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North Korea Air Sample Shows Radiation 543

Posted by kdawson
from the what-went-boom? dept.
Apocalypse111 writes, "According to CNN.com, air samples taken over North Korea have not yet shown any radiation from the event on Monday that North Korea claims was a nuclear test. This is not definitive proof that the event was non-nuclear, as it may either have been so small and deep that it did not let any radioactive debris escape, or perhaps the North Koreans sealed the site." Furthering speculation over whether North Korea has actually exploded a nuclear device, vk38 writes to point out a (free) article in today's Wall Street Journal claiming that the blast could have been set off by exploding fertilizer (ammonium nitrate). The article points to the Texas City disaster of 1947, in which 7,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the hold of a ship with the estimated power of 2 to 4 kilotons of TNT.
Update: 10/14 08:03 GMT by Z : The story at CNN has been updated: "A preliminary analysis of air samples from North Korea shows 'radioactive debris consistent with a North Korea nuclear test,' according to a statement from the office of the top U.S. intelligence official."
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North Korea Air Sample Shows Radiation

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  • Halifax Explosion! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @03:59PM (#16430103)
    Pfft, Canada does accidental explosions best: Halifax Explosion:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion [wikipedia.org] Atleast 200kTons there...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @03:59PM (#16430119)
  • hm, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joe 155 (937621) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:02PM (#16430181) Journal
    I really wouldn't be amazed if it wasn't a nuke. They obviously want people to think they have nukes (whether they do or not) because otherwise they wouldn't have said they were going to do it and just passed it off as a light earthquake.

    One can easily see from the increase in prestige and offers that Iran has been given for just saying that they want nuclear power that it gives your country an "edge"... I think it has backfired a bit - but we'll have to wait and see. Either way it's understandable why he would want to make it look like he has them. If Kim was thinking about the situation rationally then he would also know why China wouldn't want to put too many conditions on North Korea - which is to say that what China really fear is thousands of immigrants flooding in, after all, the nukes North Korea has will never rival China; and they can't even deliver the bombs anyway! (as far as I know they only have the ability to deliver something like that on a boat or train, really)
  • C'mon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blang (450736) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:03PM (#16430193)
    How the hell would NK come up with some 500 fully loaded dump trucks worth of fertilizer, and dump it in a hole? It would be visible from the friggin moon.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:24PM (#16430415)
    If the intention was to prove their nuclear capability, why would they seal the explosion site so tightly as to remove all emanations?

    The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization dectection stations rely on trace amounts of certain isotopes of noble gas. Those are not easy to seal off, are very specific and a very small amount can still lead to a positive detection. Worked fine for the (real) tests conducted by India and Pakistan only a few years ago.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:31PM (#16430507)
    http://www.vancouverislandabound.com/tamingof.htm [vancouveri...abound.com]
    A dangerous undersea mountain top called Ripple Rock was blown up by the Canadians in 1958. I always thought it was the world's largest deliberate chemical explosion. Anyway, some people think the Korean explosion was only 500 kilotons. So, a large chemical explosion has been done before and it could have been done again.

    Given that the North Korean dictator is addicted to western movies, maybe he's taken his lead from a Peter Sellers movie, The Mouse that Roared. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053084/ [imdb.com]
  • Re:C'mon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alienmole (15522) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:35PM (#16430553)
    Guess you won't be getting that analyst job at the CIA. It would be trivially easy to truck that fertilizer into a cave or mine somewhere, spread out over time, and detonate it when you're good and ready.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:37PM (#16430585)
    ... so the Bush Administration says.

    They never bothered with it before, why bother with it now? I mean evidence just detracts from the issues they are pushing.


    So let's see... you're saying that if we got back a first round of air samples, and the only way you heard one way or the other about it was through some leak, you wouldn't be complaining about the lack of transparency? Well, which is it? Do you want the data as it comes, NASA-style, or do you want to wait while the DoD and DoE and other agencies chew on it for some indeterminate time and make what may never be a conclusive conclusion? For everyone here that bitches about not getting enough raw info from the government about what's happening with crazies like NK, it seems that no good deed goes unpunished. Or, were you just looking to bash, no matter what happened or didn't?
  • Re:Choreography! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by assassinator42 (844848) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:46PM (#16430699)
    I wonder if Kim Jong Il has ever watched that movie.
  • by anshil (302405) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:48PM (#16430731) Homepage
    IANAE (I am not an expert), but underground nuclear explosions do usually not emmit radioactivity, at least at the moment.

    As far I understood an article I read some time ago, the gigantic heat of the explosion melts the surronding soil into a glass cave which conceils the radioactive mess.

    The problem is only after years of even decades, this glass sealing can (and at some point will) break and set the radioactivity free. Then the radiation levels will boost up... Thats another problem of humanity waiting we create now (our legacy for our kids).. all this sealed nuke-eggs from past underground expiriments loosing integrity at some future point.
  • Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:53PM (#16430815) Journal
    Apparently nobody recalls the catastrophic "mysterious" explosion of a train in North Korea last year?

    Hm...why would they be shipping railcars full of explosive anywhere?

    Face it, "dear leader" is just an attention wh0re.

    Although I confess I expected that he would have at least loaded the cave with a bunch of Fiestaware? Old smoke detectors? bought off ebay to give it SOME sort of radiation signature.
  • by Tod DeBie (522956) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:56PM (#16430863)
    Are we justified sanctioning and otherwise punishing it, even if it lied?
    They lied to the Clinton administration when they started cheating on the no nuke deal before the ink was dry. We should punish them for that.

    As for the nuke, we need to have a serious sit down with China. China does not want a unified Korea (at least not unified under the South), but they also don't want SK, Japan or, God forbid, Taiwan going nuclear either. China is the only one in a good position to stop NKs nuclear ambitions without firing a shot, and they had better do it or Japan and the rest may go nuclear too. That would be much worse for China than destabilizing NK that might lead to a unified Korea.

  • by partofthething (816738) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:57PM (#16430885) Homepage
    We had a departmental meeting about this the other day where a bunch of nuclear engineering professors got together and discussed what they thought had happened. The concensus was that this was actually a nuclear device. Almost definately. The seismic signals are the giveaway, and here's why. When a pile of chemicals explodes, they explode on a timescale of the speed of sound. So, the seismic signal from the explosion would be on the order of micro- to milli-seconds. When a nuclear device explodes, it happens in the time it takes for fast neutrons (>200keV) to get across a few centimeters. Now we're talking about nanoseconds. The seismic people have enough experience looking at explosions to be able to tell chemical from nuclear, and this one apparently looks nuclear. It also looks to be 0.5kT or so. That makes it by far the smallest yield 1st test ever. Which either means they have perfected making small bombs (which is incredibly complicated and wasn't done by the Los Alamos people until 15 years after their first test), or they failed in their test. The latter is very likely. They've also wasted a lot of Pu-239 or U-235 (probably Pu) and contaminated their expensive underground test facility. Lets count the days together to see how long they take to test again. If it's quick, they have plenty of material. Only time will tell.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @05:01PM (#16430915)
    I, the GP said they were "old". That does not contradict them being pre-Gulf War. The payloads, however, were only partially degraded, and still largely potent, including the sarin gas. Pointing out the fact that Saddam was keeping and hiding WMD does not have a thing to do with the claims concerning new weapons programs (a Red Herring on your part). The facts show that Bush and many others, including foreign leaders and American Democrats were correct to point out that Saddam Hussein still had WMD in violation of the cease-fire agreements. Whether or not Bush claims it, the fact is that many have been found. I think you are trying to find excuses to excuse WMD stockpiling to somehow make Bush look bad. In contrast, I'm not fixated on Bush or making him look good or bad.
  • Re:Sanctions? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gospodin (547743) on Friday October 13, 2006 @05:15PM (#16431077)

    This isn't meant to answer your question, but I still think it's fascinating (and terrible). Look at this picture [nasa.gov]. In the upper right you'll find the Korean peninsula. South Korea is a sea of light. North Korea is completely dark (except for a little dot around Pyongyang). The dividing line is sharp and obvious.

  • by AJWM (19027) on Friday October 13, 2006 @06:41PM (#16431957) Homepage
    it's pretty hard to pile up ten thousand tons of conventional explosive in a remote area

    Nobody is talking about 10,000 tons. The estimate is 500 tons. At a density of about 1.65, 500 tons of TNT is about a 21 foot cube. About two or three moving van loads, although you'd need to spread it a bit thinner than that for the weight. If you're digging a hole and setting up instrumentation for a test, a few extra trucks spread over several weeks or months is no big deal.
  • It's politics. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CherniyVolk (513591) on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:21PM (#16432315)

    I knew China wasn't really going to do much about the advertised nuclear testing in North Korea. Just days ago, fellow Americans argued that China would help America every step of the way. The reports on BBC News beats a far different tone.

    The problem with Nukes is two fold really. First, it's pretty much science and that much every man has the right to know; problem solving is a capability inherent in all humans. So, I think the main factors of developing such technology reside soley in ability to apply the acquired/developed knowledge of a group of scientists. Controlling who gets what materials currently known to work. Politics comes into play here, make the world look down on you if you do go through with it. But, nothing can stop a person from going to a library and picking up a book; and for men of the calibur to become Generals and National Leaders... determination is every bit as tangible as the solid brick wall infront of you.

    I have little doubt in my mind that North Korea detonated a nuclear device. We all have a very basic and crude understanding of how it fundamentally works. It's really only a magnitude of elegance and stability between my 600lbs of home-made shock stabalized nitro-glycerin, nitrocelulos and gun-powder, all crudely shape charged towards colliding necessary fuels together with enough force to initiate a violent nuclear reaction. But, how on earth am I going to get the "fuel" from? All the other stuff is relatively easy to come by with a little effort.

    Sooner or later, Afghanistan will have the capacity to build a thermo-nuclear device. Sri-Lanka, Madagascar, Iran, Chechnya perhaps. An elegant, stable one even; probably far more sophisticated and engineered than what we currently have, by the time they do. Along the way, those opponents against developing nuclear arms are left with their hands tied behind their back. Like I said, there's only two real controlling factors, politics and resources. Once an interest group gets their hands on the resources, they may ignore the politics if they so choose to. Which leads me to...

    Perhaps, the only thing left to do is try to belittle the effort of the target (North Korea), hiding under the reality that not one authority in the entire world would have any allies at all should they pre-emptively launch a nuclear weapon at anyone. Then, quitely, accept the fact they have Nuclear Weapons. I'm surprised that one may often run into an American at a bar or club, who has yet to aware of the fact India and Pakistan are Nuclear. Even knowing so, still doesn't sit right due to how much poverty exists in those countries...

    So, I think all of this hooplah (including the wikipedia implicitly saying that the explosion was conventional by adding it to a list of large conventional explosions.), is just aftermath propoganda warfare.
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:26PM (#16432363) Homepage
    Yay, my amateur ramblings were backed up by nuclear engineers!

    The seismic people have enough experience looking at explosions to be able to tell chemical from nuclear, and this one apparently looks nuclear. It also looks to be 0.5kT or so. That makes it by far the smallest yield 1st test ever. Which either means they have perfected making small bombs (which is incredibly complicated and wasn't done by the Los Alamos people until 15 years after their first test), or they failed in their test. The latter is very likely.

    I remember they called China in advance. According to the first article I found on Google news [canada.com] they told China to expect a 4KT explosion. Definitely sounds like a failed test.

  • Confirmed! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @10:22PM (#16433307)
    N. Korea radioactivity detected

    From the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte:
    A preliminary analysis of air samples from North Korea shows "radioactive debris consistent with a North Korea nuclear test,"

    http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapcf/10/13/nkorea .test.sample/index.html?section=cnn_topstories [cnn.com]
  • by krell (896769) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @06:05AM (#16434987) Journal
    "Actually there ARE a lot of people who dislike Bush and abhor Chavez. Of course not everyone on the left wants a Hugo Chavez."

    Where on the mainstream left are they speaking out against Chavez? There are so many like Mark Weisbrot, "The Progressive" magazine, who grovel at his feet, and I've read numerous articles in "The Nation" as well. Michael Moore is a passionate fan of his.. I don't think I need to even look to see what Chomsky says. Every mainline left magazine and individual I check out so far loves the fascist dictator of Venezuela.
  • by prelelat (201821) on Saturday October 14, 2006 @08:18AM (#16435457)
    Or if you look at it from the other point of view you could take it is as the peace keepers were invading their airspace so they kicked them out. I don't remeber Iraq ever leaving their country to shoot at peackeepers, but that doesn't matter.

    Iraq wasn't invaded because Saddam never let inspectors come in or anything like that, he was invaded because he didn't retire his position. I recall this on the night that they went to war. Bush had won that political fight before the cannons started blazing, he may have been able to win the war politically but no extension was given. Some people see that kind of compromise as not getting anywhere but as long as talks are on going, no WMD are found by the inspectors I see that as progress. Now whos to say that Saddam leaving his position would have helped Iraq anyways, next dictator is still a dictator.

    Leave all of that out of it, do you think it was wise to start a war in iraq when the U.S. still has troops fighting over in Afganistan? Do you think we would still be there if the U.S. focused completely on that area with more troops? These are the questions that need to be asked. Was The United States ready for a war on Iraq. Yes the U.S. was able to go in remove Saddam and create a new democratic system, this is a big win for anyone who likes freedom. On the same token the U.S. could have maybe found Osama and cleaned out the rest of the terrorist groups out of the country that had UN approval for invasion. They have alot more allies in that fight, and invading Iraq has weakend those ties with their allied countries, if not with their governments than with the people in those countries that re-elect those politicians into their government, remember the U.S. isn't the only country that does it. Some even do it better. So whos to say who will be supporting the Afgan mission when its done. Some countries will most likely pull out before the U.S. if only because it can no longer get the support from its people.

    The Iraq invasion seemed like a half hazard thought out plan, it could have been at least delayed with talks and inspectors comming into the country, if things didn't pan out then at least then the U.S. would have had more global and local support.

    'On whether the war was one worth fighting, Sgt Meadows said: "I don't
    care about Iraq one way or the other. I couldn't care less. [Saddam]
    could still be in power and, to me, it wasn't worth leaving my family
    for; for getting shot at and almost dying two or three times, there's
    nothing worth that to me." '- www.slaw.neu.edu/students/nuslaws/soldiercomments. html

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