North Korea nuclear test site has collapsed, says Chinese study
Report sheds light on North Korean announcement that it will suspend testing
A photograph released by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile in Pyongyang, North Korea, in August 2017. Photograph: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP
The mountain above North Korea’s main nuclear test site has collapsed, research by Chinese geologists shows. It means that the site is unsafe for further testing and requires monitoring for any leaking radiation.
The findings by the scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China may shed new light on North Korean President Kim Jong-un’s announcement that his country was ceasing its testing programme ahead of planned summit meetings with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and US president Donald Trump.
Nuclear explosions release enormous amounts of heat and energy, and the North’s largest test in September was believed early on to have rendered the site in northeastern North Korea unstable.
Chinese authorities have said they have detected no radiation risk from samples collected along the border.
The data in the latest Chinese study was collected following the most powerful of the North’s six nuclear device tests on September 3rd that is believed to have triggered four earthquakes over the following weeks.
The yield of the bomb was estimated at more than 100 kilotons of TNT, at least 10 times stronger than anything North Korea had tested previously. The bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of about 15 kilotons.
The University of Science and Technology of China paper, authored by Tian Dongdong, Yao Jiawen and Wen Lianxing, said the first of those earthquakes that occurred 8½ minutes after the explosion was “an onsite collapse toward the nuclear test centre”, while those that followed were an “earthquake swarm” in similar locations.
“In view of the research finding that the North Korea nuclear test site at Mantapsan has collapsed, it is necessary to continue to monitor any leakage of radioactive materials that may have been caused by the collapse,” the authors said in a summary dated Monday and viewed on Wednesday on the university’s website.
The study is peer-reviewed and has been accepted for publication by the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The Chinese study makes sense and is based on well understood research, said Rowena Lohman, a seismologist at Cornell University who was not part of the work. She said she believes there is an international effort that monitors these tests for radiation.
A study published last month by the journal, authored by a team led by Liu Junqing at the earthquake bureau in Jilin province along the border with North Korea, found similar results for the September 3rd explosion.
It described the aftershock that followed seconds later as most likely the “rapid destruction of an explosion-generated cracked rock chimney due to cavity collapse”.
North Korea’s nuclear tests are of special concern to Beijing, since the test site near the town of Kilju is less than 100km from the border with China.
North Korean nuclear tests have caused seismic events in Chinese border towns and cities, forcing evacuations of schools and offices, sparking fears of wind-born radiation and leading to a backlash among some Chinese against their country’s unpredictable traditional ally.
Ties between the sides have been deteriorating for years, although Mr Kim made a long-anticipated visit to Beijing last month after China’s implementation of United Nations economic sanctions reduced trade between them by as much as 90 per cent.
The quakes that followed the September test were not man-made and did not appear to cause any damage in the area. The region is not one where earthquakes naturally occur and no quakes were detected after the five smaller nuclear tests North Korea has conducted since 2006.
Kune Yull Suh, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, warned last year that further tests could threaten to cause a volcanic eruption at Mount Paektu, which is about 100km away.
On Saturday, North Korea announced it will close its nuclear testing facility and suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests – a move welcomed by Mr Trump as “big progress” – and which comes ahead of a planned summit between him and Mr Kim.
However, the North stopped short of suggesting it will give up its nuclear weapons or scale back its production of missiles and their related components. – AP