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The North Koreans are determined to develop a nuclear-armed arsenal of ICBMs to ensure that the U.S. does not attack the Kim regime.
But North Korea has suffered an unusual and self-inflicted setback in its nuclear weapons development programs — “mountain fatigue.”
Several tunnels collapsed recently, killing as many as 200 North Korean workers. It was not the total collapse some feared, but it was an indication that the threat of total collapse is real.
North Korea uses underground facilities in Mount Mantap to test its nuclear detonations. The most recent test on Sept. 3 was of an H-bomb, North Korea’s most powerful yet, estimated to have produced a blast of up to 280 kilotons.
A hydrogen bomb is different from an atomic bomb, and far more destructive.
The atomic bomb works by fission, literally “splitting” an atom, so that a neutron is emitted, collides with other atoms and causes a chain reaction with an enormous release of energy.
The hydrogen bomb works by fusion. Atomic particles are “fused,” or pushed together, in a way that destabilizes the atom and also releases a neutron.
Both methods start a chain reaction. But the fusion method in a hydrogen bomb is orders of magnitude more powerful. The destructive force can be 100 or even 1,000 times greater than that of an atomic bomb.
The combined effect of this latest blast and prior tests has hollowed out and weakened the structure of the mountain itself. Based on seismic readings from the area, including a series of earthquakes, Japanese and Chinese scientists had warned North Korea that the mountain was in danger of collapse.
Then on Oct. 30, the warnings proved correct.
A more dramatic collapse could have serious environmental consequences, in addition to the geopolitical consequences.
It could prove disastrous to neighboring China because it could release a huge cloud of buried radioactive material that would be carried by prevailing winds over Chinese cities.
Now, North Korea will likely keep using the facility because they don’t care about worker deaths or radioactivity exposure for their own people or the Chinese.
Yet nature may have the last word. If the Mount Mantap facility is rendered unusable due to extraordinary damage, Kim will have to continue his nuclear weapons testing elsewhere. This implies tests in the atmosphere, something Kim had already threatened to do before this recent tunnel collapse.
In 1963, the U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to stop testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in space. Yet North Korea seems willing to violate that international norm.
So atmospheric testing would be viewed as even more provocative by the U.S. and the rest of the international community. A collapsing mountain may therefore provoke one more escalation on the path to war in the form of atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons.
This recent development only fortified Trump’s bargaining power with China’s Xi Jinping when the two met last week.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is ratcheting up the military pressure on North …read more
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