North Korea recently conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test, raising fears that Pyongyang is getting close to constructing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the United States.
The underground blast was by far the hermit kingdom’s most powerful ever, causing tremors that were felt in South Korea and China as well. However, according to a Chinese scientist, due to repeated seismic shocks from the blasts, the country’s mountainous nuclear test site may be at risk of collapsing.
Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei believe North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear bomb tests under the same mountain at the Punggye-ri test site. They fear any more tests will force the site to simply implode.
In case of a collapse, it is believed the mountain may leak radiation across the region.
Geophysicist Wen Lianxing said the margin of error was no more than 100 meters as the data was collected by more than 100 earthquake monitoring centers in the county.
Wang Naiyan, the former chairman of the China Nuclear Society and senior researcher on China's nuclear weapons program, said if the findings were reliable, there was a risk of a major environmental disaster.
Wang further added not every mountain is suitable for nuclear bomb testing. It is important that the mountain has a high peak and relatively flat slopes.
The researcher also said the damage caused by the bombs can also depend on the way the bombs have been placed. If they are placed vertically, they are said to cause less damage. However, vertical tunnels are expensive to build.
“If the bombs were planted at the bottom of vertically drilled tunnels, the explosion would do less damage. A 100 kiloton bomb is a relatively large bomb. The North Korean government should stop the tests as they pose a huge threat not only to North Korea but to other countries, especially China,” he said.
However, Wang said seismic data varies depending on the nature of rocks. Therefore, it is not possible to make precise predictions.
The most recent nuclear bomb test by North Korea had an explosive yield of 50 to 120 kilotons. In contrast, the nuclear bomb dropped at Hiroshima in 1945 created a yield of 15 kilotons — the bomb instantly killed 80,000 people.
Scientists in Norway also analyzed the amount of energy released from the recent test and said it was 10 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.