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Second test would show North Korea has the bomb: experts

AFP | October 18 2006

North Korea is eager to conduct a second atom bomb test to erase any doubts after a first attempt on October 9 that it truly is capable of producing nuclear weapons, western arms experts say.

A new test could be imminent simply "because the first one failed," argues Joseph Bermudez, a researcher at Jane's Defence Weekly in Britain.

Many experts worldwide have suggested that the underground explosion that took place earlier this month was too small to have been a successful nuclear explosion.

Which is why, Bermudez said, "it is likely that the North Korean scientific community wants" to try again, he said.

"If you look at what Pakistan did in 1998, the initial explosion had failed," Bermudez said by way of precedent. "It didn't get to full yield -- it didn't have full explosive power -- so they ... carried on a series of follow-up tests validating their design."

North Korea, he said, could be facing a similar situation.

"Until you actually test it -- using your manufacturing capabilities, your equipment, and your fissile material -- you can never know if the design was good or if the computer models you used were good," Bermudez said.

Whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il will be discouraged from conducting such a test for political reasons, he added, is another matter.

Japanese and South Korean officials Tuesday cited information of possible preparations for a second test, triggering warnings from around the world and an immediate call for restraint from China, Pyongyang's closest ally.

Russia joined in Wednesday, its foreign ministry urging North Korea to heed concerns and take a "rational decision" that would lead to talks.

Therese Delpech, director of strategic affairs at the French Atomic Energy Commission agrees that something did not go as planned during North Korea's first attempt to detonate an atomic device: "If the explosion on October 9 was nuclear test, then it was a failure," yielding a force of less than one kiloton, she said.

The mid-air blast that devastated Hiroshima at the end of World War II was between 12 and 16 kilotons, according to most estimates.

While North Korea has not yet proven its ability to make and detonate an atom bomb, the isolated and impoverished East Asian nation is certainly close to that goal, according the Francois Gere, director of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis.

"They are in the process of conducting experiments that will allow them to produce a real atomic weapon within three months, perhaps six," he said. It would probably not, he added, be more sophisticated than the plutonium bomb dropped over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

The test North Korea conducted earlier this month might, in fact, be a "very advanced form of laboratory experiment" designed to test the fuses and the explosive material used to trigger the nuclear reaction.

Technically speaking, "they are moving in the right direction, but until we have the results of the test and we know exactly what they wanted to test," Gere said, "we cannot know whether it was a failure or not."

From a strategic standpoint, "if North Korea really wants to show the world that it has a nuclear weapon, and to improve its program," opined Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, "one can understand that it would conduct several tests."

"One can say with certainty that North Korea has a nuclear capacity, but we don't know its degree of sophistication or to what extent it has been perfected," he added.

North Korea on Tuesday slammed the threat of sanctions as akin to a "declaration of war" and vowed to deliver "merciless blows" to any countries that impinged on its sovereignty.

South Korea stepped up its monitoring Wednesday, although a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff told AFP there were no signs yet of a second test.

But experts said Pyongyang's announcement indicated the North was ready for a further trial.


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