The North Korean Nuke: Design for Delivery?

North and South Korea at Night
North and South Korea at Night
As I noted in an earlier post, bloggers’ reporting on the details of the latest North Korean nuclear test was more agile and more accurate than that of the big news outlets. In particular, they were quick to counter the early Russian overestimates of the yield of the device. ArmsControlWonk suggested that a weaponizable design may be more important to the DPRK than impressing the world with a big bang:

“If they had gone with the “fail safe” WWII design, it would probably mean it was too heavy to mount on a missile. They would be making a political bomb that would undoubtedly use a lot of high explosive to ensure it got a good compression of the plutonium pit. The 4 KT bomb, however, might very well fit on a DPRK missile. If they have stayed with this design, it probably indicates that weaponizing it is even more important than ensuring a successful test.”

Here’s something appeared in the UK’s “Guardian” a year ago that adds plausibility to that conjecture:

“Blueprints for a sophisticated and compact nuclear warhead have been found in the computers of the world’s most notorious nuclear-smuggling racket, according to a leading US researcher.

“The digital designs, found in heavily encrypted computer files in Switzerland, are believed to be in the possession of the US authorities and of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, but investigators fear they could have been extensively copied and sold to “rogue” states via the nuclear black market.

“David Albright, a physicist, former UN weapons inspector and authority on the nuclear smuggling ring run by the Pakistani metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan, said the “construction plans” included previously undisclosed designs for a compact warhead that could fit on Iran’s (or North Korea’s, ed.) medium-range ballistic missiles.”

Read the whole thing. It begs the question of how we should respond if the North Korean leadership really is crazy enough to hit us, or one of our allies, with a weaponized nuke. Annihilate a population of slaves for the crimes of their leaders? We were ready to do that in the Cold War. Twenty years later, do we still really need to kill 10 or 20 million innocent Koreans to “make an example?” I’d hate to have to make that decision, because the answer may be yes.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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