North Korea says it tested hydrogen bomb, but experts doubt claim

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North Korea says it tested hydrogen bomb, but experts doubt claim

By Associated Press, adapted by Newsela staff


SEOUL, South Korea — Soon after the ground shook around its nuclear testing facility, North Korea proclaimed its first hydrogen bomb test. The powerful, self-described "H-bomb of justice" marked a major and unanticipated advance for the isolated Asian nation.

The North Korean announcement Wednesday was met with widespread skepticism. But whatever the North detonated, another round of tough international sanctions looms for the defiant, impoverished country.
The test likely pushed North Korea closer to its goal of building a warhead small enough to place on a missile that can reach the United States mainland. But South Korea's spy agency thought the explosion was much smaller than what even a failed H-bomb would produce.
The test was met with a burst of jubilation and pride in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. A North Korean television reporter, reading a typically propaganda-heavy statement, said a test of a "miniaturized" hydrogen bomb had been a "perfect success." The reporter said the explosion elevated the country's "nuclear might to the next level."
Crowd Celebrates Announcement
A large crowd celebrated in front of Pyongyang's main train station as the announcement was read on a big video screen. People took videos or photos of the screen on their mobile phones, applauding and cheering.
North Korea's official media stood firm in saying the test was a self-defense measure against a potential U.S. attack. "The (country's) access to H-bomb of justice, standing against the U.S., the chieftain of aggression ... is the legitimate right of a sovereign state for self-defense and a very just step no one can slander."
Throughout Southeast Asia and elsewhere, there was high-level worry. South Korean President Park Geun-hye ordered her military to bolster its defense position. She called the test a "grave provocation" and "an act that threatens our lives and future." Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "We absolutely cannot allow this."
H-Bombs Harder To Make Than A-Bombs
The United States and nuclear experts have been skeptical about past North Korean claims about H-bombs. They are much more powerful and much more difficult to make than atomic bombs. A confirmed test would further worsen already terrible relations between Pyongyang and its neighbors and lead to a strong push for tougher sanctions on North Korea at the United Nations (U.N.).
Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, says an emergency meeting of the U.N.'s Security Council will aim to agree on a statement condemning the nuclear test. It will also expand sanctions against North Korea. Countries are already forbidden to sell arms, technology and other goods to North Korea.
A successful H-bomb test would be a big advance in North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In an atomic bomb, the element plutonium is split into smaller atoms by a process called fission, which releases enormous amounts of energy. Fusion is the main principle behind the hydrogen bomb and fuses smaller atoms together. The resulting explosion can be hundreds of times more powerful.
Earthquake Not Powerful Enough
A South Korean lawmaker said the country's spy agency told him that Pyongyang may not have conducted an H-bomb test. The seismic wave caused by the underground explosion was just not large enough, he said.
An estimated explosive yield of 6.0 kilotons and a quake with a magnitude of 4.8 (the U.S. reported 5.1) were detected, lawmaker Lee Cheol Woo said the National Intelligence Service (NIS) told him. It was only a fraction of the hundreds of kilotons that a successful H-bomb test's explosion would usually yield. Even a failed H-bomb detonation typically yields tens of kilotons, the NIS told Lee.
A miniaturized H-bomb can trigger a weak quake. Only the United States and Russia have these kinds of H-bombs, Lee cited the NIS as saying.
"I'm pretty skeptical," said Melissa Hanham. She is a senior researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey, California. "The seismic data indicates it would be very small for a hydrogen test.
Pyongyang Takes Pride
In Pyongyang the announcement was greeted with an expected rush of nationalistic pride, and some bewilderment.
Kim Sok Chol, 32, said he does not know much about H-bombs, adding that "Since we have it, the U.S. will not attack us."
University student Ri Sol Yong, 22, said, "If we didn't have powerful nuclear weapons, we would already have been turned into the slaves of the U.S."
It could take weeks before the true nature of the test is confirmed by outside experts.
North Korea goes to great lengths to conceal its tests by conducting them underground. It tightly seals off tunnels or other vents through which radioactive bomb residue could escape.
Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress is a physicist at the James Martin Center. He said it may not be possible to ever determine if Wednesday's explosion was caused by a hydrogen bomb.
Nuclear Capability Is A Mystery
Just how big a threat North Korea's nuclear program poses is a mystery. North Korea is thought to have a handful of basic nuclear bombs. Experts also think it has spent decades trying to perfect a long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.
Some analysts say the North likely has not achieved the necessary technology for an H-bomb, but the debate is growing on just how far the North has advanced.
North Korea needs fresh nuclear tests for practical military and political reasons. To build a nuclear program, the North must explode new and more advanced devices so its scientists can continually improve their designs and technology. Nuclear-tipped missiles could then be used as deterrents, and diplomatic bargaining chips, against its enemies — and especially against the United States. Pyongyang has long pushed the United Staters to withdraw its troops from the region and to sign a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, which came to a stop in 1953.

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