External Affairs

[Updated] North Korea Claims to Have Carried Out First Fusion Bomb Test

The North Korean leadership has announced that its “first hydrogen bomb test has been a complete success.”

Location of the January 6, 2016, earthquake's location (in blue), 19 km ENE of the town of Sungjibaegam. Source: USGS

Location of the January 6, 2016, earthquake’s location (in blue), 19 km ENE of the town of Sungjibaegam. Source: USGS

Updated, 3.01 pm: India’s Ministry of External Affairs has issued a statement –

We have seen reports that DPRK has conducted a nuclear test today. We are assessing the available information, including claims that this was a thermonuclear test. It is a matter of deep concern that DPRK has again acted in violation of its international commitments in this regard. We call upon DPRK to refrain from such actions which adversely impact on peace and stability in the region. Our concerns about proliferation links between North East Asia and our neighbourhood are well-known.

Updated, 10.57 am: Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, said in an official statement that, “If confirmed as a nuclear test, this act constitutes a breach of the universally accepted norm against nuclear testing”, as enshrined by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and held by its 183 signatories. He also called upon the North Korean leadership to sign the treaty and for the international community to make it a legally binding instrument to outlaw all nuclear testing – for which it needs nine more states to sign on.

Also read: Putting Humpty Dumpty together again – an account of the CTBT

Updated, 9.56 am: There is already some doubt over the veracity of North Korea’s claim as a typical fusion bomb, technically called a thermonuclear weapon, should have had a greater yield and have resulted in tremors stronger than the 2013 test – which isn’t the case.

Update, 9.39 am: The USGS has revised the Punggye-ri quake depth to 0 km (on the surface) from 10 km.

Also read: How do you know when a nuclear weapon test has happened?

Update, 9.32 am: Full text of North Korea’s statement –

There took place a world startling event to be specially recorded in the national history spanning 5 000 years in the exciting period when all service personnel and people of the DPRK are making a giant stride, performing eye-catching miracles and exploits day by day after turning out as one in the all-out charge to bring earlier the final victory of the revolutionary cause of Juche, true to the militant appeal of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

The first H-bomb was successfully conducted in the DPRK at 10:00 on Wednesday, Juche 105 (2016), pursuant to the strategic determination of the WPK.

Through the test conducted with indigenous wisdom, technology and efforts the DPRK fully proved that the technological specifications of the newly developed H-bomb for the purpose of test were accurate and scientifically verified the power of smaller H-bomb.

It was confirmed that the H-bomb test conducted in a safe and perfect manner had no adverse impact on the ecological environment.

The test means a higher stage of the DPRL’s development of nuclear force.

By succeeding in the H-bomb test in the most perfect manner to be specially recorded in history the DPRK proudly joined the advanced ranks of nuclear weapons states possessed of even H-bomb and the Korean people came to demonstrate the spirit of the dignified national equipped with the most powerful nuclear deterrent.

Update, 9.14 am: A DPRK news presenter announced that a “miniaturised” H-bomb had been successfully detonated near the North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site at 1.30 UTC on January 6, 2016. Earlier, on December 10, 2016, the capability to produce such weapons had been announced by the country’s dictatorial leader Kim Jong-un. But analysts continue to remain sceptical because the ability to make working H-bombs takes awhile to master. Alternatively, they’ve speculated that Pyongyang could really be in possession of boosted fissile weapons, which use weaker fusion reactions to boost the yield of a fissile weapon.

At the same time, foreign assistance hasn’t been ruled out either.

Update, 9.06 am: Has North Korean mastered its first hydrogen-bomb (as these weapons are usually called)? Such a bomb involves the fusion of two lighter nuclei, typically of hydrogen, to form a helium nucleus. However, the helium nucleus is lighter than two hydrogen nuclei combined and the remaining mass is converted to energy and lost. This reaction is harder to master than the more common fission weapon, which involves the splitting of a heavier nucleus into multiple lighter ones.

Update, 8.19 am: Chinese earthquake monitors as well as US Geological Survey sensors picked up a magnitude 5 earthquake in North Korea that observers speculate could have been the result of a nuclear test. The first giveaway was the quake’s timing – precisely at 1.30.02 UTC – and the second was its epicentre’s proximity to the February 2013 nuclear-test site. While American, Chinese and South Korean geologists work on checking the possible cause of the quake, the North Korean government has said it will make a special announcement later today.

According to Yonhap, the South Korean defence ministry has convened an emergency meeting while Japan was putting together a task-force to address what the cabinet chief secretary Yoshihide Suga believes to be a nuclear test based on the historical record.

The USGS has placed the epicentre 10 km below the surface, considered a shallow depth, and 19 km ENE from Sungjibaem, very close to the Punggye-ri site where North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests: in 2006, 2009 and 2013. The 2013 quake had also triggered a magnitude 5 quake. The record leaves it the sole country to have conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century, and in the face of widespread condemnation and calls for shutting down its nuclear programme.

However, regular demonstrations of its nuclear weapons capabilities have continued: in part to rankle already heightened tensions in North Korea’s neighbourhood, which to its detriment have provoked frustration from China, its once-staunch ally, and in part to project Kim Jong-un’s authority “in a country where the leadership culture demands a powerful leader, one capable of achieving great accomplishments”, as defence analyst Bruce Bennett wrote on CNN last month.

List of nuclear tests conducted by country, 1945-2013. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5

Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5


    (1) This news about hydrogen bomb test by North Korea is very shocking
    news, indeed. What is the democratic world’s response to this news will be
    known after some time. Of course, it may be that North Korea is just making
    false claims about the hydrogen bomb test. But I believe if the claims are
    true, two possibilities can be mentioned: (a)
    In all likelihood, North Korea may destroy itself and in the process
    cause enormous harm to its neighbours including China, which has all along
    provided support to authoritarian regime in North Korea. (b) The world
    community may be able to persuade North Korea not to precipitate matters. (2) If
    overambitious politicians in some countries wish to destroy this world, only
    logical way to save the world is by systematic action plan to isolate such
    countries. Unfortunately, China has so far refused to see danger that exists in
    the form of current political leadership in North Korea. But it is necessary to
    firmly tell China too about implications of its support to the North Korean
    regime. Let us see what happens in coming months.