A North Korean nuclear test could be next

Posted on : 2012-04-16 15:12 KST Modified on : 2012-04-16 15:12 KST
Pyongyang has established a pattern of following rocket launches with nuke tests

By Park Byung-soo, staff writer and Kwon Tae-ho, Washington correspondent
Since North Korea failed in its attempt to launch a rocket on April 13, South Korea, the United States and Japan have been alert to the possibility that it may conduct a nuclear test.
Kyodo News reported on Sunday that a cutting-edge WC135 reconnaissance aircraft had been deployed to Kaneda Air Base on Okinawa. This plane is able to determine whether a nuclear test has taken place through the collection and analysis of radioactive material in the air. Kyodo reported, “This appears to be in order to prepare for a nuclear test by North Korea, which appears more likely following its missile launch failure.” The US military used the same aircraft from Kaneda after North Korea‘s first nuclear test in October 2006. It detected radioactive substances over the East Sea and the US military shared the findings with Japan and South Korea.
In recent years North Korea has followed rocket launches with nuclear tests. Three months after firing the Taepodong-2 missile in July 2006, the North conducted its first nuclear test, while the second took place one month after the launch of the Unha-2 rocket in April 2009. “In terms of strategic weapons systems, an intercontinental ballistic missile is meaningless without a nuclear warhead, and the effectiveness of a nuclear weapon without a missile as a means of conveying it is limited,” said one South Korean government official. “The reason that the North has always conducted nuclear tests shortly after rocket launches is because it is well aware of this fact.”
Some speculate that the North’s failure in its latest launch attempt has further increased the likelihood of a nuclear test because it will now seek to rebuild its reputation. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that recent satellite images showed signs that the North was preparing a third nuclear test, saying that the failure further complicated an already uncertain time.
The North may for the first time use a uranium warhead if it goes ahead with this test. Authorities estimate that the North has just over 30kg of uranium left, after using around 10kg in warheads in its first two tests. Since it blew up the cooling tower of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in 2008, the North has had no way of producing more plutonium, but it has been enriching uranium since at least 2009. Quoting experts from the intelligence services, the Washington Post wrote that the North‘s previous patterns of behavior indicated that missile launches had always been followed by nuclear tests, and that there was a particularly high likelihood that the North would use highly enriched uranium (HEU), rather than plutonium, for this test. Tests using HEU are harder to detect in advance.
Until now, the North has been hinting at its intention to cease nuclear tests in accordance with the February 29 agreement, requesting discussion of the sending of an IAEA inspection team. If, however, the US proclaims the February 29 agreement void because of the North’s rocket launch and imposes sanctions through the UN Security Council, it is likely that the North will respond with a nuclear test.
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