Here’s How Geology Shows North Korea’s Nukes Are Getting Bigger
How far will they get before Japan decides to become a nuclear armed nation for deterrence? They certainly have the option in any technical sense.
De facto nuclear state
See also: Nuclear latency
While there are currently no known plans in Japan to produce nuclear weapons, it has been argued Japan has the technology, raw materials, and the capital to produce nuclear weapons within one year if necessary, and some analysts consider it a de facto nuclear state for this reason. For this reason Japan is often said to be a “screwdriver’s turn” away from possessing nuclear weapons.
It has been pointed out that as long as Japan enjoys the benefits of a “nuclear-ready” status held through surrounding countries, it will see no reason to actually produce nuclear arms, since by remaining below the threshold, albeit with the capability to cross it at short notice, Japan can expect the support of the US while posing as an equal to China and Russia.
That seismic data may be difficult for laymen to interpret, but there’s a clear conclusion from it. The North Koreans “have a bigger yield than previous [nuclear] devices,” Avagyan says. “They’re getting better at doing this.”
In 2006, the North’s first nuclear test led to a seismic blast of magnitude 4.3. That allowed nuclear experts to estimate that its device yielded a blast of less than 1 kiloton. The 2009 nuclear test was around magnitude 4.7, leading scientists to estimate the North had reached a much higher yield, of between 4 and 7 kilotons. (The estimated relationship between earthquake magnitude and blast yield isn’t linear.)
The overnight seismic event, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, was magnitude 5.1. Avagyan estimates the device the North detonated was 10 kilotons. The Director of National Intelligence hedges and estimates only a “several kiloton” yield.
There are caveats to all of this. The world now has more and better monitoring stations closer to North Korea than in previous tests, Avagyan says, which might mean that the 2006 or 2009 detections of Pyongyang’s nuclear tests might have been inexact. And North Korea might have used “boosters, specialized materials,” he adds, for bigger explosive yields unrelated to the nuclear device itself to make a bigger boom.