The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or the US’ bete noire, North Korea did it. It “successfully conducted an underground nuclear [weapon] test under secure conditions” on October 9 2006.
North Korea did it in defiance of international pressure to desist from doing so and return to discussions. North Korea resorted to this test – purportedly as deterrence against USA – after the so-called ‘Six Party Talks’ (between North Korea, its four neighbours, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea and its sworn enemy the USA) failed.
What did it do?
The test was assessed to be carried out at 10.36 am local time ( 01.36 GMT) and gave an artificial tremour with seismic intensity of about 3.6 on Richter’s Scale. Describing this finding Japan stated that it is studying scientific implications of this “small experiment.” South Korea assessed the to be originated from ‘P’unggye-yok,’ a remote place in DPRK’s ‘North Hamgyeong’ province. The yield or firepower form this underground test was reported to be around 550 tonnes of TNT.
How the Nuclear Tests are done?
Nuclear weapons tests are classified in to three types based on the location/ medium of test. They are atmospheric, underwater, and underground.
Atmospheric tests include those in or above the atmosphere. Generally, these devices are detonated on towers, balloons, barges, islands, or dropped from airplanes. High-altitude nuclear explosions (upper atmospheric tests), generally fired from missiles can generate an electromagnetic pulse and the resulting charged particles can cross hemispheres in spectacular auroral display. Explosions close enough to the ground would form a mushroom cloud of hot gases, dirt and debris.
Underwater testing is ususlly done by weapon moored to a ship or a barge or buried in sea bottom at shallow depths. Tests of this nature make part of Naval Nuclear Strategy. These explosions can release large amounts of radiation into sea water, boils the nearby water into radioactive steam and destroy the marine life. The 1996 French tests at Marurova Atoll in South Pacific created fissures in the uninhabited island. France did them in a hurry, just before signing CTBT and sank Green Peace’s “Rainbow Warrior” ship mid-sea when the peace activists tried to stop the French tests.
Underground testing, by far the most frequent mode, involves detonation under the ground surface at different depths. The nuclear device is placed in a heavy secure canister and when it is to be exploded, a conventional igniter explosive is electronically ignited, which in turn sets off the nuclear fission. The bomb is buried at required depth and usually buried in large volumes of heavy concrete and the pit is fully refilled with earth. In this way the surface radiation is negligible. However, errors may cause radiation spewing to the surface. In 1976, the United States and the erstwhile USSR agreed to limit the maximum yield of underground tests to 150 kt. These tests result in seismic tremours create subsidence craters when the explosion settled. The rock surrounding the device will gets vapourised and leave ground.
There are also other types of tests: the sub-critical tests, which do not give any yield due to lack of critical mass of explosive and the Super Computer based Nuclear test simulations, which allow critical studies sans radioactivity.
The North Korean tests were greeted with universal outrage.
Pakistan’s AQ Khan’s alleged nuclear network might again come into highlight.
Indo-US Nuclear deal (pending a senate vote in the US parliament) might face rough weather, what with many so-called non-proliferationists loose no time to take a same yard stick to measure North Korea, Pakistan and Iran as well as India.
Like everything in international affairs, nuclear disarmament is never democratic. NPT reserves the right of Nukes only to the P5 of Security Council (US, Russia, UK, France and China). The NPT is clearly biased and India did not sign it nor proliferated its indigenous technology. Most others signed despite bias. Some of them, like Japan and Australia, safe under the US’ nuclear umbrella, preach others peace.
Total isolation of defiant North Korea is near certain.
As espoused by India, a time bound total nuclear disarmament can only make this third rock from the sun a safe place for humans.