North Korea may have secretly detonated two nuclear devices made with highly enriched uranium in 2010, with one or both of the test blasts possibly being undertaken on behalf of Iran, according to a report highlighted in a daily security briefing I received from Congressional Quarterly.
The original source for the CQ briefing is Austrian newspaper Wiener Zietung, which appears to be elaborating on a story that appeared Sunday in German paper Die Welt that it claims was based on “Western intelligence sources.” The Die Welt piece, meanwhile, noted evidence of the alleged 2010 nuclear tests was published last month in Nature.
The Nature article is actually very interesting, coming from Swedish nuclear physicist Lars-Erik de Geer, research director for the Defense Research Agency in Stockholm. He’s said to have analyzed data “showing the presence of radioisotopes that betrayed a uranium bomb explosion.”
“After a year of work, (he) concluded that North Korea carried out two small nuclear tests in April and May 2010 that caused explosions in the range of 50 to 200 tons of TNT equivalent,” the report said. “The types and ratios of isotopes detected…suggest that North Korea was testing materials and techniques intended to boost the yield of its weapons.”
De Geer’s full, peer-reviewed findings are going to be published in the April/May issue of Princeton University journal Science and Global Security. And although some nuclear weapons experts have expressed skepticism, as the New York Times noted last month, North Korea may have a history of making absurd claims (including mountains making noises on the Dear Leader’s birthday), but “outsiders also have repeatedly underestimated the capabilities of Korean scientists.”
“Similar skepticism was voiced over North Korea’s claim to have mastered uranium-enrichment technology — until it unveiled an advanced, industrial-scale enrichment facility to no less than Siegfried S. Hecker, a former head of the United States’ Los Alamos National Laboratory,” it argued.
And lest anyone jump to the conclusion that “Western intelligence sources” are suddenly briefing the media to lay the groundwork for an attack on Iran, it should be noted that this isn’t the first time North Korea and Iran have been linked over their weapons ambitions.
Last year, a U.N. report suggested North Korea and Iran seemed to have been regularly exchanging ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. sanctions.
“Prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran on regular scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air,” the report said. “For the shipment of cargo, like arms and related materiel, whose illicit nature would become apparent on any cursory physical inspection, (North) Korea seems to prefer chartered cargo flights.”
The big question is whether, if firm nuclear test link is found between Iran and North Korea, it will that be enough to push Israel to take military action.