Nuclear 'Fingerprinting' Shows Just How Potent North Korean Nukes Have Become

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Photo: via Norsar

In a short 5 years, North Korea has increased the yield of its nuclear weapons 10-fold.A Norwegian seismic tracking organisation named NORSAR yesterday released a chart showing what they call a “fingerprint” of North Korea’s last three nuclear detonations. Their fingerprint works because North Korea used roughly the same position to “test” all three nukes.

“Look at the three lines showing the test blasts of 2006, 2009 and 2013,” Steven J. Gibbons, senior research geophysicist at NORSAR, told IEEE Spectrum. “The ripples on the seismograms look identical, except for the difference in amplitude. That’s because the seismic waves have traveled through exactly the same rock, the same rock boundaries.”

Matching these seismographs up yields interesting conclusions. One, the North Koreans used roughly the same location for all three tests. And two, the yield of the blasts increased markedly over the last five years.

“If you increase the yield by a factor of 10, you increase the amplitude on the seismograph by a factor of log 10,” Gibbons explained to IEEE. “We think North Korea’s yields have increased tenfold — from 1 kiloton in 2006 to 5 kilotons in 2009 and to 10, in 2013.”

There has been a lot of speculation around the different tests. Some experts think plutonium was involved, others think less potent uranium was the catalyst for each. While plutonium, requiring smaller amounts for nuclear yield, is more fit for nuclear warheads, uranium is in abundance around Korea, reports Max Fisher of the Washington Post.

Still, the fact remains that North Korea can both fire rockets and detonate bombs with little warning. As China, the most influential nation in the region, flounders for control over its diplomatic ally, Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic ambitions are of rising concern for the global community.

Nuclear tests like North Korea’s are essential in developing weapons by gauging their strength and grade. The U.S. performs similar tests, one as recently as December 2012, but is able to keep them from full blown nuclear detonations. December’s test went largely unnoticed but still drew rebuke from Japan and Iran. 

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