Hi there BJers –
I lurk a lot and occasionally comment. I am a chemist and worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 35 years. The things I worked on included laser isotope separation, hazardous waste destruction, environmental restoration. I worked on environmental projects in Estonia and Kazakhstan.
I run a blog, Nuclear Diner, with two friends who have somewhat similar resumes. Adam and Omnes Omnibus mentioned me in connection with Friday’s North Korean nuclear test. I’m here for an hour to answer your questions in the comments. Here’s what I posted about the test at Nuclear Diner:
Friday morning, North Korea tested another nuclear device underground at its test site. The yield appears to be larger than the last test, but determining that depends on how deep the test was and other factors that we don’t know. US planes are flying in the area to collect isotopes that may have been released in the test, but the North Koreans have been very skilled at containing their tests, so that may not give much information.
For the last two North Korean tests (five total), a lot of discussion takes place on Twitter, among experts in Seoul, Vienna, Washington, Monterey (CA), New Mexico, and other places. A good list of people to follow is here:
My impression so far: This is the latest in a series of tests in which the North Koreans are dealing with particular design features, probably only a few. It’s not possible to say what they are from the very little information we have from the tests. The North Korean statement says that the design is ready to be mated to the missiles they’ve been testing and they can produce the warheads in numbers. North Korea tends to exaggerate, but it is clear that that is their goal.
We need to engage the North Koreans in discussions. In the past, they have slowed their progress toward nuclear weapons when they have been in negotiations. They are making progress toward weapons that can be used against South Korea and Japan. With more work, they will be able to reach the United States.
This post at Nuclear Diner contains links to a number of news stories and background on the test.