Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fizzle! (Whew...sort of...)

Looks like Li'l Kim didn't get the bang for his buck. Here's the summarized version from Arms Control Wonk:

"They've published lat/long (41.294 N, 129.134 E) and Mb estimates (4.2) for the North Korean test. There is lots of data floating around: The CTBTO called it 4.0; The South Koreans report 3.58-3.7. You're thinking, 3.6, 4.2, in that neighborhood. Seismic scales, like the Richter, are logarithmic, so that neighborhood can be pretty big.

But even at 4.2, the test was probably a dud. Estimating the yield is tricky business, because it depends on the geology of the test site.

The South Koreans called the yield half a kiloton (550 tons), which is more or less -- a factor of two -- consistent with the relationship for tests in that yield range at the Soviet Shagan test site: Mb = 4.262 + .973LogW (here Mb is the magnitude of the body wave, and W is the yield.

3.58-3.7 gives you a couple hundred tons (not kilotons), which is pretty close in this business unless you're really math positive. The same equation, given the US estimate of 4.2, yields (pun intended) around a kiloton.

A plutonium device should produce a yield in the range of the 20 kilotons, like the one we dropped on Nagasaki.

No one has ever dudded their first test of a simple fission device. North Korean nuclear scientists are now officially the worst ever. (The Chief's emphasis...this just tickles me!)

Of course, I want to see what the US IC says. If/when the test vents, we could have some radionuclide data -- maybe in the next 72 hours or so. But, from the initial data, I'd say someone with no workable nuclear weapons (Kim Jong Il, I am looking at you) should be crapping his pants right now."

So - the DPRK tried - and failed. I'm still thinking that it's not quite the moment to be throwing rose petals and candy at Mr. Bush's nonproliferation team. As a scientist, one thing I know is that you can often learn a lot from a failure, even if you are officially the "worst nuclear scientists in the world".

Seems to me that, like a husband finding his wife's "Friday" panties in her jacket pocket on Saturday morning, it's time for us to start talking, a lot, and fast. The little lady north of the "Z" may not ACTUALLY be dancing the mattress tango with Mr. Bomb.


But our military options are still a) slim and b) none.

If we want to continue to be a player in East Asian geopolitics as well as head off a potential Sea-of-Japan-nuclear-arms-race, we probably need to be talking, really talking to those other powers in Asia who have a stake in this, including our coy friend Li'l Kim.

Mr. Bush still appears to have the boneheaded notion that you talk only to your friends, not to your enemies. I would suggest that someone, perhaps Big Time - he seems to have Dubya's attention - might want to remind the President that it's important to remember that talking down a whacko who is trying to assemble a bomb isn't "conceding to the demands of political and nuclear extortion". It's called "negotiation" and it's what genuine politicians, cops, soldiers and diplomats do every freaking day.

As Big Time, Condi and the freaking Alka-Seltzer man might remind Mr. I'm-the-Decider: Try it, you'll like it...

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