A N Korea nuclear test over the Pacific? Experts say logical, terrifying

North Korea, Kim Jong un, North Korea missile, North Korea missile tests, North Korea nuclear tests, World news

Detonating a nuclear-tipped missile over the Pacific Ocean would be a logical final step by North Korea to prove the success of its weapons programme but would be extremely provocative and carry huge risks, arms control experts said on Friday. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho suggested leader Kim Jong Un was considering testing “an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb” over the Pacific in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country.

“It may mean North Korea will fire a warhead-tipped (intermediate range) Hwasong-12 or Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile and blow it up a few hundred kilometres above the Pacific Ocean,” said Yang Uk, a senior researcher at the Korea Defence and Security Forum in Seoul. “They may be bluffing, but there is a need for them to test their combined missile-bomb capability. They could have already prepared the plan and are now trying to use Trump’s remarks as an excuse to make it happen,” said Yang. Also Read: Kim Jong-un targets Donald Trump, says will definitely tame mentally deranged US dotard with fire

North Korea, Kim Jong un, North Korea missile, North Korea missile tests, North Korea nuclear tests, World newsFILE – In this July 4, 2017, file photo distributed by the North Korean government shows the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

Such an atmospheric test would be the first globally since China detonated a device in 1980, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tests of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles are rarer still. The United States’ only test of an operational ballistic missile with a live warhead was fired from submarine far out in the Pacific Ocean in 1962. Also Read: North Korea calls Donald Trump ‘barking dog’

China was widely condemned for a similar test with a missile that exploded over its Lop Nur test site in the country’s west in 1966. North Korea’s six nuclear tests to date have all been underground, the most recent earlier this month by far its largest.

North Korea, Kim Jong un, North Korea missile, North Korea missile tests, North Korea nuclear tests, World newsFILE – In this May 14, 2017, file photo distributed by the North Korean government shows the “Hwasong-12,” a new type of ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

“We have to assume they *could* do it, but it is exceedingly provocative,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “To put a live nuclear warhead on a missile that’s only been tested a handful of times, overflying potentially populated centres. If it…doesn’t go exactly as planned….it could be a world changing event.”

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles over Japan’s north Hokkaido region in the past month as part of a series of tests that experts say have illustrated unexpectedly rapid advances. “They said Pacific Ocean, which pretty much means firing a missile over Japan,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “They want to shut us all up for doubting they could build it.” Also Read: Full text: What US President Donald Trump said in his United Nations General Assembly address

SERIOUS FALLOUT

While a missile would be the most ideal means of delivery, it is also possible to put a bomb on a ship and detonate on the surface of the ocean or in the sea, the experts said.

North Korea, Kim Jong un, North Korea missile, North Korea missile tests, North Korea nuclear tests, World newsNorth Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on September 3, prompting the UN Security Council to step up sanctions with a ban on the reclusive regime’s textile exports and a cap on fuel supplies. (Source: Reuters)

Either way, the radioactive fallout could be significant, as well as the diplomatic backlash from around the world. North Korea’s recent missile launches over Japan especially drew stern rebukes from Tokyo and the international community. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called Pyongyang’s remarks and behaviour “completely unacceptable”.

Narang said a test high enough over the ocean would limit the radioactive fallout but risks included damage from an electro-magnetic pulse, something Pyongyang has hinted it might employ on an attack on the United States or its allies. “If it doesn’t go exactly as planned and the detonation occurs at a lower altitude we could see some EMP-like effects for anything in the area. A lot of dead fish too.” Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles this year as it spurs a programme aimed at mastering a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the United States, in addition to its Sept 3 nuclear test.

North Korea, Kim Jong un, North Korea missile, North Korea missile tests, North Korea nuclear tests, World newsIn this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea’s Hyunmoo II ballistic missile is fired during an exercise at an undisclosed location in South Korea, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. In South Korea, the nation’s military said it conducted a live-fire exercise simulating an attack on North Korea’s nuclear test site to “strongly warn” Pyongyang over the latest nuclear test. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)

If Kim’s threat materialises, it will be a “tipping point” for China, and may prompt many other countries to demand an “end to the regime,” said David Albright, founder of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. “No one has tested above ground for decades and the radioactive fallout could be terrifying to many,” Albright said.

Other experts said such an atmospheric nuclear test is unlikely for now due to its substantial technical and diplomatic risks. Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review, said it would be an “end-to-end demo of everything.”

“But I would be surprised if this were their very next move. They have yet to test an ICBM at full range into the Pacific,” said Pollack. “That will probably come first.”