The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a very short statement confirming that the North Korean test was nuclear. Thom Shanker and David Sanger’s article in the New York Times says that US intelligence has concluded that the test was a plutonium device, not uranium. Sig Hecker knows a thing or two about North Korea’s plutonium (see p.5 of that link, paragraph starting with “So they slid open the wooden box and inside were two glass jars – two marmalade jars actually – with screw on tops.”) He comments in the NYT:
“This is good news because we have a reasonably good idea of how much plutonium they have made,” said Siegfried S. Hecker, the former chief of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a visiting professor at Stanford University. Mr. Hecker, who has visited North Korea and is one of the few foreigners to have seen parts of its nuclear infrastructure, said that it was his guess that “they tried to test a reasonably sophisticated device, and they had trouble imploding it properly.”
The NYT article also has an interesting section on what this plutonium vs. uranium determination may mean politically. Uranium would mean Clinton messed up, plutonium suggests the error was on Bush’s watch:
Politically, the results of the test may revive last week’s finger-pointing about who is more responsible for the Korean test: Bill Clinton or President Bush.
As president, Mr. Clinton negotiated a deal that froze the production and weaponization of North Korea’s plutonium, but intelligence agencies later determined that North Korea began its secret uranium program under his watch. The plutonium that North Korea exploded was produced, according to intelligence estimates, either during the administration of the first President Bush or after 2003, when the North Koreans threw out international inspectors and began reprocessing spent nuclear fuel the inspectors had kept under seal.
Unlike the Clinton administration in 1994, the current Bush administration chose not to threaten to destroy North Korea’s fuel and nuclear reprocessing facilities if they tried to make weapons.
In the last few days there was concern that China was holding back on enforcing sanctions on North Korea, both in searching trucks on its border with NK, and particularly in stopping ships at sea. The Security Council resolution passed on Oct. 14 requires member states to comply with the sanctions, but enforcement is more flexible for states to interpret. Now AP reports that searches of trucks are starting at the Chinese border, but ships will probably not be stopped.
Also in the news this morning (since I am in a time zone which is awake right now), noise about a possible second NK nuclear test.