Is North Korea’s Hydrogen Bomb Real – Or Part of a Nuclear Propaganda War?

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera commented on Tuesday, Sept. 5, that the big nuclear test detonated by North Korea two days earlier was of 120 kilotons, not 70 kilotons, as Japan had estimated earlier. However, he pointedly omitted calling it a hydrogen bomb.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources account for this omission by the latest assessment agreed on by US, Russia, Japanese and South Korean spy agencies that the North Korean bomb was not thermonuclear, but a “nuclear and an uranium or mixed uranium-plutonium implosion.”
So why Is North Korea’s unsupported claim of a hydrogen bomb so readily and widely trotted out without corroboration?
The obvious reason is that a hydrogen bomb report makes a bigger splash on front pages than an ordinary nuclear bomb. But, more importantly, a decision was taken in Washington to give Kim Jong-un more rope than he bargained for in the hope that he would hang himself. It was estimated that the young dictator had so far carefully calculated the tempo of his ballistic missile tests and launched them step by step. But after claiming to have tested a hydrogen bomb, following two intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching American cities, he had shot the last propaganda bolts in his quiver.
And indeed, Kim’s next message Tuesday to “wipe out US and South Korea by sending them more gift packages” was no more than empty bluster.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that intelligence agencies have come to certain basic assumptions with regard to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
1. The bomb detonated in the latest test was nuclear, not thermonuclear, and based on uranium and mixed uranium-plutonium implosion.
2. It takes a lot of time and many missile tests to develop an engine and the ability to bring the warhead down from a height, say, of 100km to about 10km – intact and able to explode.
This assumption led to the Chinese report on Tuesday, which maintained that “the single mountain under which North Korea most likely conducted its five most recent nuclear bomb tests could be at risk of collapse.”
This finding, by geophysicist Wen Lianxing, head of China’s seismic and deep earth physics laboratory, was based on data collected by more than 100 earthquake monitoring centers in China.
3. North Korea has in sum conducted very few missile tests. But there are no short cuts to making an operational medium-range missile. It requires hard and intensive work. Even if Pyongyang had acquired a readymade Russian or Ukrainian engine, the fine-tuning would have called for years of endless testing.
4. The hydrogen bomb threat is therefore no more than bluff aimed at terrorizing the world. The North Koreans are first-class political manipulators and propagandists, but no more than that.
In the aftermath of the nuclear tests, Washington, Moscow and Beijing used Kim’s ventures and bombast as a propaganda tool to promote their own respective interests.
“Sources” therefore excavated deep in the history of nuclear proliferation, as this racket is politely called.
This week, The New York Times carried a long article which maintained, “The North Korean missile engines are linked to a factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, on the edge of the territory where Russia is fighting a low-level war to break off part of Ukraine. During the Cold War, the factory made the deadliest missiles in the Soviet arsenal, including the giant SS-18.”
The article goes on to say: “But since Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power in 2014, the state-owned factory known as Yuzhmash, has fallen on hard times. The Russians cancelled
upgrades of their nuclear fleet. Experts believe it is the most likely source of the engines that in July powered two North Korean ICBM tests, which were the first to suggest that North Korea has the range, if not necessarily the accuracy of warhead technology to threat American cities.”
The “Ukraine theory” not only predates the two ICBM tests, but Kim Jong-un’s own rise to power in 2011.
In February 2005, DEBKA Weekly revealed “Ukraine had admitted that it exported 18 cruise missiles to Iran and six to China amid mounting pressure from other countries to explain how the sales occurred.”
The X-55 cruise missiles, also known as Kh-55s or AS-15s, were in fact exported in 2001.
Asked for an explanation, Ukraine officials claimed incorrectly, “None of the missiles was exported with the nuclear warheads they were designed to carry.”
Also this week, various websites suddenly came out with old news (first published in detail by debkafile on Aug. 4) about a visit to Tehran by the head of North Korea’s parliament, “as a front for Pyongyang to increase its military cooperation with Tehran.”
In fact, one or two of the Ukrainian missiles sold to Iran did carry nuclear warheads, along with diagrams and instructions on how to mount them. But the diagrams were incomplete, possibly because of an argument over the price. And so Tehran, whose rocket scientists couldn’t make head or tail of them, turned to Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and nuclear maverick, for expert help
On Sept. 5, this old-timer of the “alternative” nuclear trade track, resurfaced too, along with all the recycled information. In an interview with BBC Urdu, Dr. Khan insisted that North Korea was self-reliant in the nuclear field, because of its highly qualified group of scientists.
“These scientists are highly capable, and most of them have studied in Russia,” he said.
Khan, who claimed to have visited North Korea twice under an illicit missile program, said he found their tech quality much better than that of Pakistan.
The veteran nuclear scientist was obviously happy to put his oar into the ongoing nuclear propaganda contest. He may even be open again for business.

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