August 14, 2017

Fire and Fury Appear to Be Delayed

It looks like Kim Jong Un has blinked.


I wouldn't advise Guam to take down these posters though.




At least...

 North Korea has an unknown capacity to make highly enriched uranium. We’ve long noticed that the single facility that North Korea has shown off to outsiders seems smaller than North Korea’s newly renovated capacity to mine and mill uranium; we naturally wondered where all that extra uranium is going. (My research institute thinks it might be fun to estimate how much uranium North Korea enriches based on how much it mills, if you know anyone with grant money burning a hole in her pocket.)

I do take some bittersweet satisfaction in this excerpt though...

There was a common view that the North Koreans, well, kind of sucked at making nuclear weapons. That was certainly my first impression. But there was always another possibility, one that dawned on me gradually. According to a defector account, North Korea tried to skip right toward relatively advanced nuclear weapons that were compact enough to arm ballistic missiles and made use of relatively small amounts of plutonium. That should not have been surprising; both Iraq and Pakistan similarly skipped designing and testing a more cumbersome Fat Man-style implosion device. The disappointing yields of North Korea’s first few nuclear tests were not the result of incompetence, but ambition. So, while the world was laughing at North Korea’s first few nuclear tests, they were learning — a lot.

Do note that there was a post on this very blog positing that very thing 4 years ago


" 'cause this blog's awesome." 

We're ahead of the curve!

Lets hope this trend does not continue since we're also on record as suggesting that the  China-India standoff is where things are more likely to go pear shaped. There is a further complication to this mess beyond the Pakistani factor...winter is coming, which may force the issue. 

A further perusal of the archives for predictions we hope to botch reveals that we've been beating the drum about DPRK and Iranian cooperation for some time. We were doing so as early as three years ago*. 
It's not like there's no support for this unwelcome hypothesis, see here, here, here, here, here, here and here

There is a report here, (PDF) that has some worrisome revelations...
 

A delegation of Iranian nuclear experts headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh- Mahabadi, director of the Iranian NW project, was covertly present at the
third NK nuclear test in February 2013. This test was apparently based – unlike the previous plutonium-core-based field tests – on an HEU (highly enriched uranium) core nuclear device (as, presumably, were the fourth and fifth nuclear tests, which took place in 2016). In 2015, information exchanges and reciprocal delegation visits reportedly took place that were aimed at the planning of nuclear warheads. These include four NK delegations that visited Iran up until June 2015, one month before the VND was completed. It may be noted that in August 2015, a new gas centrifuge hall apparently became operational in the NK main uranium enrichment facility.  
The emphasis is mine. The significance is alluded to in the first Jeffery Lewis quote above. The larger point regarding Iranian involvement is worrisome enough. 

IF Iran and North Korea are cooperating to the point that Iran has access to a tested bomb design, then their "breakout time" is essentialy whenever they feel like it. Uranium enrichment is a chemical and physical process, not a nuclear one, so it is much easier to conceal as Lewis alludes to in his previously mentioned article. Iran is HUGE has its own uranium supplies and there's no telling what sorts of facilities they have squirreled away in the Zargos mountains. It is after all, not like we can inspect the place

So one day, five or so years hence Iran just might shock people...

In any event, this has the potential for their first nuclear test not be a proof of concept exercize, but a simple confirmation that their by then considerable nuclear stockpile will go "bang" when they want it to. They have centrifuges that we KNOW about. If they ran reactor grade uranium through them, they could make 25 bombs a year

But really....how bad could that actually be?

This is another area we hope not to be prescient on. We ran the math on that question some time ago in this click-baity assesment of a potential summer blockbuster plot and realized that they only needed 30 nukes to largely knock the world into the 7th century. far less actually, since that number includes a lot of ocean and icecap. 

Alternatively, they might just be able to field a sizable nuclear arsenal without warning. 

While we are on the subject of things that we hope to be utterly off base on it should be noted in reference to Pakistan's numerous tactical nuclear warheads that an ISIS or Al Quaeda affiliated group getting ahold of even a very small warhead or being sold HEU by....somebody (see above), to make their own  that the potential for mayhem on a continental scale is worrisome. If an EMP were to leave Europe without power, given the current ethno-political tensions there, well....that could be very bad indeed. 

It still seems likely that the next use of nukes in anger will involve a conflict on the subcontinent, but there are a lot more things that we hope the blog is wrong about.

* (note that tl;dr of a post also referenced a report that the Norks had developed miniaturized nuclear warheads...one that only became widely known recently)

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