In case you were not aware, last week North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong-un announced that North Korea would no longer be doing nuclear tests and missile tests for the time being. They even went so far as to mention scrapping their test site ahead of meetings with the US and South Korea. That being said, there seems to be another reason behind the closing of this site specifically.
Reuters said that according to Kim Jong-un, his country no longer needs to conduct nuclear tests or ballistic missile tests because they have completed their goal in developing weapons. While this does fall short of what the US wanted, it is a step in the right direction, or at least that was what we thought. It seems that the reason could be because the mountain above North Korea’s main nuclear test site Punggye-ri has collapsed following nuclear tests from last fall.
There was actually even a study done on this as the likely collapse has sparked concerns about radioactive fallout and so forth. Geologists at the University of Science and Technology of China said that “the onsite collapse calls for continued close monitoring of radioactive materials from the nuclear test site,” in their study that will be published in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters. You see, nuclear explosions release huge amounts of heat and energy. After a bomb test back in September of last year, these researchers say that one explosion created a cavity and damaged a chimney of rocks that could be leaching radioactivity.
Their abstract goes as follows:
North Korea’s 3 September 2017 nuclear test was followed by a series of small seismic events, with the first one occurring about eight-and-a-half minutes after the nuclear test, two on 23 September 2017, and one on 12 October 2017. While the characteristics of these seismic events would carry crucial information about current geological state and environmental condition of the nuclear test site and help evaluate the geological and environmental safety of the test site should any future tests be performed there, the precise locations and nature of these seismic events are unknown? In this study, we collect all available seismic waveforms of these five seismic events from China Earthquake Networks Center, F-net, Hi-net, Global Seismographic Network, Japan Meteorological Agency Seismic Network, and Korea National Seismograph Network. We are able to find high-quality seismic data that constitute good azimuth coverage for high-precision determination of their relative locations and detailed analysis of their source characteristics. Our study reveals that the seismic event eight-and-a-half minutes after the nuclear test is an onsite collapse of the nuclear test center, while the later events are an earthquake swarm occurring in similar locations. The onsite collapse calls for continued close monitoring of any leaks of radioactive materials from the nuclear test site. The occurrence of the collapse should deem the underground infrastructure beneath mountain Mantap not be used for any future nuclear tests. Given the history of the nuclear tests North Korea performed beneath this mountain, a nuclear test of a similar yield would produce collapses in an even larger scale creating an environmental catastrophe. The triggered earthquake swarm indicates that North Korea’s past tests have altered the tectonic stress in the region to the extent that previously inactive tectonic faults in the region have reached their state of critical failure. Any further disturbance from a future test could generate earthquakes that may be damaged by their own force or crack the nuclear test sites of the past or the present.
While no radioactive materials have been collected yet along the North Korea-China border officials do fear there may be radioactive dust making its way through the cracks. What do you think about all of this?