NBC Weapons: North Korean Fizzle Bomb



March 30, 2007: The U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) has concluded that last Octobers nuclear weapons test in North Korea was a failure. This came after analysis of air samples, seismic (using earthquake detectors) and spy satellite data. There was a nuclear explosion, of about one kiloton, but it was the result of a improperly constructed nuclear weapon. Sort of a very low grade nuclear weapon that vaporized, rather than detonated, most of its nuclear material. This sort of explosion is called a "fizzle" and was last seen in 1998, when a Pakistani nuclear weapons test produced a very similar result. What's interesting about this is that a group of Pakistani nuclear scientists (the Kahn group) were secretly peddling nuclear weapons technology during the 1990s. This was done for private gain, and one of the Khan groups customers was North Korea. So it may be that the North Koreans used a Pakistani weapons design that was not quite there yet.

The CIA thus believes that North Korea is not exactly a nuclear power. Not yet, anyhow. They could build more of these fizzle grade bombs, which are still quite powerful. Each of these devices weighs several tons, but still produces a bang equivalent to a thousand tons of conventional explosives. It's also possible that the North Koreans came up with a flawed weapons design on their own. In any event, they will have to tinker with the design, and conduct more tests, before they have an efficient nuclear weapon.

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