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Bill Gertz Reports U.S Intelligence Agencies Don't Believe Korean Blast Was Nuclear

According to Bill Gertz' report in the Washington Times, statements from those in the U.S. intelligence community support those of others (see Kim's earlier update post) who are not convinced the North Korean blast was nuclear.

U.S. intelligence agencies say, based on preliminary indications, that North Korea did not produce its first nuclear blast yesterday.

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.

"We're still evaluating the data, and as more data comes in, we hope to develop a clearer picture," said one official familiar with intelligence reports.

"There was a seismic event that registered about 4 on the Richter scale, but it still isn't clear if it was a nuclear test. You can get that kind of seismic reading from high explosives."

The underground explosion, which Pyongyang dubbed a historic nuclear test, is thought to have been the equivalent of several hundred tons of TNT, far short of the several thousand tons of TNT, or kilotons, that are signs of a nuclear blast, the official said.

The official said that so far, "it appears there was more fizz than pop."

Update: Ed Morrisey has more and notes the way the Washington Post covered the story:

If this is accurate, Kim expected to get 20 times more energy released from the test than the result. That points to a failure, another embarassing flop that follows on the heels of the Taepodong-2 test in July that exploded seconds into its flight.

One interesting note: look where the Post places this story in tomorrow's paper. Wouldn't one expect the possible failure of the first nuclear test since 1998 to make the front page, especially considering the high profile the test got the day before?

Update II: Josh Manchester describes the strategy of "collapse brinkmanship."

Update III: Marc Danziger suggests the Godfather strategy:

Simply put, we explain that in the event of a nuclear incident in the West that cannot be explicitly traced to a known source of nuclear weapons, we will immediately decapitate the regimes of Iran and North Korea, and destroy enough of their physical and nuclear infrastructure to make it very, very difficult for them to continue nuclear engineering, whether for peaceful or weapons purposes for a very long time. This would have to be both something supported by the president and overwhelmingly passed by Congress. We'd have to show some clarity and resolve throughout our political class.

The rationales for doing this are simple: Both regimes have cheated on their commitments around the nuclear product chain; both have and are supporting (or simply selling technology to) active terrorists; and neither regime has a government that's actively suicidal.

It's not a good defense, or a permanent one -- it is as risky and overdone as a shotgun rigged to shoot a burglar. But it's one way to set a bright line and to buy some time while we try and come up with a better plan.

Update 1:30: There is a discussion on Fox News right now about these Alaskan villages saying "no" to the Chavez oil offer. One point made was that it is rare to see people act out of principle and put their money where their mouth is and make a real sacrifice. Ain't that the truth?



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» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Global fury at N Korea nuclear test claim

» Flopping Aces linked with North Korea Tests A Nuke….Or Maybe Not

» RightLinx linked with U.S. doubts Korean test was nuclear

» Doug Ross @ Journal linked with Kim Jong Il's Hot Young Despots Chat Room

» Murdoc Online linked with DPRK set us up the bomb

Comments (8)

The indicates one of three... (Below threshold)
The Listkeeper:

The indicates one of three possibilities:

1) The thing just didn't work.

2) Dan Rather is in charge of NK's nuke program.

or

3) Kim Jong-Il wants his nukes to be like his penis. Very tiny.

If the Norks told China it ... (Below threshold)

If the Norks told China it would be a four-kiloton test, obviously something went wrong.

The nuclear device may not have detonated at all. Certainly, if there was a nuclear explosion, it was a very small one. This might indicate that DPRK either has less fissionable material than thought or it is experiencing more difficulty in processing more than has been projected.

If making nuclear weapons were easy, many more of them would be floating around. This IS "rocket science" and "brain surgery" rolled into one. Not only are the required materials jealously guarded, BUT once you obtain them there is still the technical problem of very little tolerance for error at any stage of the process.

I read an article today - sorry, can't remember where, my internet service has been spotty and I keep being kicked off - which proposed Kim is really trying to impress China, not the USA.

The theory was that DPRK's reliance on China for over 70% of imports has led to Chinese investment which could eventually threaten the regime's autonomy, since the Chinese are already producing nearly all of the small amount of wealth being created in DPRK today. Kim wants to force the US to deal with him one-on-one because he sees that as a way to command greater respect from the Chinese.

I'll try to find and link it.

First, to make something cl... (Below threshold)
Robin Goodfellow:

First, to make something clear: there aren't 550 Tonnes TNT equiv. of high explosives in any nuclear weapon design anywhere. That's a lot of mass, even for high explosives. With high-explosives like RDS, HMX, or PETN you get maybe up to 200% the energy density of TNT, but even 100 Tonnes of explosives is still a whole hell of a lot. That's the weight of an entire missile, not merely the payload or the warhead.

That leaves only a few options.

a) it was a nuclear detonation and designed for that yield (unlikely for a lot of reasons, not least because the reported yield was much higher)
b) it was a hoax, using hundreds of tonnes of conventional high explosive (possible, but there's not data on that yet)
c) it was a pre-detonation fizzle or partial fizzle (most likely given all the evidence)

For the record, a "fizzle" is when a nuclear weapon releases enough energy to blow itself apart before it has reached maximum criticality and before it can complete the fission of a significant fraction of its fissile material, resulting in a very inefficient weapon in terms of yield vs. potential maximum yield. Fizzles are very proplematic for Plutonium (thus requiring the super fast-assembly implosion weapons design) because of Plutonium's higher fission cross-section and greater neutron generation. For example, if you tried to create a gun-assembly Plutonium weapon you would just get a sub-critical fizzle. Moreover, "weapons grade" Plutonium must be processed (or carefully selected) from reactor created Plutonium in order to have an acceptable quantity of Pu-240, which will inject far too many neutrons (due to spontaneous fission) into the fission fuel at a much too early stage during assembly, leading to a pre-detonation sub-critical explosion aka a "fizzle". Since North Korea's weapons are most likely Plutonium based, and since they lack the world's finest engineers and scientists (to say the least), this scenario seems most likely.

None of this matters.... (Below threshold)
sanssoucy:

None of this matters.

When a madman is brandishing something that appears to be a pistol, the only prudent thing to do is assume that it *is* a pistol.

SS

When a madman is brandi... (Below threshold)
Martin A. Knight:
    When a madman is brandishing something that appears to be a pistol, the only prudent thing to do is assume that it *is* a pistol.

Does this apply to Saddam too?

"Simply put, we explain tha... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

"Simply put, we explain that in the event of a nuclear incident in the West that cannot be explicitly traced to a known source of nuclear weapons, we will immediately decapitate the regimes of Iran and North Korea, and destroy enough of their physical and nuclear infrastructure ..."

Yes.

".. This would have to be both something supported by the president and overwhelmingly passed by Congress. We'd have to show some clarity and resolve throughout our political class."

And there's the rub. Could we count on the Democrats to support the President on this or would they play politics, even if it hurt our country? I really don't know anymore.

I think Robin has the right... (Below threshold)
Mike:

I think Robin has the right angle on this story.

Little Boy, the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima, was a gun-triggered uranium 235 bomb and had an efficiency of only 1.5%, yet yielded a 14.5 kiloton blast.

(If you don't know what the heck we're talking about, there is a good reference here.

It should also be remembered that in a dictatorship like Jim Jong Il's, answering "no, it's not good enough yet" to an official progress inquiry would probably mean that you and your family would end up in a concentration camp as human guinea pig experiments for poison gas. In that kind of environment, quality is difficult to maintain.

Another explination that is... (Below threshold)
yetanotherjohn:

Another explination that is really firghtening is that it wasn't a fizzle, but a suitcase nuke.

http://fallbackbelmont.blogspot.com/2006/10/was-north-korea-testing-suitcase-nuke.html




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