Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Government The Military Politics

How We Know North Korea Didn't Detonate a Hydrogen Bomb 176

StartsWithABang writes: The news has been aflame with reports that North Korea detonated a hydrogen bomb on January 6th, greatly expanding its nuclear capabilities with their fourth nuclear test and the potential to carry out a devastating strike against either South Korea or, if they're more ambitious, the United States. The physics of what a nuclear explosion actually does and how that signal propagates through the air, oceans and ground, however, can tell us whether this was truly a nuclear detonation at all, and if so, whether it was fusion or fission. From all the data we've collected, this appears to be nothing new: just a run-of-the-mill fission bomb, with the rest being a sensationalized claim. (Related: Yesterday's post about how seismic data also points to a conventional nuke, rather than an H-bomb.)
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How We Know North Korea Didn't Detonate a Hydrogen Bomb

Comments Filter:
  • Forbes Warning (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 09, 2016 @07:05PM (#51270115)

    WARNING: The link goes to Do no click on it.

    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      Who cares?
      Just click on the Continue to site button and the first thing you see is the gleaming face of the only well fed North Korean.
      I've got uBlock Origin and Ghostery to take care of most of the tracking.

      Though disabling Javascript delivers a white page.
    • I've started tagging all submissions from this person as bangspam. You are free to do likewise, or not.

  • Whew (Score:5, Funny)

    by fph il quozientatore ( 971015 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @07:07PM (#51270125)
    Just a normal fission nuke? Oh, ok, we're safe then.
    • Well, they can only destroy one city per bomb instead of one country (or US western state) per bomb. Sound like a small difference except that they have so few of them to work with.

      • Re: Whew (Score:5, Informative)

        by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @07:28PM (#51270217) Journal

        a fusion bomb may have much more power in terms of megatons TNT, but it won't destroy more than a medium sized city.

        • I was thinking of the super powerful ones we tested in the pacific. Now that you mention it, they can come in smaller sizes though.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Teller pretty much said that fusion bombs are limited to 100 megatons, which wipes out ~30x30 mile area. Due to curvature of the earth, a bigger bomb wouldn't do more damage, it would just push the fireball faster into space. So it's still 1 bomb per city...

            • by Anonymous Coward

              You're confusing maximum yield with extent of damage. Teller's claims were effective military use, where making one 10 times as large simply does not cause 10 times as much effect anymore. So larger devices are conceivable, and even technically possible. They're just not worth the extra difficulty.

              Teller also wasn't looking at fallout and climate change. Hitting a coastal city or an ocean or island strike with enough power will vaporize square miles of shallow ocean and cause a global climate event matched

              • by Anonymous Coward

                The dinosaur killer asteroid is estimated at roughly 100 Megaton equivalent, and Teller didn't know about the dinosaur killer asteroid theory.

                If by "100 Megaton" you mean "240 Gigatons", sure.

              • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

                You're off just a wee bit...

                From: []
                The Chicxulub impactor had an estimated diameter of 10 km (6.2 mi) or larger, and delivered an estimated energy equivalent of 240,000 gigatons of TNT (1.0×1024 J).[21] By contrast, the most powerful man-made explosive device ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, had a yield of only 50 megatons of TNT (2.1×1017 J),[22] making the Chicxulub impact almost 5 million times more powerful. Even the most energetic known volcanic eruption, which

            • Curvature of the earth would not matter so much when the burst takes place above the surface. Then you get a bigger range of land destruction.
        • In the Fifties I believe there were discussions about the usefulness of fusion bomb and reasonable targets. The gist was, a megaton H-bomb would be wasted on a mid-sized city, but back then the really big targets were pretty much all inside the US. Other than Moscow, maybe Leningrad/St Petersburg, the Russian town size was much smaller then. So the Russians stood to gain much with H-bombs, not so much the US. But we made them anyway.
        • I think there must be an upper limit to where the explosion is kinetically destructive. Eventually the curvature of the earth would direct the explosive energy into space.
        • Fusion weapons scale well. The Tsar Bomba would destroy any size city and then some. It was also run without the uranium jacket, roughly halving the yield, but making it much cleaner.

          The big superpowers were interested in huge bombs when they couldn't guarantee an accurate, direct hit. Interest waned completely when accurate ICMBs arrived.

      • Re: Whew (Score:5, Informative)

        by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @07:56PM (#51270311)
        Fusion bombs aren't that strong. An average 1.2 Mt device set off in the air at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World [] would likely leave most of Orlando unscathed beyond broken windows and a bad sunburn, and wouldn't even have any effects at KSC beyond hearing it. Running the plot for a much larger 5 Mt explosion shows that while there's significantly more damage, even the nearby cities of Sanford and Lakeland wouldn't be significantly affected.
        • It would also cleanly eliminate The Great Rat's dark hold on Orlando.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          How the fuck is that "5, informative"?

          "Oh, a Hydrogen Bomb only makes a fireball with a diameter of 2 fucking km, rips the lungs of every living being in a diameter of 14 km and topples most stuff that can be toppled, kills everything and burns everything in a diameter of 25 km with third degree burns and gives second degree burns and sets stuff on fire even beyond that. And oh, there is also fallout. Massive fallout. That is not bad at all".

          How the fuck is this informative in any way on a website that shou

    • This is a bit of a nomenclature/semantics problem. Culturally, all non-conventional weapons are regarded as "nukes" due to the fact that the entirety of the non-conventional arsenal is composed of thermonuclear devices (i.e. hydrogen bombs aka fission-fusion trigger devices). What the North Koreans detonated was an atomic bomb (possibly with a hydrogen component, but not truly a fission-fusion trigger device and therefore not a thermonuclear weapon). And from what the seismic data indicate, it was smaller t
      • Uhhh this is just the US government talking out its ass because without boots on the ground we have no clue what they really did and will most likely turn out to be about as "accurate" as trying to guess what happened at Chernobyl simply by detecting the cloud.

        We don't know if they purposely built a small bomb (they would most likely have limited bomb quality fission material so that would make sense) or if the bomb was a partial fizzle, with it being underground all the US government can say with any rea

    • Well at least there are no unfriendly countries that could afford one of those. It must cause a couple billion dollars.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Doesn't a fusion bomb use a fission bomb to ignite it? Isn't a more likely explanation that the fusion part failed to detonate but the fission part worked? So technically it was a fusion bomb, but it didn't work right so we only got the fission part?
      Anyway, lets just stop with the bombs, but keep on with the Korean girl bands.

  • Smells fishy. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm no Korean speaker, but did they actually announce a hydrogen bomb explosion, or certain technologies involved hydrogen bomb production? It's not like they wouldn't be aware that foreign organisations would know what's going down, of course, so this might just be an internal propaganda exercise that the RoW decided to pick up on. Maybe they wanted to see sensationalised headlines from the West to prove to their people that they were under threat again.

  • TWICE IN ONE DAY! (Score:3, Informative)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @07:39PM (#51270257)

    WTF Slashdot.

    Two fucking Forbes articles in one day.
    Two fucking StartsWithASlashvertisement posts in one day.

    How many more readers do you want to leave? I'm getting to my breaking point!

    • by Anonymous Coward
      And they even fucking admit in the fucking summary:

      (Related: Yesterday's post about how seismic data also points to a conventional nuke, rather than an H-bomb.)

      They actually fucking admit right then and there that the post is a dupe, and they link to his spam blog anyways.

      We all need to start hitting the []Firehose more frequently and downmodding Ethan Siegel's blogspam on sight.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @07:57PM (#51270313) Journal
    This is my favorite theory of why N Korea detonated a bomb [], because China snubbed the dear-leader's hand-picked girl band. Things are strange over there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 09, 2016 @08:01PM (#51270329)

    I've posted this, today, on slashdot and I'm posting it again.

    In particular, Fuck Ethan Siegel, the handle resembling a human name used by the StartsWithABang guy, well-known Internet troll and manipulator of disinformation ("digital strategist" in today's Internet dysphemism []), who is claimed to be "professor" perhaps of nothing but the art of aggressive marketeering.


    Forbes is a well known scam site.

    The website "offers" 17 trackers on a single page serving what they claim to be "content", by the count of Ghostery. In comparison, Slashdot serves 6.

    The site claims to promise "light ad" and nags you to turn off the ad blocker. In reality, it's 4% content and 96% ads [].

    What's worse, the blogs hosted there offers no information that is so unique that is worthy of whitelisting the site in your content blocker. The "Starts with a bang" blog, for example, "publishes" stories that are actually regurgitated, thinly-wrapped, dumbed-down, borderline plagiarism from science journals, websites and blogs. The link to the actual news is usually buried with a wall of distracting text and images copied or re-phrased from the original source. The whole blog serves no other purpose than baiting the reader for the purpose of tracking.

    In addition, it appears that the purpose of hosting ads includes malware delivery [].

    The behavior of is at best sociopathic and outright criminal at worst. They look really desperate.

    It's only a matter of time before this hub of mal-adverts gets its page ranks bitchslapped by Google, and pulling down the rank of all prolific referrers, including Slashdot.

    Which is completely deserved.

    • by whh3 ( 450031 )

      I get the animosity toward Forbes and these type of articles, but why the animosity toward Ethan? That's a serious question.

      When I googled I found information that certainly seems to suggest he has a legitimate PhD in a field in something more complicated than I'll ever understand. He also seems to hold (or have held) real teaching positions. Please help me see what I am missing.


      • by Anonymous Coward

        I get the animosity toward Forbes and these type of articles, but why the animosity toward Ethan? That's a serious question.

        Because he does this on every content aggregator, from Slashdot to Fark to HackerNews. It's clickbait and self-promotion. He is not interested in participating in these communities; he's merely dropping his name and his cut-and-paste-crap-from-Wikipedia-and-Google-image-search blogspam to any site that will garner him clicks.

        When I googled I found information that certainly seems to

        • by rjh ( 40933 )

          It's clickbait and self-promotion.

          Clickbait, no: there's actual, real, high-quality content to what he writes.

          Self-promotion: so what? If someone writes something interesting and informative, I want it to be brought to my attention -- even if they're the ones to bring it to my attention.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't want to look silly, after all.

    • We can try to shoot down the missile inbound and it they get off they will be wiped out.

    • Duck and cover still works. For those who don't know it:

      1. Duck under a table, a desk, or something else to help protect against falling debris.
      2. Cover yourself with a blanket to shield you from dust and flying glass
      3. Tuck your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye/

      • Ha, ha, and ha, very funny but completely unoriginal.

        In the Chelmyabinsk asteroid air burst, there was a video of people who saw the flash and then stood there for multiples of seconds until the blast wave bloodied their faces with glass shards.

        Duck and Cover is for real for all wide-are effect events in the kiloton to megaton range, whatever their source. If you are close enough, yes, you will be vaporized. If you are far enough away that you can be conscious after seeing the flash, it will take som

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday January 09, 2016 @08:43PM (#51270465)

    According to the Norh Koreans:

    "...The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programs of their own accord, yielding to the pressure of the US and the West keen on their regime changes... a bitter lesson should be drawn from those events..."

    I wonder why I am inclined to believe them. Am I alone?

    • Pretty much, you are. Their alliance with China is more than enough to repel any "US Aggression". It's the reason that the Korean War/Conflict ended in a 50+ year long cease fire.

  • daughter is a seismologist you insensitive clod!
  • I'm pretty sure Bill Clinton got a treaty out of the North Koreans that they wouldn't make nukes. In return the US gave lots of aid to prop up the regime. With that 'success' Obama has just done the same with the Iranian theocracy, even using the same negotiators to make sure the best deal was hammered out. Totalitarian dictators don't tell fibs, right? (I was talking about Iran, not about the US regime).
    • Anything to back that up? We didnt pretend anything in 1957.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      Even the first "failed" British test in 1957 has a 300kt yield. The recent NK test was about 10kt.

      I don't think we can say that NK is claiming to have an H-bomb in the usual sense of the word.
      They've probably attempted to boost it with tritium, which I've learned from Tom Clancy is a lot easier than a Teller-Ulam design.
      Is there any evidence that NK has progressed beyond a gun-type u235 weapon like the South Africans had?

      A 10kt weapon is peanuts compared to their conventional capability. Unless/until they

  • to lazy to do that.

  • Remember when all nukes were "unconventional"? I guessed we missed the invite to the first annual nuke convention.

    It probably didn't have a catchy name like "Nuke Expo" or "Nukecon".

System checkpoint complete.