Starts With A Bang

Science knows if a nation is testing nuclear bombs (Synopsis)

The cloud from the atomic bomb over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima in 1945 was one of the first nuclear detonations to take place on this world. After decades of peace, North Korea is detonating bombs again. Credit: Hiromichi Matsuda.

“North Korea has taught a great lesson to all the countries in the world, especially the rogue countries of dictatorships or whatever: if you don’t want to be invaded by America, get some nuclear weapons.” -Michael Moore

Last year, North Korea claimed to have obtained the technology to create a nuclear fusion bomb: the most destructive weapon humanity has ever engineered. This year, they’re threatening to use them, against either South Korea or the United States, depending on the moment in question. Yet these grandiose claims are questionable, and not merely because of the questionable source. From a scientific perspective, we know that North Korea hasn’t demonstrated the capability of doing so.

International nuclear test monitoring system, showcasing the five major types of test and the locations of each station. All told, there are 337 active stations at present. Credit: CTBTO.

When a nuclear device goes off, even underground, it creates a particular pattern of seismic waves that can be picked up by detectors worldwide. Different from earthquakes, it tells us the bomb’s origin, three-dimensional location on Earth, and its magnitude. North Korea has detonated weapons recently: in 2006, 2013, and just last year. Yet, despite their claims, all the bombs were fission bombs, without a fusion stage.

The similarity between known nuclear fission tests and a suspected fission test is unmistakable. Despite what claims are made, the evidence reveals the true nature of these devices. Note that the Pn and Pg labels are backwards, details that perhaps only a geophysicist would notice. Credit: Alex Hutko on Twitter, via

Come see how science knows what the nuclear capabilities of North Korea are, even if the supreme leader says otherwise!