I have been following the story of radiological dangers posed by the increasing stressed geology of the North Korean nuclear test site for some months. Over the last week the story was again raised by the Australian newspaper. This motivated me to find the closest Chinese authority. The story was, as far as I can gather, published this week in The South China Morning Post on Wednesday 25 April 2018. The article, written by Stephen Chen, is entitled “North Korea’s nuclear test site has collapsed … and that may be why Kim Jong-un suspended tests“. The first paragraph explains further: “The mountain’s collapse after a fifth blast last fall has led to the creation of a massive ‘chimney’ that could leak radioactive fallout into the air, researchers have found….” before I go any further, there are two questions to ask: 1. How credible is Stephen Chen’s reporting and 2. Who are the researchers involved? eg are they retired diplomats only or are they qualified to comment in a scientific manner? If so have their findings been peered reviewed?
(what journalists say is irrelevant to me except when the articles lead me to find the peer reviewed papers published by scientists. Newspapers seem not to put relevant links to source documents up which is a crying shame.)
1. Stephen Chen: his bio on the SCMP site states: “Stephen covers breakthoughs in science and their impact on society, environment, military, geopolitics, business – pretty much all aspects of life. His stories often travel across the globe. Stephen is an alumnus of Shantou University, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Semester at Sea programme which he attended with a full scholarship from the Seawise Foundation. In his spare time, Stephen reads and writes novels. He lives in Beijing with a beautiful wife and two lovely kids.”
fair enough, signs look hopeful that the article is not reporting a scientific “furphy”, as Broinowski described the generic story on the Australian ABC TV this morning. But let’s dig a nanometer deeper. Who are the researchers Chen is referencing? Does he name them and are they famous? (fame = mass readership and lots of grant money):
“A research team led by Wen Lianxing, a geologist with the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, concluded that the collapse occurred following the detonation last autumn of North Korea’s most powerful thermal nuclear warhead in a tunnel about 700 metres (2,296 feet) below the mountain’s peak.
The test turned the mountain into fragile fragments, the researchers found….” end quote from the SCMP/Chen.
Further, Chen reports: “A research team led by Wen Lianxing, a geologist with the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, concluded that the collapse occurred following the detonation last autumn of North Korea’s most powerful thermal nuclear warhead in a tunnel about 700 metres (2,296 feet) below the mountain’s peak.
The test turned the mountain into fragile fragments, the researchers found. ” source: ibid.
Describing these findings and the dangers posed by the scientific observations as reported by Chen does not smack of “Furphy” or fantasy Richard B. (No I don’t mind who your sister is, you should know better).
Wen Lianxing et al have been tracking North Korean nuclear tests, as far as I can find (hamstrung as I am, because I cannot speak or read Chinese), from at least 2006, and certainly since 2009, when the team became the first in the world to precisely locate the location of a North Korean nuclear test. : “High-precision Location of North Korea’s 2009 Nuclear Test”
Article in Seismological Research Letters 81(1):26-29 · January 2010 authors: Lianxing Wen, University of Science and Technology of China (Hefei, China); Hui Long, Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, United States).
Have a read of it Mr Broinowski. You might find it sensible and not a furphy.
Ok, on with the real matters at hand. Underground nuke tests invariably leak radionuclides into the biosphere. The US underground nuclear test regime has created a legacy of cost and risk, to put it mildly, which continues to this day. Name a US underground shot, and go to DOE Opennet and enter the shot’s code name. Up pops reams of documents detailing the test, the immediate result, and the long term consequences in terms of risk and costs.
There is no reason to suspect that the risks and costs of North Korea’s underground will be any more “furphy” ridden that the US underground tests were. And continue to be.
So without any further ado, even if I have to drag Richard B kicking and screaming into 1954, is some more non furphy from Chen and the SCMP:
“It is necessary to continue monitoring possible leaks of radioactive materials caused by the collapse incident,” Wen’s team said in the statement.
The findings will be published on the website of the peer-reviewed journal, Geophysical Research Letters, likely next month.
North Korea saw the mountain as an ideal location for underground nuclear experiments because of its elevation – it stood more than 2,100 metres (6,888 feet) above sea level – and its terrain of thick, gentle slopes that seemed capable of resisting structural damage…..
“The mountain’s surface had shown no visible damage after four underground nuclear tests before 2017.
But the 100-kilotonne bomb that went off on September 3 vaporised surrounding rocks with unprecedented heat and opened a space that was up to 200 metres (656 feet) in diameter, according to a statement posted on the Wen team’s website on Monday. ….
“As shock waves tore through and loosened more rocks, a large section of the mountain’s ridge, less than half a kilometre (0.3 mile) from the peak, slipped down into the empty pocket created by the blast, leaving a scar visible in satellite images.
Wen concluded that the mountain had collapsed after analysing data collected from nearly 2,000 seismic stations. ….
“Three small earthquakes that hit nearby regions in the wake of the collapse added credence to his conclusion, suggesting the test site had lost its geological stability.
Another research team led by Liu Junqing at the Jilin Earthquake Agency with the China Earthquake Administration in Changchun reached similar conclusions to the Wen team. ….
“The “rock collapse … was for the first time documented in North Korea’s test site,” Liu’s team wrote in a paper published last month in Geophysical Research Letters.
The breakdown not only took off part of the mountain’s summit but also created a “chimney” that could allow fallout to rise from the blast centre into the air, they said. …
“Zhao Lianfeng, a researcher with the Institute of Earth Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said the two studies supported a consensus among scientists that “the site was wrecked” beyond repair.
“Their findings are in agreement to our observations,” he said.
“Different teams using different data have come up with similar conclusions,” Zhao said. “The only difference was in some technical details. This is the best guess that can be made by the world outside.” ….
“Speculation grew that North Korea’s site was in trouble when Lee Doh-sik, the top North Korean geologist, visited Zhao’s institute about two weeks after the test and met privately with senior Chinese government geologists.
“Although the purpose of Lee’s visit was not disclosed, two days later Pyongyang announced it would no longer conduct land-based nuclear tests.”
” Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based scholar who follows North Korea’s nuclear programme, said it was highly likely that Pyongyang had received a stark warning from Beijing.
““The test was not only destabilising the site but increasing the risk of eruption of the Changbai Mountain,” a large, active volcano at China-Korean border, said Hu, who asked that his university affiliation not be disclosed for this article because of the topic’s sensitivity.
“The mountain’s collapse has likely dealt a huge blow to North Korea’s nuclear programme, Hu said.
Hit by crippling international economic sanctions over its nuclear ambitions, the country might lack sufficient resources to soon resume testing at a new site, he said.
“But there are other sites suitable for testing,” Hu said. “They must be closely monitored.”
Guo Qiuju, a Peking University professor who has belonged to a panel that has advised the Chinese government on emergency responses to radioactive hazards, said that if fallout escaped through cracks, it could be carried by wind over the Chinese border.
“So far we have not detected an abnormal increase of radioactivity levels,” Guo said. “But we will continue to monitor the surrounding region with a large [amount] of highly sensitive equipment and analyse the data in state-of-the-art laboratories.”
“Zhao Guodong, a government nuclear waste confinement specialist at the University of South China, said that the North Korean government should allow scientists from China and other countries to enter the test site and evaluate the damage.
“We can put a thick layer of soil on top of the collapsed site, fill the cracks with special cement, or remove the pollutants with chemical solution,” he said.
“There are many methods to deal with the problem. All they need [to do] is ask.” end quote . source: ibid.
For the sake of ignorant ex diplomats everywhere, let me list all the qualified scientists Chen gives as sources for his article:
1. Wen Lianxing
2. Liu Junqing
3. Zhao Lianfeng
4. Hu Xingdou
5. Guo Qiuju
6. Zhao Guodong
The above qualified people consider that North Korean nuclear tests have, and do, pose a continuing radiological risk to North Korea and to China. This is due to the geologic damage the test series have caused. As any rational person with knowledge of the US underground test era knows, such risks are extremely well documented in the case of the US tests and appalling documented in the case of North Korea.
Dissenters from my point view and the content of Chen’s reported based upon his 6 expert sources are: 1. Richard Broinowski, retired diplomat. Not a scientist.
blows rasberry at RD. so sue me.
P.S. and another thing Richard B. You won’t close the South Korean nuclear plants down by going on TV and denying the North Korean radiological mess, which is probably an undisclosed actual disaster for the people there. Underground nuke test sites have many ways of leaking radionuclides. Over the years a test site’s hydrology is main vector, but anything can happen at the time, and, in the US experience has happened. The chances of uncontained radionuclides let loose into the biosphere is very high in North Korea and no ideology can successfully hide that fact. Your comments on the ABC TV this morning were damaging to the movement and frankly, in my opinion, bloody ignorant. Would you accept the facts of the matter if the scientists Chen cites were all born in London and were named “Watt”?
This post has been posted on Mr Stephen Chen’s facebook page. with thanks to him and his sources.