Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Too Small To Be A Nuke?

There are questions about exactly what the North Koreans detonated, whether nuclear or conventional, miniaturized or dud.

The explosion set off by North Korea yesterday appears to have been extremely small for a nuclear blast, complicating U.S. intelligence efforts to determine whether the country's first such test was successful or signaled that Pyongyang's capabilities are less advanced than expected, several senior U.S. and foreign government officials and analysts said.

A variety of seismic readings around the world yesterday appear to have resulted from no more than a half-kiloton explosion, three officials said -- equivalent to 500 tons of TNT and far smaller than the 21- to 23-kiloton plutonium bomb the U.S. military dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945.

A senior intelligence official called it a "sub-kiloton" explosion detonated inside a horizontal mountain tunnel and said its low yield caught analysts by surprise. "For an initial test, a yield of several kilotons has been historically observed," the official said.

A U.S. government official said the North Koreans, in a call to the Chinese shortly before the test was conducted, said it would be four kilotons. The official said it is possible the explosive yield was as low as 200 tons. France and South Korea both issued sub-kiloton estimates, and officials dismissed as inaccurate an early Russian estimate that the blast resulted from a five-to-15-kiloton explosion. ...

Intelligence and administration officials said yesterday they believed North Korea had managed a nuclear test of some sort, but because of the secrecy of the Pyongyang regime and the lack of scientific data, some observers would not eliminate the possibility that the blast was created by conventional explosives.

The relatively small size of the explosion, along with North Korea's public statement that the test did not produce any radioactive leakage, led some to question how well the test had gone. Small amounts of leakage are normal during nuclear tests, though it can take several days for the ventilation to register. One U.S. official said radiation detectors in the region were being monitored for any signs in the air from the nuclear test.


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