North Korea conducts third nuclear test in DPRK history

Photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un giving final orders for the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, at the general satellite control and command center in Pyongyang.

UPDATE: North Korea confirms a nuclear test was conducted today. From KCNA, the state news agency:

It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment.

"Amid talk of a possible nuclear bomb test, North Korea vowed Tuesday to carry out a 'high-intensity, all-out action," CNN reported earlier today.

They just made good on that threat.

Voice of America Northeast Asia bureau chief Steve Herman tweeted just now that "Seismic activity [has just been] detected in #DPRK... believed to be "man-made" per various #ROK sources... Speculation now that #DPRK may have conducted a nuclear test."

Here's a first briefing from the Associated Press, and another from CNN. The government of South Korea estimates the intensity of what would be North Korea's third known nuclear test at 6 to 7 kilotons, though it's too early to independently confirm.

Here is the USGS event data.

A quick Google Maps zoom-in on the coordinates shown in that USGS link reveals that the "earthquake" took place near "Nuclear Test Road."

Sinocism reporter Bill Bishop points to a seismic reading from China showing a 4.9 quake at 10:57am local time, and word that an "explosion" is suspected.

Here's the official seismic data from the PRC, indicating a "suspected explosive."

The area in which the event occurred has little or no history of natural seismic activity.

We don't know yet whether the bomb was plutonium-based (as past tests were), or uranium-based. Here's why uranium would be even more worrisome.



  1. Not that North Korea has a monopoly on being out-to-lunch when it comes to national priorities, but … wow. Throwing all that time, effort, money and resources into developing missiles and warheads, while huge portions of its population is undergoing starvation? Crackpots ‘R’ Us called … they want their charge card back.

    1. My guess is North Korea’s leadership knows the country needs more economic input. They won’t play the West’s game and disarm, so their other choice is the black market. I believe these nuclear & long-range rocket tests are primarily to develop arms they can sell to other crackpot countries and extremist elements. And THAT is something that should worry us.

  2. Timed to mess with the State of the Union Address, no doubt.
    * * *
    No doubt we’ll get a bunch of false-equivalence “how dare we judge them!” puffing here, but the DPRK is the poster child for dysfunctional, ideological crackpot regimes. They’re addicted to their angry defiant shtick, and no good will come of it for anybody.

    1. I’ll play!….

      “They’re addicted to their angry defiant shtick, and no good will come of it for anybody.” 
      Was that part about the US?
      I totally agree with you… the US needs to bomb every country that is evil and crazy enough to go around bombing other countries.

        1. Eh…I would dispute that the US is any less trustworthy with its nukes than any other major nuclear power (the UK included).  North Korea, however, is crazy and dangerous and not to be trusted.

          1. I wouldn’t necessarily argue with that either actually. Why should we (UK) be trusted with nukes? I don’t think we should.

            America’s far right is pretty bat-shit crazy too, and from what I gather they account for half your political representation. So watch those stones in that glass house of yours.

          2. I agree that nuclear weapons should be a relic of the past.  I’ve had enough study of their capabilities to know that for a variety of reasons they’re a horrible idea all around.  

            The true far-right you speak of is less of a force than you might think (about 25% of the electorate), though sadly still outsized in their influence. And most importantly, they don’t have the keys to the missiles.

          3. I thought the Republicans got like 47% of the vote?

            Yes.  But the Mitt Romney wing of the Republican Party is ideologically distinct from, say, the Michelle Bachmann-voting faction, which is distinct from what the Republican Party used to be under men like Richard Nixon (who is probably most similar to Mr Obama politically).  

            That 25% I mention is often called the “party base,” who as I mentioned have an disproportionate effect on the party agenda.  

            It’s an odd effect of the American two-party system that ideologies of all stripes wind up lumped under broad party umbrellas that really don’t fully represent any one ideology.

  3. So when is someone going to do something about this? Out of any country in the world, none needs outside interference more than NK.

    1. They’ve been holding South Korea (specifically Seoul) hostage for 60 years. There is so much North Korean artillery trained on Seoul that if anyone tried to invade millions of civilians would die in hours, if not minutes, and no way to substantially change that outcome. That’s why nothing has been done.

      1. Popular Mechanics picked this idea apart a few years back.  Here’s their take on it:

        In short – your assertion is ridiculous panic-mongering.  

        Artillery bombardment would definitely cause havoc and destruction and kill many people, but not anywhere close to the “millions” you suggest.  And it certainly wouldn’t accomplish that feat in “hours” or “minutes.”  That’s just asinine, and you should retract your comment on that basis alone.

        Even massive firebombing of a city doesn’t kill millions – witness Tokyo’s firebombing in WW2.  Lots and lots of people died, but not “millions.”  

        The only way you could kill millions in a short period of time in a city the size of Seoul would be with several nuclear bombs – and big ones, not the 10-kiloton devices NK is testing.

        1. The problem with your argument of course, is semantics. While it may not be possible to kill ‘millions’ without several large scale nuclear devices, it would be easy, as you point out, for the North to kill & injure many thousands with convention weapons.  And while they were at it, they could completely disrupt the infrastructure of Seoul.  I suspect that even without using the word millions, the deterrent still is there.

          1. I daresay that the people whose lives exist in the gap between “thousands” and “millions” would beg to differ that it’s merely semantics.

            The Popular Mechanics article I posted addresses your comments.  Basically, the problem is that overstating the North Korean threat creates a cartoonish, caricatured image of what the threat actually *is*.   It’s counterproductive when trying to create a realistic assessment of the threat North Korea presents.

            It’s akin to what U.S. policymakers did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  An ideologically-motivated overestimation of Soviet capabilities led to a horrifically expensive arms race that came close to killing us several times.

            Similarly, refer to the War on Terror, where Iraq’s capabilities and intentions were vastly overstated in order to gin up support for an utterly unnecessary, destructive and expensive war.

            If you want to reduce every discussion to the level of Humpty Dumpty in “Through The Looking Glass”, where words mean exactly what people choose them to mean, feel free to try, but don’t expect everyone to go along with it.

    2. A large part of it is that no one wants them. It’s now the third generation of complete indoctrination of the people along with a massive population of untrained starving people. Who the hell wants to have to deal with that? It would make the re-integration of Germany look like a happy family reunion.

      China doesn’t want them. Lots of headache for nothing.
      South Korea sure doesn’t want them. Massive money hole that will resist the entire way. Would consume the nation for the next half century.

      And no one else is going to take the responsibility of single-handily occupying and rehabilitating an entire nation. In a perfect world it would be a massive joint UN mission to kill the leadership and spend fifty years bringing the country back from the brink. But that will never happen.

      So from the point of view of the rest of the world, as long as they keep the crazy mostly contained within their own boarders it’s better to let them rot. Hard on the population of N. Korea of course, but that’s beside the point.

      1. Maybe we could just give them to the anthropophagic aliens in return for leaving the rest of us alone. They must meet ‘free range’ labeling standards.

        1. Yea, but we’d have to deal with the fall-out of the aliens realizing we sold them ‘Starvation Grade’ humans instead of the advertized Organically Fed.

    1. I remember the Iraqi army being touted as the fourth largest leading up to the 1991 Gulf War.

      It proved to be a hollow army. A few well trained units and lots of cannon fodder and second-rate Soviet era equipment.

      The DPRK army is probably a bit more formidable, with lots of stockpiles and fortifications. But I suspect that their training was done in the spirit of fighting the last war. In the case of a conflict they would no doubt inflict terrible, terrible damage, with the civilians of South Korea doing much of the suffering. But the North couldn’t survive a protracted conflict.

      It would be awful. I hope it never comes to an open conflict.

    2. This is because of the “military first” policy or Songun. While most dictatorships have a strong military component, the DPRK explicitly says that in cases of shortages (food, electricity, materials), the military has first dibs. Needless to say, this makes the military by far the best employer…

    1. Google Maps’ data on North Korea is crowdsourced. I suppose that someone decided to label the road leading to the test site by submitting “Nuclear Test Rd” as the street name.

  4. “So, United States of Tyranny! What do you think of us now that we have… NUCLEAR WEAPONS?!?” *moustache twirl*

    “To be honest, exactly the same thing we did before you wasted all your money on a weapon system you’ll never actually dare to use.”

    “But we have nuclear weapons now! You have to take us seriously, and we now have a bargaining chip to use against you! Mwahaha!”

    “Uh, no you don’t. You can’t ever actually USE your nukes. If you did, we would retaliate with hundreds if not thousands of times more missiles than you can field. Any damage you caused would be trivial compared to the total annihilation of your entire country. Haven’t you ever heard of Mutually Assured Destruction? That’s what this is. Well, except for the Mutual part.”

    “Ahh, but what if we sell our weapons to… THE RUSSIANS? Dun, dun, dunnnn!”

    “You mean the guys whose empire fell apart from the inside because of massive economic failure, and who now embrace the concepts of corrupt capitalistic oligarchy and stand more to gain merely by being our allies than you could ever dream of offering them?”


    “Oh, hey, I’d love to stay and chat but Gangnam Style just came on the radio, so…”


    1. North Korea has a huge pool of cheap labor, and they’ve been digging for most of those 6 decades.  The country is riddled with tunnels and underground bunkers.  The mountains are hollowed out.  If they were insane enough to launch a nuke – or even attack with conventional weapons – and the US (or anyone else) retaliated, we’d certainly kill some North Koreans – thousands and probably millions of hungry civilians.  All the bigwigs and military crew responsible for NK’s murder-by-nuke would be underground and untouchable.  If they had to, they could surface in China.

      I hate to say it, but North Korea is actually pretty good at this chess game. 

      1. Anything as predictably unpredictable as NK will have their weak spot. How about…  

        (1) Sound their sirens
        (2) Wait for all the bigwigs to get in the underground shelters
        (3) Superglue the shelter door locks

          1. Awww, there’s no need to get all ‘Dirty Dozen’ on them. I was going to let them out one at a time once they had admitted they had been very silly, and promised not to be in power any more. On television.

    2.  While my primary concern is that NK is KrAzY, the problem is they are also isolated which means they might be trying to build them to sell them. The biggest concern, (I don’t fully understand the reasons) is Iran, they have been trying to build nuclear weapons for a long time and have been kept in check, so you are right, NK probably can’t do much with this, and as self deluded as they are, they don’t have it on they’re realistic agenda to rule the world. But others do. :(

  5. The way I see it, if we DON’T take this moment to make fun of that guy’s weight, haircut and 90’s time capsule, the fur-collared-trench-coat mafia win:

    You’re not helping. Why is that, Leon?
    I AM speaking into the microphone! (guy on the right gets it).  
    There are three tables in this picture. Can you spot them all?
    Fill in the fucking fireplace! I am NOT putting a TV over the fireplace.
    Excellent. Laminate the plans. Lest we forget the bbq sauce offensive of o’ 12.
    Top Chimney Sweep. 
    A deja vu is just a glitch in the Matrix.
    Pound is tic-tac-toe, right?
    “I’m kind of an expert at photoshop.” ~ Gye, lieutenant of manly cowboy chairs. Not pictured.

    1. “3 orders of Mu Shu chicken, 2 fried rice, 2 dozen crab rangoon, launch the rocket, and bring my sequin house slippers… the golden ones.”
      “Is my idiot father-in-law smiling again?”

  6. Does anyone think they might be faking this? Couldn’t you just bury a few thousand tons of TNT, put some  fallouty isotopes on top of it, and then blow it up in a simulated nuclear test?

    And if any country intervenes, it’s gonna be Japan. They could take out all launchers and command and control in a few hours. Sure, the Norks would probably still pound Seoul, but that’s not exactly Japan’s problem. And then the South Korean and US forces would probably wipe out everything else.

    Horrible humanitarian tragedy and would be a big blow to the wold economy, but interesting to think about. I’m not hoping it happens, BTW.

    1. On the whole, probably easier for them to actually build a real nuke than to secretly create/import and store 10 thousand tons of TNT. That’s a hell of a lot of TNT.

      Also, I’d expect the shockwave of the explosion to be different.

    2. I think there are isotopes of nobel gases produced (Xenon and the like) during nuclear explosions that are hard to fake or to absorb (and mask a true nuclear event) — I reckon it will be possible to confirm whether a bomb was detonated by sampling the air over NK in the coming days.

  7. What a shame.  I wish they wouldn’t keep doing that.  It riles up the global hawks, wastes a crapload of money, does little to help the environment and frightens the livestock.

    I admit I had some small hope that the latest Kim would be the Un to do the right thing: so much for Swiss prep schools.  

    New boss same as the old boss.  

    The cadres and power brokers of the venerable Peoples Republic have got to be some wizened crack brained fucked up fuckers: invest in your people, pabos!  Furrow your fields, feeble fascists!  Splitting the atom is so yesterday. You want the worlds attention?  OK: you got it.  Now what?  This game becomes tiresome.

    One can only pray that the inevitable encroachment of the obviously superior Free World via radio, memory sticks and word of mouth takes effect before those bass-ackwards foolios get their country flattened like a tasty Korean potato pancake.

  8. The world should be very afraid. Look at what happened the last time a dimwit with too much power and authority tried to outdo his daddy before him.

  9. ‘It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment.’

    hang on, a bomb that has no negative impact on the surrounding environment is a success? Are we sure this isnt a translation error and they arnt testing biodegradable cake or something?

  10. Do we know any names of the military guys in the background? Each of them might well be more important than Our Beloved Haircut.

  11. Well, I’m fed up of North Korea. Let’s call their bluff and bomb their facilities to oblivion before they get any further. Does China have treaties to retaliate on behalf of North Korea if they’re attacked? I’m not convinced that North Korea is following a rational strategy and I think they need to be decisively stopped before South Korea, part of the USA or somewhere else wakes up to a new Hiroshima.

  12. For the record that  photo of KJU is so AMAZINGLY staged it hurts. The PRK released a half dozen pictures with him at the phone, or holding a mic, or pushing a button all with the same caption.

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