ignorant peon'" school tells us that North Korea's "primitive" atomic bombs are too big to put on missiles. But possibly North Korea's hydrogen bombs are easily fitted on missiles.

Two-stage fusion weapons are probably within the reach of "even the smallest nuclear power", as Doctro Strangelove would phrase it. There are three elements that are needed to build a hydrogen bomb:

  1. The basic design elements of the hydrogen bomb have been a matter of public record for several decades. This desing confounded Edward Teller for the better part of a decade, and Soviet designers needed several years to cover the same ground, but for the past several decades the basic ideas have been well known.
  2. The ingredients of a hydrogen bomb are largely those of an atomic bomb, along with a few other items - Tritium, special plastics, and so forth - that would come fairly readily to hand in a nuclear weapons state.
  3. Computing power is the element that brings together the design and the materials, to simulate the accuracy with which theory has been reduced to practice. Today's home computers are roughly a million times more powerful than the computers used by the United States to produce the first hydrogen bomb.
In all probability, at least one test of a low yield trigger would be needed just to make sure nothing had been overlooked. Israel seems to have conducted once such test in 1979, as did Pakistan in 1998. India conducted multiple low yield tests in 1989, and North Korea has conducted at least two low yield tests.


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Page last modified: 06-01-2016 19:36:18 ZULU