North Korea is Preparing Another Nuclear Test

 

Yonhap News Agency has just reported a that fifth North Korea nuclear test is “imminent.”Officials in Seoul have noticed a sharp uptick in activity around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Officials estimate that the test will occur sometime before May of this year.

This announcement comes after the failure of a Musudan IRBM on the 15th of April. The test, meant to mark the 104th birthday of Kim Il Sung, failed to even get off the launchpad. This nuclear test was likely moved up to compensate for the failure of the missile test and create a propaganda event for the Party Congress in early May. The first such event in 30 years.

DPRK weapons testing is highly political. Tests and exercises are carried out to coerce and intimidate America and it’s allies like South Korea and Japan. Another objective is to generate propaganda for internal consumption to keep the regime afloat. The same propaganda is also intended for information warfare. It is distributed externally by outlets like Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central Television, which are controlled by the Workers Party.

This new test will be interesting because of North Korea’s apparent progress in miniaturizing nuclear weapons. A few weeks ago the Kim regime published pictures of what analysts referred to as the “disco ball.” The device appeared to be a roughly 60 cm in diameter and a covered in polygonal panels.

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The Disco Ball. Picture from Rodong Sinmun

Many analysts believe that the Disco Ball was a mock-up of a compact nuclear bomb. The panels are suspected to be high explosive lenses used for the bomb’s implosion mechanism. The bomb also looks similar to American designs of the late 1940s which used a similar method.

Along with the disco ball they claimed to have created a “hydrogen bomb”. While this is (very) likely an exaggeration. What they have probably attempted is a boosted fission bomb. This is basically a regular atom bomb implanted with a small amount of tritium-deuterium(hydrogen isotopes). This substance creates more neutrons during the detonation. More the neutrons split more atoms in the fissile material (Uranium or Plutonium) so more undergoes fission. This results in more energy being released and a  higher yield while allowing less material to be used in the bomb itself.

If the DPRK has built a boosted fission weapon The yield should be significantly higher than the last four tests, which maxed out at about 10 kilotons; about half as much as America’s first nuclear test.

Either way, this test will be interesting. An announcement of a significantly more powerful nuclear device would make for a good speech at the party congress and would confirm North Korea’s ability to create a usable nuclear bomb.

 


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