On January 6th 2016, North Korea announced its successful detonation of a ‘hydrogen bomb’ in its fourth nuclear-bomb test. Seismic detectors around the world revealed a 5.1 magnitude earthquake centred on the county’s only nuclear test site, at Punggye-ri. The estimated yield of about 10Kt was less than what might be expected from a full-blown hydrogen bomb; some experts (such as Frank von Hippel) feel that it was really a ‘boosted’ fission bomb amplified by a deuterium/tritium fuse to increase the yield of fission-inducing neutrons. But this development marked a significant step towards weapons-miniaturisation and hence missile carriage.
On 7th February 2016 North Korea launched into space a three-stage missile with a payload of 200Kg which they claimed was a satellite put into orbit (such satellites normally weigh 800 to 1500 Kg). (For comparison, UK Trident D5 missiles have three stages and a MIRV (multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicle) payload of classified weight with up to, possibly, eight warheads each weighing 164 Kg and a minimum range of 7800 km.) As yet, the North Koreans have not yet developed a targetable re-entry system, which would be a very significant development.
This article has been written by Dr Frank Boulton – an active Medact member and Trustee with a long-standing interest and considerable experience of the nuclear weapons debate.