Tuesday, September 05, 2017

DPRK 6 has most likely crossed the design capabilities of S2

Based on seismic estimates it appears that DPRK 6 has crossed the maximum stated capability of the S2 boosted fission design. Current estimates from seismology rest at about 100-300kT. There is some discussion about the contribution of the related tectonic event. One estimate puts that at around 34%. This would mean some 66% of the energy came from the device.

At the low end the estimates are grazing the highest values for S2 *test*. At the high end they are exceeding the proposed capabilities of the S2 *design*.

Unlike Pokhran, the Punggyi-ri site is a granite mountain, there are no pressing concerns on environmental issues. There does not appear to be a regional framework to deter DPRK from further testing. Donald Trump doesn't have what it takes to shut this down. Per ROK intel, preparations for DPRK 7 are complete.  If that implies that a seventh device has already been placed in the hole, then DPRK may be very far along the path to advanced design capabilities.  There are NO real caps on this.

In broader sense, the rapid march of DPRK from demonstrating basic fission capabilities to boosting and possibly even some modest fusion yields is a very peculiar and alarming case of vertical proliferation. What photos Kim Jong Un lets us see of his "warhead capable" physics packages clearly point to a great deal of open source studies by DPRK experts. While these photos are unlikely to be actual designs used by DPRK in its weapons, the photos point to a very large number of design studies that they have conducted on the matter. This is not unusual but the speed at which they are doing it is quite unsettling.

When the decision was taken to demonstrate a boosted design in 1998, the world was a very different place. India would have been the first nation after the P5 to demonstrate such an advanced design capability. Given India's economic situation at the time, it seemed prudent to restrict oneself to a design that was economically more ideal from a stockpile maintenance perspective. The OAR of various delivery systems was unknown at the time, so it also made sense not to overburden the system.

Even at that time, a number of people had argued against this. The results of the test itself were questioned by certain people. All those technical doubts became enmeshed in the politics of institutions and personalities and that added a certain lurid aspect to it. I welcomed the scientific debate as it was educational, but the ego clashes were distasteful.

Today while the leading lights of that group have passed on, the questions they raised linger in the minds of people. The doubts were so potent that they almost derailed the vital IndoUS Civil Nuclear Agreement discussions.

This is all archival, I am speaking of a simpler time when it was easier to understand what was necessary.

Today - not so much.  The writing is on the wall. It is best to acknowledge it as such.

 As Chappandaz put it - "The storm is coming."


At 8:51 AM, Blogger Ralphy said...

it doesn't matter if noko has a launch capable nuke right now. eventually they will have one. bill clinton pulled out our tactical nukes on the korean penninsula in the '90s. major appeasement mistake. now we bring them back, low yield and precision guided.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Launch capability is irrelevant.

If DPRK has actual knowledge of a two stage weapon, the *horizontal* proliferation risks are extremely high.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger quantum chaos said...

Mav, horizontal proliferation to Pakistan is a given. Shouldnt India be testing as well?

At 4:22 AM, Blogger Ralphy said...

17 misconceptions of EMP.


in short, it's gonna take more than one noko bomb over the US. and it won't save noko from being slagged into a melted glass like substance.

At 5:12 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Quantum Chaos,

I don't know if India should test or not.

It appears that DPRK has put out a statement to effect that it wants the same deal India got with via IUCNA - basically DPRK (or some section of its leadership) is aspiring for a normalization of US-DPRK relations.

I am not a Korea expert so I can't comment on whether this sentiment is genuine of not. It is not clear to me if DPRK is saying this as part of a blow-hot-blow-cold strategic communication plan.

Presently a consensus seems to be building in the parts of the non-pro community in the US that *actually matter* (the scientific part NOT the theological part). This consensus is that even without detailed evidence of a high fusion yield one can assume for policy purposes that DPRK has/seeks to get staged-TN capability.

At this time we only have two very shaky data points that suggest that, i.e. the photo of the external shell of the physics package & suspected AF&F of the DPRK ICBM warhead and the extremely high seismic signature of DPRK 6. We have still not heard what the radionuclide analysis from *independent* samples by Japan and US has revealed about the ratio of isotopes in the air above Punggyi Ri.

If at this time people in India make a similar representation, that it is okay to assume that the DPRK is on the path towards acquiring compact staged TN capability, then your comment may carry the day in the PMO.

I want to stress I DO NOT have any access to to anywhere these days. My views should be taken to reflect anything anyone has actually said in India.

The matter will most likely be placed before PM Modi.

I don't know if there will ever be enough information to conclude that DPRK 6 had sufficient fusion yield or if DPRK intentions in the TN side are being honestly communicated.

But I do feel that it is safe to say that the seismic signatures point to a yield that is far more than anything demonstrated in S2.

Per my limited understanding of the geology of Pokhran area, it is not possible to safely test high yield devices there. I could be wrong but there are persistent problems with water ingress in deep holes and environmental concerns about radioactive contamination of the deep aquifers is a concern. I don't think one can sink a very deep shaft into the Pokhran site without significant risk.

The general trend with underground tests is that if you wait a few decades between capillary action of water, gradual irradiation of the regions around the cavity (assuming it stays contained) and diffusion through porous strata - one gets a slow increase in the radioactivity of the areas around the test.

It is not a big deal if you are NTS where no one lives within 500 miles of the test site, but if you add major population centers distant 100 miles from the site, then you have to think about environmental impact. I would be surprised if Rajasthan agrees to this risk. There is a very strong NIMBY issue here that has not been acknowledged prior to this.


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