North Korea conducted their sixth nuclear test on Sunday, this time of a significantly more powerful weapon believed to be a two-stage, or hydrogen bomb.
Because North Korea has conducted all of its nuclear testing, Sunday’s included, underground in their Punggye-ri complex, details are sparse, but intelligence gathered from seismic readings suggest that Kim’s claims are likely accurate, and that North Korea now possesses the means to produce dramatically more powerful nuclear weapons than ever before; ten times more powerful than their last test, conducted in September of 2016, according to reports from both Japanese and South Korean officials.
According to estimates, Sunday’s test was conducted using a bomb with a yield believed to be 120 kilotons. As a frame of reference, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII were 15 and 20 kilotons respectively. This advancement indicates that Kim’s nuclear weapons have now graduated into modern-city killers, in terms of destructive power.
“That scale is to the level where anyone can say (it is) a hydrogen bomb test,” said Kune Y. Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University. “North Korea has effectively established itself as a nuclear state. This is not just a game changer, it’s a game over,” Suh added.
Prior to the test, North Korean media outlets shared photos that showed Kim Jong un inspecting a peanut shaped nuclear device, indicating that the detonation was indeed of a two-stage weapon.
The bomb North Korea showed today, if you look at the shape, the front part looks like an atomic bomb which triggers nuclear fission and the back part, a second stage that generates nuclear fusion reactions,” said Chang Young-keun, a rocket science expert at the Korea Aerospace University.
These two stage devices use a traditional atomic bomb to set off a chain reaction that produces a second, much larger blast.
“This means explosions can happen double and triple. And that’s why its power is great. Even if it’s the same size and weight, if it’s a hydrogen bomb, its power can be tens or hundreds times bigger,” Chang said.
North Korea claims its hydrogen bomb test was a complete success, going on to add that the device is already compact enough to be mounted on their long-range ballistic missiles, which experts agree are capable of reaching the mainland United States. How far into American territory they can reach, however, is still subject to debate, as it is now believed their recent tests included a warhead that was significantly lighter than an actual nuclear warhead might be, giving the missiles an exaggerated range that might not be possible with a real warhead.
Perhaps just as, if not more, disconcerting than the revelation that Kim’s nuclear arsenal now includes hydrogen bomb capabilities, is the rhetoric he’s coupled the test with. For the first time, North Korea has now threatened an EMP attack on the United States, rather than suggesting that they would simply target cities. An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a massive discharge of electromagnetic energy that can disrupt the function of, or destroy electronics.
A high altitude detonation of a large yield nuclear device could effectively plummet a large portion of the United States into the dark ages, not only cutting the power, but destroying circuits and electrical infrastructure. Millions of people would likely die due to the collapse of the electrical grid, crippled fleets of vehicles, and no reliable means of food refrigeration, among a litany of other issues to result in such a massive, and permanent, power outage.
President Trump is expected to meet with his advisers on Sunday to discuss the test, but took to Twitter to describe North Korea as a “rogue nation,” adding that its actions “continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States”.
“Appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing,” President Trump concluded.
Images courtesy of KCNA