Did Pyongyang test its first uranium bomb?....
Early reports were that North Korea had tested a plutonium device, as noted in LFTC's Tuesday edition. But in a recent New York Times op-ed, top nuclear proliferation maven Graham Allison states that US officials now believe it was a uranium bomb. If true this is significant.
Allison notes that this gives Pyongyang not only a second route to making fuel for a nuclear weapon; it also likely means that the North built a clandestine uranium enrichment site not previously known to outside observers. Uranium, GA notes, is also harder to detect (hence easier to smuggle), and can be made into a gun-trigger bomb that need not be tested--as was the case with the Hiroshima bomb. (The Nagasaki bomb used plutonium, and hence had to employ a complex "implosion" trigger--a technique that must be tested to ensure that it will work.)
Allison notes that in intelligence circles Pyongyang is known as "Missiles 'R' Us"--a reference to its proclivity for selling WMD technology to rogue-state buyers. GA proposes that the US issue a credible, stern warning that any use of a nuclear bomb against the US or its allies that is traced to material supplied by the North would result in nuclear retaliation by the US.
But an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that the plutonium or uranium question remains up in the air. So do other key questions, pending testing of atmospheric samples leaking from underground:
Joseph De Trani, former head of the National Counterproliferation Center, predicted U.S. intelligence would determine the size and composition of the nuclear device in one to three days based partly on radioactive elements released into the environment.
“Highly enriched uranium is something that degrades quickly, so you would have to collect within a 24-hour period,” especially because the traces from an underground explosion will be minimal, he said.
Neighboring Japan may provide some of those answers.
Its fighter jets were dispatched immediately after the test to collect atmospheric samples. Japan has also established land-based monitoring posts, including one on its northwest coast, to collect similar data.
But experts caution such monitoring doesn’t always work because test sites can be sealed to prevent tell-tale leaks. They also note that North Korea has proven it has the ability to mask its tests quite well. No radioactivity was detected after North Korea’s test in 2009.
The first indication of the latest test was seismic activity at the test site, which U.S. officials estimated at roughly magnitude 5.1. That would be equivalent to a medium-sized earthquake. North Korea’s two previous tests registered at magnitude 4.3 and 4.7.
Working off that data, South Korean officials estimate the yield of the device — a measure of how strong its explosion is in comparison to TNT — to be between 6 and 7 kilotons. The United States has estimated it at “several kilotons.”....
“Because the depth of the test is not known and the geology of the test site is uncertain, translating the seismic magnitude into yield is difficult,” said Acton, the Carnegie analyst. “My own back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests a yield of between 4 and 15 kilotons.”
The size of the blast suggests it was, as North Korea claims, a success.
North Korea’s first test is largely believed to have fizzled, with a yield of less than 1 kiloton, and the second was between 2 and 7 kilotons.
The problem with our trying to pressure Pyongyang is this: No threat from the U.S. will be credible, unless the US bombs Iran. Mere verbal warnings + tepid sanctions do not scare Pyongyang in the slightest. Only decisive action might move the Hermit Kingdom's tyrannical regime. And there is no reason to believe President Obama is prepared to do this. Nor is there any indication that China will step in and shut down the regime.
Illustrating the growing perception of American weakness is that when SecState John Kerry called leaders to rally support for condemnation of Pyongyang's test, one leader, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, refused to take Kerry's call. What makes this especially ironic is that it was Lavrov to whom SecState Hillary presented the red "reset" button in 2009 (1:00), intended to symbolize a new era of better relations with Russia. The video shows Lavrov correcting the Russian inscription on the gift, which translates not as "reset" but as "overcharge"--to which an embarrassed Hillary responded: "Well, we won't let you do that to us." In fact that is precisely what the Russians did, successfully taking Team Obama to the cleaners for four years.
As the Russians will continue to do in this second "O" term. And as their former client, North Korea (now China's semi-client), will also continue to do.
Bottom Line. The North Korean nuke test will be followed by more, as well as by more missile tests. Threats from outside will be ignored. And the risk of clandestine nuclear transfer from Pyongyang to rogue actors--state and non-state--will continue to rise.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Homeland Security, Foreign Policy, WMD, Nuclear Proliferation, Conservative Politics