CTBTO, Experts Stand Ready to Detect Feared N. Korea Nuke Test

Specialists in Australia conduct tests in 2007 of equipment designed to help monitor for nuclear trial detonations. An international network of seismic monitoring stations does not offer a sure-fire means of confirming an underground nuclear test by North Korea should one take place, a report said on Tuesday (Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization photo).
Specialists in Australia conduct tests in 2007 of equipment designed to help monitor for nuclear trial detonations. An international network of seismic monitoring stations does not offer a sure-fire means of confirming an underground nuclear test by North Korea should one take place, a report said on Tuesday (Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization photo).

The international nuclear test detection organization on Tuesday announced that its global network of monitoring centers were standing by to detect signs of an underground atomic detonation by North Korea, which has been threatening to carry out a third nuclear test, the Associated Press reported.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization was able to detect the North's two previous underground detonations in 2006 and 2009, and has continued to build up its test detection capacity, which now encompasses hundreds of sites around the world for monitoring seismic movement, radiation and other indicators of an atomic explosion. However specialists point out that it could be tricky to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that seismic tremors emanating from the North are the result of a nuclear test.

The clearest way to check for an underground detonation is the detection of earth reverberations and the charting of abnormally high levels of radiation in the air. Pyongyang's first two atomic tests were relatively small in scope but the CTBTO network was still able to detect them.

The Stalinist state has repeatedly threatened to carry out a third nuclear test in retaliation for toughened U.N. Security Council sanctions, approved last week in response to the North's December launch of a long-range space rocket.

An unidentified seismic event specialist at the South Korean government's Korea Meteorological Administration said following any underground nuclear blast, his division would be focused on learning in no more than 10 minutes the scale of the seismic movement, when it began, and pinpointing exactly where it occurred.

CTBTO spokeswoman Annika Thunborg said it would be difficult for North Korea to hide the evidence of an underground blast as it is hard to keep the noble gases that are produced following a nuclear detonation from filtering out into the air, according to a separate AP report. The test detection organization has a robust nexus of facilities that look for unusually high levels of airborne radioactive isotopes.

Subcritical tests do not produce radiation as they do not involve the fission process that produces an atomic blast. The United States periodically carries out subcritical tests of its nuclear arsenal. However, as the technology is "very difficult" to master, the North is unlikely at this point in its nuclear weapons development to have acquired such systems, according to atomic expert Whang Joo-ho.

"I believe North Korea's technology has not reached that level," the Kyung Hee University specialist said.
 
The South is keeping an around-the-clock lookout for signs of a test, government insiders told the Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. The official Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources has established a command post at its National Data Center for the purpose of accepting delivery of, analyzing, and transmitting onto the government all seismic-event reports. The organization recognized an "artificial earthquake" roughly 40 seconds after North Korea's last detonation in spring 2009.
 
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young castigated the North on Tuesday for its warnings of another nuclear test and additional rocket firings.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would implement "quite severe [economic] measures" on the North if it moves forward with the threatened detonation, the Associated Press reported.

Pyongyang on Tuesday renewed threats against Seoul if it implements toughened U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North that were approved last week as punishment for a December long-range rocket launch.

China's presumed next leader, Xi Jinping, still supports working to shutter the Stalinist state's nuclear weapons program even though the North recently denounced all such efforts, staffers to South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye were reported by the Korea Times as saying on Monday. Xi shared his opinions on the matter during recent talks with Park's transition team.

January 29, 2013
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The U.N. nuclear test detection agency on Tuesday announced that its global network of seismic monitoring centers were standing by to detect signs of an underground atomic detonation by North Korea, which has been threatening to carry out a third test, the Associated Press reported.

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