March 13th, 2013
06:16 PM ET

Material in North Korea's nuclear test unclear, worrying for U.S.

By Jill Dougherty and Pam Benson

More than a month after North Korea tested a nuclear device, the United States is unable to pinpoint whether the regime was able to use uranium to fuel the explosion, a capability that would represent a significantly enhanced nuclear program.

The lack of clarity comes as North Korea ratchets up its bellicose rhetoric each day.

New video broadcast on North Korean television showed the nation's leader, Kim Jong Un, addressing his troops along the border on Monday and issuing a blood-chilling threat, "Throw all enemies into the caldron, break their waists and crack their windpipes." It was the same location he and his late father visited in November 2010, just two days before the North shelled an island, killing four South Koreans.

The bellicose comments have been intensifying over the past months, increasing worry about Kim's unpredictability.

"I am very concerned about what they might do. And they are certainly, if they chose ... could initiate a provocative action against the South," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

North Korea has threatened a pre-emptive nuclear attack not only on South Korea, but on the United States too. Military and White House officials have said the United States can defend against any such threat. President Barack Obama told ABC news this week that he does not think North Korea can make good on the threat.

"They probably can't, but we don't like margin of error," Obama told ABC News.

That ambiguity is not lost on Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "There's perhaps nowhere else on Earth where the capacity to wreak enormous damage is matched by the possibility of North Korea using their nuclear weapons," the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee said.

Particularly worrisome are the advancements the North Koreans have made in their nuclear and missile programs. In December, they successfully launched a long-range ballistic missile for the first time under what the United States and other Western nations say was the guise of putting a satellite into orbit.

The United States is concerned that a long-range ballistic missile could be fitted with a nuclear warhead and could be capable of striking the mainland, although experts say North Korea does not yet have the expertise to do so.

And then last month, the Pyongyang regime conducted its third underground nuclear test.

U.S. officials tell CNN they have not determined what kind of nuclear device the north tested underground from its Pung-gye-Ri nuclear test site.

A U.S. intelligence official said "nothing has changed" since the Office of the Director of National Intelligence put out a statement within hours of the February 12 nuclear test indicating the test had an explosive yield of several kilotons.

The U.S. Air Force uses sniffer planes to take air samples after a test in hopes of scooping up radioactive particles that will provide more specific details about the contents. The official's comment indicates the United States has obtained no further information that would help determine the type of nuclear material used, and at this late date, probably would not.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, an international group that monitors nuclear tests, also said it was unable to get a fix on what fissile material was used by the North Koreans and didn't expect it ever would.

"What we are not sure of is if the North Koreans used plutonium, which they used in their earlier tests or highly enriched uranium for this third test," said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. "If they used highly enriched uranium, that would be very worrisome because it would suggest they have a larger supply of this material that would allow them to build a larger number of nuclear weapons."

Kimball said detection is always iffy. If the chamber where the explosion takes place deep underground is well-sealed, few particles may be released into the atmosphere. And if samples are gathered, they need to be "relatively fresh and very good" to determine whether it was a plutonium-based or uranium-based explosion.

The type of nuclear material matters because North Korea gave up its production of weapons-grade plutonium six years ago and only has a limited amount of the fissile material in its stocks, enough for approximately six bombs, according to experts. After years of denial, the regime acknowledged in 2010 it had an enriched uranium facility. That's problematic because such facilities are hard to detect and could produce large supplies of highly enriched uranium.

Kimball doesn't like the trend. "They don't yet have the capability to deliver a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile that could reach the U.S. Despite whatever they say, they may soon - in the next two to three years with further testing - be able to deliver a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile that could strike their neighbors," Kimball said.

A North Korean expert believes that Kim Jung Un's regime is playing the international community. "North Korea had done three tests: the ballistic missile, the nuclear and a test of all of us, and the question is, what are we going to do?" said Philip Yun, executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear weapons foundation.

The United States and the United Nations have recently imposed additional economic sanctions against North Korea, but so far sanctions have not led to the resumption of talks.

The U.S. special envoy to North Korea says unless the regime is serious about talks and meets its obligations to de-nuclearize, its future will be bleak.

"North Korea will not achieve security, economic prosperity and integration into the international community while it pursues nuclear weapons, while it threatens its neighbors, while it tramples on international norms, abuses its own people and refuses to fulfill its long-standing obligations and commitments," Glyn Davies told a congressional panel. "This is one of the hardest foreign policy problems out there."

soundoff (873 Responses)
  1. 01DOGG01

    This video demonstrates how to detect a North Korean nuclear test in no time, right from your PC, before the news even know it happened.


    March 21, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  2. Hey-Zues Marimba

    A little guy in an overblown Dear Leader role surrounded by puppet masters.

    March 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Reply
  3. Jaimie

    Squash'em like a bug.

    March 16, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  4. f

    Dont say "crack" too loud, merion berry night get excited

    March 16, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  5. Rob

    If we get nuked by North Korea after all this time. We had when we could have destroyed them the government and it alone will be help responsible. If we used just one bomb when MacArthur asked for it. We wouldn't be having this conversation.

    March 16, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Reply
    • freedom lover

      You're insane.

      March 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  6. Pwd

    The should just start bombing them and get it over with once and for all.

    March 16, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  7. Emilio Dumphque

    Is there any evidence at all that any of these "nuclear" test actually involved a nuclear explosion? It wouldn't be that hard for a totalitarian nation to set off a couple thousand tons of TNT in a deep cave and send some radioactive dust into the path of a sniffer. Any evidence at all???

    March 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Reply
    • Hiphurtsoww

      Your name shoud be Dumphuqe.

      March 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  8. jesus

    shouldnt they just go ahead and kill this egomaniac?

    March 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Reply
    • phil

      We are not allowed to assassinate political figures.

      March 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  9. Mr vic

    Uuuuuhhhh... Can-t. Bre-ath... W-w-windpipe.... b-brok-en. Kim Jung's big fat ,,, f-foot.

    March 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Reply
  10. Jim

    I say, let's send some our sample nuke heads on over to this (strange) little man for his first hand inspection:-)

    March 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Reply
  11. Sam

    International Policy Digest has an interesting article regarding North Korea’s behavior toward the West and how its belligerence is nothing more than a failing regime finally acknowledging their rule is coming to an end.

    March 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Reply
  12. Schnautholio

    I'm so Ronery / So ronery / So ronery and sadry arone / There's no one / Just me onry / Sitting on my rittle throne / I work rearry hard and make up get prans / but, nobody listens, no one understands / Seems rike no one takes me serirousry / And so, I'm ronery / A rittle ronery / Poor rittle me / There's no one I can rerate to / Feewr rike a biwd in a cage / It's kinda siwry / but, not reawry / because, it's fiwring my body with rage / I'm the smartest, most crever, most physicawry fit / but, nobody erse seems to rearrize it / When I can the worrd maybe they'rr notice me / And untiwr then, I'wr be ronery / Yeaaaaah, a rittle ronery / Poor rittle me...

    March 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  13. Kenneth MacKenzie

    .. “NO MISSILES NEEDED!” Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Hiroshima Landmines (rated 60 Kilotons. Horoshima was 20KT) are currently concealed inside of & under feet of US & Europe. SEE: U.S. House Hearing 106-158 chaired by U.S. House Rep. Dan Burton. Further testimony by Sen. Lugar.
    ..Again, to “falsehood journalists”: “NO MISSILES ARE NEEDED for delivery of Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Hiroshima Landmines, which cannot be detected on radar & cannot be shot down once underground inside backyards of United States, Wash, DC, NY, OH, MI, GA, FL, IL, TX, CA, etc., etc!”
    ..U.S. proposed "Anti MIssile Shield" is obsolete like the "Maginot Line" in France before WW2. Wasted money!
    ..SEE: U.S. House Hearing. 106-158. Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Hiroshima Landmines are one-man portable, carried as backpack or “suitcase nuke” from a small boat or Kayak at the US coastline to your city.
    .. Alleging “missile delivery” of these weapons has been recognized as a “ruse” by top military planners since the “Cold War” when these Nuclear Landmines were being “seeded” by the U.S. & the Soviet Union.
    ..Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Hiroshima Landmines are inside the U.S. and inside Europe & this truth is impossible to deny, unless you are mentally disabled or a very good liar.

    March 16, 2013 at 12:29 am | Reply
  14. Yury

    It is a scientific (and indisputable) fact that Americans are a bunch of stupid animals easy to manipulate and subdue; these slobs are extremely gullible and incapable to think for themselves – trained not to think. Moreover, these mules are lovers of wealth and pleasure; they are selfish, slothful, indolent and can be inspired to raise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

    March 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • phillyflyers

      Yuri you are truly a sorry human being, but then again calling you human would be a compliment.

      March 16, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Reply
    • phil

      Yuri, you are so stupid.

      March 16, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • 1EYE2OPEN


      March 16, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply
      • phil

        You need a good enema.

        March 16, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • The Cat

      So, Yury, where's the evidence of the ridiculous statement that you made? Let me can't produce any, can you? I'm also going to guess that you're NK; I'm so sorry for you...

      March 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  15. paul

    nukes. 9-11 could have been. 'suitcase nukes were the worry back then. my people say that a deep cover cia/mkultra agent,helped down play the koreans insistance on using a 'suitcase nuke' on the twin towers. suitcase nukes,were the real nucliar deturrent of the 1950s-60s,with the 'big three'[ussr,usa,prc,each having secret nukes,located in the other twos capitals. look at todays 'gamma ray dection efforts. these secret nukes,much more of a threat than n.koreas efforts. china controls n.k.,and the current sabre rettleing aside,the us state dept. must get back on the ball.

    March 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  16. heywood

    Instead of threats, shouldent this little cherubic asian man make another Gangnam Style video to follow up the first?

    March 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  17. Dustin

    I have to admit, reading this makes me believe that another World War may be around the corner. Although North Korea has a strong military, I don't know if any other nation would side with it.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  18. Mike

    Sanctions just do not work. They hurt the ordinary person in the street, but not the NK leadership or their military.
    Ideally, if the U.N. stood for anything, they would have acted with a combined military force a long time ago, both against North Korea and Iran.
    Of course, the two major stumbling blocks have been Russia (Iran) and China (NK). The crime is, the U.N. never called their bluff. This, yet again, leaves the fate of the Free World in the hands of the USA. Good ole USA, yes they will fight our wars for us and keep us safe. And, when all is said and done, and the threats are extinguished, the USA will be a prime scapegoat for peaceniks, the liberal minded, and those too afraid to grow a pair, throughout the Free World.
    There comes a time when the USA has to think about itself and its own people. Why dunk the US into yet another tank of financial depression fighting the Free World's wars for them. It's time the USA took a back seat from their assumed role as World's police officer. All while maintaining the highest state of alert in keeping an extremely watchful eye on NK and Iran. And, if either one so much as blinks, or fuels a rocket, in the general direction of the USA, then that's motive enough to bring down the hammer.
    Let’s face it, if NK threatened Russia or China, it would be game over already!

    March 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  19. Bill

    NK – "We will crack your windpipes!!"
    USA – "We will turn South Korea into an island."
    NK – (pauses, and thinks about it) "Never mind!!"

    March 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  20. BoThome

    Just watched a NK propaganda video on MSN about how North Korea makes the US out to look. We apparently live off of snow, and we are all homeless beggars who have to eat birds out of the trees in order to survive. We are all living in cardboard boxes and suffering through the cold and snow with no jobs, no homes and no way to make it better. Basically, we live like hobos in shanties (think post Katrina) or in subway stations, and all we have to eat is birds and all we have to drink is coffee made out of warmed up snow.

    Ironically, this sounds exactly like what we are told about NK, they have nothing, are starving, and continue to wait for their government to help them out.

    With this level of brainwashing, is it really that far of a stretch to think that they'd be willing to nuke us just because they are that misinformed and don't know any better?

    March 15, 2013 at 11:48 am | Reply
    • Satire

      That video was a complete joke... MSN should be ashamed to have posted satire as news. It's like people getting outraged at the Duffle Blog.

      March 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Reply
    • Sam

      Same propaganda that US uses for some other

      March 15, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  21. Benghazi

    Obama continues to fiddle while this nutcase builds nukes.

    March 15, 2013 at 11:45 am | Reply
    • palintwit

      You're absolutely right. Because Bush and Cheney would have invaded by now.

      March 15, 2013 at 11:53 am | Reply
      • Orwell seen it before

        The sequel to Afghanistan and Iraq. Korean War 2:the last holdout of Al Queda.
        Halliburton makes millions, more secret money stolen.
        Meantime our bridges fail and we can't figure out how to get to the moon again.

        March 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  22. lvsingleton

    Let them attack the south. We have been looking for a reason to test out some more nukes.

    March 15, 2013 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • What

      We can finally test our MIRV.
      Fingers of God.

      March 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  23. Dom

    NK wants the US to invade, kill off the army who are all brainwashed, and then spend billions rebuilding the country before unification with SK. Kim will go into excil in another country and live his life out in just fine.

    The best long term solution for the NK Leaders who inherited this mess and for the NK people is a US invasion.... If the Leaders tried to change the country now the Army would kill them. So trick the US into invading – that is the best solution. Obama isn't bying the BS nor is China. I think NK will have to launch an attack to get invaded – so they might just do it.

    March 15, 2013 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • wilypagan

      That doesn't make sense. Why would the NK military want to trigger an invasion that would result in their obliteration? Seems to me like China is behind this, to make the US spend more money it doesn't have, and to get the US to take its eye off the ball – Taiwan. My thought is that we should bring our ground toops home from So. Korea, give So. Korea the nuke technology they need to have a policy of MAD (mutually assured destruction) with NK and China, then let China spendcits money dealing with it.

      March 15, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply
      • RettasVegas

        Do you not read the news? China is NOT happy about N. Koreas actions, and it is becomming a strain on them.
        They DO NOT have as much influence on them as many would think.
        But if we attack we will draw China in to defend them, and they know that.
        Now let's see just how much BS China will tolerate before it gets pulled into a big mess.

        March 15, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  24. citizenUSA

    All I can think of is... what would Jesus do?

    March 15, 2013 at 10:16 am | Reply
    • Orwell seen it before

      Ask him.
      Call Jesus911 or 911 and ask for Jesus.

      March 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  25. The Man

    do we wait until another 9/11- like attack until we do something about this? another pearl harbor attack? we can't keep hoping for the best until americans are sacrificed

    March 15, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
    • Kris

      I remember how frightened we all were from 9/11,, the media went crazy too and I hate to say it, but this is going to be a part of life and 9/11 is actually a drop in the bucket as to what may happen in the future. We Americans are getting weaker and weaker and cannot deal with adversity. Look at all of the ridiculous hoopla that was spread over the swine flu, and it turned out to really be a non-issue, a bunch of panic over nothing and I got to sick of hearing non-stop talk about it on the radio. I wonder, if our homeland is attacked, are we prepared? The answer is He** No we're not. There are no drills, there are no excercises as to what to do in the case of an attack, people are not storing food, no one has bomb shelters anymore. During WW2 and the Cold War, Americans were more prepared, now it's a joke. People will be panicking and disarray is going to be rampant and out of control. Israel is used to attacks the Israelis are prepared, just like citizens in high-conflict areas. We have been spoiled for a long time, being assurred by our government that we have nothing to worry about. And we have made such big cuts to our military, and with our weak President, I am very concerned that the US and its citizens will not be able to deal with a nuclear attack. No one wants to think this will happen but I think we need to stop kidding ourselves and start preparing for the 'what if' factor. North Korea knows we're spoiled and Americans are not prepared for anything.

      March 15, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply
      • Shierl

        Relax. We have a mutual protection treaty with Israel. If NK (or Iran) nuke us, the Israelis will take care of them – thoroughly.

        March 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
      • thetruth

        i really hope this does not happen but i for some reason i feel like america is coming to a end,we take no action towards a place that is threatening to make "washington a sea of flames" all i can say is make sure you have a way to survive because i have this feeling that things are about to take a turn for the WORST!!!!

        March 15, 2013 at 10:50 am |
      • SusieQ

        I think you have a good point in the fact Americans have been coddled for so long and based on the discussions on here, people are still doubtful that anything is going to happen. Americans in general are stupid and we're getting dumber by the day. Our government has alot to do with the coddling of everyone and reality needs to change. A nuclear attack from North Korea may not be extremely likely but 101 years from now, North Korea's nuke technology will have increased tenfold, while Americans are still being assurred everything will be ok. With our broke government, unequal and inefficient tax system, excess spending, 9 million Americans on disability and growing, there is no way the military will improve; it will only get weaker. I'm at the point where I don't want to bring children into this world as our country is going to hell in a hand basket. Intelligent replies are welcome.

        March 15, 2013 at 11:02 am |
      • Broker


        March 15, 2013 at 11:07 am |
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