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October 9, 2006
Fizzlemas In North Korea

Bill Gertz writes in tomorrow's Washington Times that the nuclear test performed by North Korea may not have been nuclear at all. American intelligence has begun reviewing the seismic data and are increasingly convinced that the test was either a failure or a hoax:

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 White House took care earlier today to call even the claim of a successful test provocative, and now we understand why they made the distinction. The Washington Post also reports that American experts expressed surprise at the meager power displayed in the test, but does not go quite so far as Gertz. They also include new information on Pyongyang's expectations:

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 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.

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?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 9, 2006 11:05 PM

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» North Korea Tests A Nuke….Or Maybe Not from Flopping Aces
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Tracked on October 10, 2006 2:50 AM

» U.S. doubts Korean test was nuclear from RightLinx
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Tracked on October 10, 2006 2:55 AM

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