North Korea’s claim that it tested a hydrogen bomb earlier this month may not have been as bogus as initially suspected, the U.S. government believes.
Citing an official “directly familiar with the latest U.S. assessment,” CNN reports that the nuclear test carried out by the secretive Stalinist regime on January 6 may have been “a partial, failed” deployment of some components of a thermonuclear weapon.
In the past, North Korea has only tested bombs that use fission to break the atomic nucleus of elements like plutonium, releasing large amounts of energy. A thermonuclear bomb uses fusion to combine small atoms, such as hydrogen, creating a much larger blast. A fission weapon typically yields around ten kilotons, while a fusion weapon is measured in megatons (1,000 kilotons).
While North Korea seems to have indeed tested some kind of nuclear device this month, at the time, the U.S. and other countries voiced skepticism at Pyongyang’s announcement that it had detonated a “miniaturized” hydrogen bomb, as the seismic wave generated by the test was far smaller than a fusion weapon would produce.
The new assessment, which CNN’s source emphasized is not conclusive, shows that the test was conducted more than twice as far underground as originally believed, which would be consistent with an H-bomb. It’s possible, the official said, that the North Koreans believe they detonated a thermonuclear bomb, but most likely they only exploded some components thereof.