Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nuclear Jitters

Japan is (understandably) pretty antsy over the whole NK nuke thing:

Read it.

A strong earthquake in northern Japan on Wednesday may have led the Tokyo government to suspect that North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test.

In Washington, White House spokesman Blair Jones said U.S. officials had not detected any evidence of additional North Korea testing.

"Japanese officials are now saying that this occurrence may be related to an earthquake in northern Japan," Jones said.

The earthquake came at a time when the Japanese government and other countries in Asia were jittery about reports that North Korea planned a second nuclear test.
This whole thing is a mess. We don't even know if they actually had a successful nuclear device:
Was North Korea's nuclear device a partial dud? That is one of several theories that Western experts say might explain the apparent low explosive force of the communist nation's first declared nuclear test.

Other suppositions are that North Korea deliberately chose a small device to save its limited stocks of bomb-making plutonium or that it somehow muffled the shockwaves from the underground blast to make it appear smaller than it was.

Even if North Korea got helpful pointers from nuclear-capable Pakistan, as many experts suspect, the technology of efficiently splitting atoms to make a controlled explosion is still tricky for novices to master. For North Korean scientists, working largely in isolation, that could be especially true.

"The devil is in the details," said French nuclear proliferation expert Bruno Tertrais. "It's like cooking. The fact that you have the recipe does not make you a chef."

One explanation could be that the device - if nuclear - fizzled rather than truly banged, with the plutonium only partially detonating, he said. Or, the device's timing may have been slightly off, creating a weaker chain reaction with less explosive force than planned.

But because of the intense secrecy that shrouds North Korea, it may never be known exactly how large an explosion it was hoping for and, therefore, whether the test was successful, as it claimed.

"I think they got a partial result," said Philip Coyle, a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information, a think tank in Washington.

"For them it was enough ... to say that it was a success. It helps them to claim that they are a nuclear power, and that the world should take them seriously, which is what they want. But I wouldn't be surprised if after several months they don't try again."