This is the big topic of the day: KCNA announced that the DPRK has successfully tested its own thermodynamic hydrogen bomb. We know that there was a bomb test; we know that there was an earthquake around the test site. Beyond that, experts, analysts and anyone in general with an opinion all disagree on the particulars.
At 7:17 p.m. (EST) on January 5—or 9:47 a.m., January 6, Pyongyang—news began to break that North Korea had conducted a successful submarine missile test, near the city of Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, 30 miles east of Hamhŭng, the second largest city in the DPRK.
This concerned some NK trackers, as any warfare development is likely to be worrisome. Some months ago, NK claimed to have launched a sea-to-air test from a submarine, but this was debunked: the photos were altered to hide the launch from a standard sea-faring barge, not submerged at all. Analysts were satisfied that Pyongyang hadn’t made any threatening leaps in military technology, later reports decried this test as a failure, but this recent development was of some concern.
One hour later, Twitter lit up with breaking news of an earthquake in China and North Korea. Initial reports indicated a 4.9-magnitude quake in China, later supplemented with a 5.1 quake within 30 miles of Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province. Sinpo is a port city 100 miles southwest of Punggye-ri, or 170 miles by winding, meandering mountain and coastal roads.
The port city of Sinpo has its own nuclear power plant; the valley in which Punggye-ri lies has a lot of farms, what looks like a labor camp, and a train depot, all of which are connected by a highway called 홱실험 시설 도로 (haegsilheom siseol dolo), or “Nuclear Test Road”.
The former news story appeared buried by the urgency of the latter. Yonhap reported that a Chinese research center and Seoul’s Meteorological Administration had reason to believe the earthquake was artificial, caused by an explosion. Subsequent stories began to suggest that Pyongyang had successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb at 10 a.m. Pyongyang time, Wednesday (1:30 a.m. GMT; 8:30 p.m. EST), 20 minutes before China Xinhua News tweeted about the earthquake.
#BREAKING: 4.9-magnitude earthquake hits #NorthKorea: China Earthquake Network Center pic.twitter.com/bLk7vxs2Vy
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) January 6, 2016
Twitter sparkled with NK-watchers iterating this event, citing Yonhap and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Developing: EarthQuake Detected in DPRK and felt in China @ArmsControlWonk
— Nathan J Hunt (@ISNJH) January 6, 2016
LOCATION OF EARTHQUAKE DETECTED IN NORTH KOREA WITHIN 30 KM OF KNOWN NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR TEST SITE, BASED ON USGS COORDINATES
— James Pearson (@pearswick) January 6, 2016
‘Earthquake’ detected at North Korea test site https://t.co/gG9CgTfaaa
— Chad O’Carroll (@chadocl) January 6, 2016
@Crimson_Rei The Chinese data is right place and right depth. Looks like a test. @20committee @ISNJH pic.twitter.com/NcVyC2IbFm
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) January 6, 2016
Some took the extra step and began to theorize what was behind this: a probable nuclear test. KCNA later confirmed that the DPRK had completed its fourth nuclear test, two days before the birthday of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
“The DPRK’s first hydrogen thermonuclear weapon test was successfully conducted at 10 in the morning,” a KCTV announcer said during the early broadcast. (NKNews.org)
Next came the doubts that the DPRK was capable of such technology by itself. We know, however, that Iranian scientists have supervised past missile tests within the country, and we believe that Pyongyang has shared nuclear technology with Syria.
South Korean political parties are locking horns over how to address this issue and what it means, and Washington released a statement questioning the veracity of Pyongyang’s claims. Republicans, predictably, blame Obama.
But at the end of the day, NKNews.org points out that, if this was an actual H-bomb with greater strength than what took out Nagasaki, “Yield should have been about 100 times as large as the yield of this test.” And the New York Times ventures to guess why Kim Jong Un signed off on this test: this is how the overgrown child expresses his tantrum.
We may all rest assured we haven’t heard the last of this.