Verifying N Korea nuclear test 'tricky'

2013-02-07 10:03
Structures which an analyst says rea gantry footings, a flame trench and propellant buildings of a new launch pad are seen at the Tonghae launch complex near the village of Musudan-ri on the northeast coast of North Korea. (File/ AP)

Structures which an analyst says rea gantry footings, a flame trench and propellant buildings of a new launch pad are seen at the Tonghae launch complex near the village of Musudan-ri on the northeast coast of North Korea. (File/ AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Washington - North Korea has vowed to carry out a third nuclear test, but scientists and concerned foreign governments may have a tough time verifying the actions of the reclusive state.

One critical question is whether North Korea uses uranium or plutonium. North Korea's 2006 and 2009 tests involved plutonium, so a uranium detonation would prove that Kim Jong-Un's regime has opened an additional way to make bombs.

After foreign detection of its 2006 test, North Korea carried out its 2009 explosion deep underground, which gave scientists far less information. Most observers expect North Korea to be even more careful this time.

Some 270 stations and laboratories around the world monitor seismic and other activity under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, making up about 80% of the total envisioned under the 1996 UN treaty.

Nuclear assessment techniques

Earthquake detection: Seismic monitoring is the most effective and quickest way to detect a nuclear test. Seismic waves travel about 8km per second.

Seismic detention put the May 25 2009 test at around 4.5 magnitude with an explosive yield of a few kilotons, well below that of the nuclear bombs which the United States dropped on Japan in 1945. North Korea's 2006 test was detected at magnitude 4.1.

Uranium or plutonium: Both uranium and plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons. The United States devastated Hiroshima with a uranium bomb and Nagasaki with a plutonium bomb.

North Korea's nuclear program was historically based on plutonium, but the regime disclosed in November 2010 to visiting US scientists that it was operating a uranium enrichment plant.

Experts have speculated that North Korea may have decided on a third test in the hopes of trying out its uranium program or that it may simultaneously use both methods. But if North Korea prevents leakage, it may be impossible to know for sure.

A successful test with highly enriched uranium would alarm North Korea's adversaries as it is much easier to conceal work with uranium than with plutonium, which requires a reactor to produce the chemical element.

Radionuclide signals: This extremely sensitive technique, which could be crucial in determining the nature of a North Korean test, allows scientists to examine material that has seeped out of the ground or been released in the air.

Scientists use instruments that "sniff" fission products of the explosive material and then use modelling to determine the origin of the radionuclides and predict where the nuclear plume may be headed.

Two weeks after the 2006 test, the isotope Xenon-133 was detected across the Pacific Ocean in the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife. But the North Koreans were successful in 2009 in sealing off the test site.

Infrasound detectors and Hydroacoustic technology: Undetectable to the human ear, infrasound waves have frequencies between 0.01 and 10 Hz. They are typically produced by explosions in the atmosphere but can also come from underground explosions.

A very small infrasound signal was detected following the 2009 North Korea test, but none in 2006.

Hydroacoustic technology can be used to detect nuclear explosions in or near bodies of water by tracking sound waves.

Global monitors can detect an in-water explosion as small as one ton across most of the world's oceans.

US planes and satellites

The US Air Force was first tasked in 1947 with monitoring atomic explosions worldwide. Nearly 1 000 personnel now work at the Air Force Technical Applications Centre (AFTAC), based in Florida near the Kennedy Space Centre.

AFTAC operates a WC-135 aircraft for detecting radioactive debris that could come from nuclear explosions. The plane flies to the location of the debris plume and collects particulates for laboratory analysis.

The United States also uses satellites to detect potential nuclear explosions in space or in the atmosphere -a capacity that is not part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

Satellites can collect data on electromagnetic pulses, optical flashes and nuclear radiation.

- SAPA
Read more on:    north korea  |  north korea nuclear programme
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Fashion
 

6 life hacks you simply have to know

A few simple tricks can make your life so much easier!

 
 

For chic geeks...

Device lets disabled people talk through their nose
It’s THIS easy for someone to steal your ATM pin!
This is why you should install iOS 8
17 photo illusions that look so real

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at kalahari.com

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at kalahari.com

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

It may feel like you are treading water and going nowhere fast. You may want to get off the merry go round. By pushing yourself...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.