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North Korea says hydrogen bomb test a ‘perfect success’

The hydrogen bomb test ordered by leader Kim Jong Un was a “perfect success” and was a “meaningful” step in completing the country’s nuclear weapons programme, state television said.

world Updated: Sep 03, 2017 13:47 IST
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017.(Reuters)

North Korea has developed a hydrogen bomb which can be loaded into the country’s new intercontinental ballistic missile, state media claimed Sunday, further heightening tensions over its weapons ambitions.

Nuclear-armed Pyongyang has long sought the means to deliver an atomic warhead to the United States, its sworn enemy.

Questions remain over whether it has successfully miniaturised its weapons, and whether it has a working H-bomb, but the official Korean Central News Agency said that leader Kim Jong-Un had inspected such a device at the Nuclear Weapons Institute.

It was a “thermonuclear weapon with super explosive power made by our own efforts and technology”, KCNA cited Kim as saying, and “all components of the H-bomb were 100 percent domestically made”.

Pictures showed Kim in black suit examining a metal casing, with a shape akin to a peanut shell.

North Korea triggered a new escalation of tensions in July, when it carried out two successful tests of an ICBM, the Hwasong-14, which apparently brought much of the US mainland within range.

It has since threatened to send a salvo of rockets towards the US territory of Guam, and last week fired a missile over Japan and into the Pacific, the first time time it has ever acknowledged doing so.

US President Donald Trump has warned Pyongyang that it faces “fire and fury”, and that Washington’s weapons are “locked and loaded”.

Trump spoke by telephone to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the need to “maximize pressure on North Korea” in the face of the “growing threat” it presented, according to a White House readout of the call, without specifying when it took place.

The North has repeatedly claimed that it has a thermonuclear weapon, which can be far more powerful than other nuclear devices.

When it carried out its fourth nuclear test, in January 2016, it said it was a miniaturised H-bomb, but scientists said the six-kiloton yield achieved then was far too low.

When it carried out its fifth test, in September 2016, it did not say it was a hydrogen bomb.

Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP the latest KCNA report “carries a strategic message” that Pyongyang “will push for a nuclear face-off with the US as an equal”.

But the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security urged caution in response to the North’s latest assertions, saying they should be viewed as “an intention rather than a reality”.

“NK can build any H-bomb (two stage) model it wants and call it whatever it wants but that does not make it real,” it said on Twitter, adding the picture “looks like a model in a room for models, not for loading nuclear devices into re-entry vehicles”.

Actually mounting a warhead onto a missile would amount to a significant escalation on the North’s part, as it would create a risk that it was preparing an attack.

Preparing a test?

The North Korean leadership says a credible nuclear deterrent is critical to the nation’s survival, claiming it is under constant threat from an aggressive United States.

It has been subjected to seven rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, but always insists it will continue to pursue them.

Its first nuclear test was in 2006, and successive blasts are believed to have been aimed at refining designs and reliability as well as increasing yield.

The most recent detonation, in September last year, was its “most powerful to date” according to Seoul, with a 10-kiloton yield -- still less than the 15-kiloton US device which destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

Atomic or “A-bombs” work on the principle of nuclear fission, where energy is released by splitting atoms of enriched uranium or plutonium encased in the warhead.

Hydrogen or H-bombs, also known as thermonuclear weapons, work on fusion and are far more powerful, with a nuclear blast taking place first to create the intense temperatures required.

The North’s H-bomb had “explosive power that can be adjusted from tens to hundreds of kilotons depending on the target”, KCNA said Sunday, claiming technological advances “on the basis of precious successes made in the first H-bomb test”.

No H-bomb has ever been used in combat, but they make up most of the world’s nuclear arsenals.

Melissa Hanham of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies in California said the images could not be proved real of themselves.

“We don’t know if this thing is full of styrofoam, but yes, it is shaped like it has two devices,” she said on Twitter.

“The bottom line is that they probably are going to do a thermonuclear test in the future, we won’t know if it’s this object though.”

Reports have suggested that Pyongyang could soon carry out a sixth nuclear test, but the respected 38 North website said last week that satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri test site showed no evidence that a blast was imminent.