A 5.1 magnitude quake was detected about 30 miles from North Korea’s Punggye-Ri nuclear test site this evening, indicating a possible underground nuclear detonation. North Korea’s last nuclear test was in 2013 and the detonation resulted in a quake measuring 5.1 magnitude with an estimated weapons yield between six and nine kilotons. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a 15 kiloton weapon by comparison. Update: North Korea says it has detonated its first hydrogen bomb.
According to Reuters, an official from Korea’s Meteorological Administration said:
“We suspect a man-made earthquake and are analyzing the scale and epicenter of the quake with the geoscience and mineral resource institute of South Korea.”
If this ends up being an underground nuclear test event, it will be the fourth since North Korea started actively testing nuclear devices. Another test has been feared due to increased activity around the site in recent months. This test also comes as Kim Jong Un publicly claimed that the country has developed a hydrogen bomb capability early last month—a claim that was and remains totally baseless.
North Korea is thought to have between 10 and 20 low-yield nuclear warheads, although the weapons’ reliability remains uncertain.
At this time all signs are pointing toward this recent quake being a nuclear test, although the exact geology surrounding the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site is notoriously vague, making initial estimates on weapons yield and even if the event was natural or man made hard to pin down.
We will update this post as new information comes available.
UPDATE- 8:05 p.m. PST: North Korea state news has announced that the country has successfully tested a thermonuclear device. It still remains unlikely that North Korea would have jumped from crude fission-based nuclear devices to a much more powerful fusion-based device, also known as a hydrogen bomb.
If this is correct, it would be a massive and suspiciously peculiar leap in nuclear weapons capability for the often volatile nation.
More on this as it develops.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.