North Korea says it has tested a hydrogen bomb

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in October 2015.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in October 2015.
Image: AP Photo
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This is a developing story.

North Korean state media says that the country has just conducted a hydrogen bomb test.

“This test, which relied 100% on our wisdom, our technology and our power, we have proved the accuracy of the technological resources behind our newly developed test hydrogen bomb. We have also proved scientifically the power of miniaturized hydrogen bombs,” reads an official statement from the government (translated by NPR).

Suspicions of a nuclear test first came about when the US Geological Survey detected an earthquake close to the North Korean city of Kilju. According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, officials in Seoul said they suspected the quake was caused by a nuclear test; the Japanese government raised similar suspicions. Shortly afterwards, North Korea confirmed them.

A look at past nuclear tests conducted by North Korea showed that the earthquake was consistent with previous incidents in 2013, 2009, and 2006. Kilju is home to North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where the earlier tests took place. The coordinates of this incident are almost exactly the same as the one in 2013. According to the USGS, today’s earthquake struck at 41.326°N 129.010°E, while the 2013 test was detected at 41.299°N 129.004°E.

Despite North Korea’s boasting, the true impact of the test remains uncertain. Some are questioning whether it was a hydrogen bomb, including Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, which works on nuclear disarmament.

North Korea routinely exaggerates its nuclear capabilities. US officials and Chinese researchers each pegged the 2006 plutonium test blast at less than one kiloton—one tenth the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Meanwhile, just this month the country claimed it launched its first submarine ballistic. But analysts say a successful launch would be highly unlikely, and it would take about five more years before their technology was up to the task.

Regardless of the bomb’s impact, the test is unlikely to improve North-South relations on the Korean Peninsula. A set of high-level talks last December aimed at re-unifying families across the border failed, and Seoul’s unification minister said the South has no plans to instigate any further discussions with its neighbor.