back to article Nature pulls ‘North Korean radioactivity’ story

Prestigious science journal Nature has had to scramble to kill a story that it says turned out to be mistaken. The piece – posted as “news” rather than peer-reviewed science – made the claim that measurements of Xenon-133 provided further evidence, if that was needed, that North Korea had indeed detonated a nuclear device as …

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Re: We played this wrong.

Surely the correct response would be to say our nuclear explosion detectors said that there was no explosion. Nothing to see here, no problem.

As for the Iraq thing, you do realise that Iraq did have WMDs. It's not as if they had any great intelligence of what Iraq had, they simply took the figures from the UN inspectors in the 1990s (mostly of what they'd bought or produced), subtracted what the inspectors had found and destroyed and took the remainder to be the current stockpile.

Despite the crap about 45 minutes, if you read the original dossier from the UK government, that's pretty much all it said. I read a history of the early Cold War just after reading it, and it was amazing just how little intel they had on Soviet Union with which to form policy. And clear from that, just how little they seemed to have on Iraq too. The book was by Peter Hennessy called 'The Secret State' - which I highly recommend. It was quite an eye-opener on the early Cold War stuff - and I'm even more amazed that we didn't have an accidental nuclear war, given the confusion.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We played this wrong.

You f**ked that up when you said 'We (the civilised world) ... which world would that be then? Surely not American with it's lunatic religious nuts ... nothing civilised about believing in ghosts and shit.

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Re: We played this wrong. (@AC 11:44)

Be careful where you're lobbing stones. At least the USA-ians don't tend toward the belief of fairies in the garden. You have your nutters, we have ours.

Although to be fair, your fairies aren't telling people to go bomb 3rd world countries.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We played this wrong.

"I read a history of the early Cold War just after reading it, and it was amazing just how little intel they had on Soviet Union with which to form policy."

Wrong way around - the policy was decided on and the intel made to fit. My personal highlight was the CIA showing Kennedy multiple shots of the same ICBM silo in the USSR taken at different angles and seasons to make him believe that they were a credible threat when in fact, as far as anyone could tell, that was the only operational silo they actually had at the time.

The pentagon staff didn't get the salaries they have today by waiting around for actual threats to show up (although they are welcome when they do, of course).

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Re: We played this wrong.

"As for the Iraq thing, you do realise that Iraq did have WMDs"

Maybe they'd actually used up the ones 'we' sold them while arming both sides in the Iran-Iraq war?

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Re: We played this wrong.

Wrong way around - the policy was decided on and the intel made to fit.

Robert,

I assumed when I read that sentence, you were going to talk about Iraq. Because it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that Iraq could have destroyed its remaining WMD stockpiles, or that maybe the UN inspectors had over-estimated how much they'd made before the 90s. Although the latter seems unlikely as they had purchase and manufacturing data.

I wasn't aware of that story about the Soviet ICBMs. However, the CIA's threat estimates were surely correct. Given that the USSR had a massive nuclear force. They may have got the timing slightly wrong in the deployment of a new ICBM, but it's not as if the Soviets didn't then go on to build lots of them.

Also it was the CIA (and MI6) that got the data to Kennedy that the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces weren't ready for war - during the Cuban missile crisis. That was intel from Oleg Penkovsky. Given the danger involved, what's scary is how little political intelligence both sides had. In the case of the West we were finding things out about the military all the time, but the Soviet political system was opaque. Unless something comes out that's still secret, our highest sources appear to have been KGB or military and not political. Weirdly most of the information the Soviets needed was totally open to them, but the KGB don't seem to have been passing that on to their political masters - either due to groupthink, self-interest, stupidity or something else.

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Re: We played this wrong.

Maybe they'd actually used up the ones 'we' sold them while arming both sides in the Iran-Iraq war?

Steen Hive,

Ah yes, the old bollocks. Don't bother finding out the facts, it's all the West's fault...

Not that we're totally blameless, and certainly having screwed up in Iran it looks like an equally bad decision was made to try and contain Iran by supporting Iraq. But for some factual background:

Iraq used Russian rifles and pistols. Iraq had Russian artillery and rocket launchers. Iraq used Russian SAMs and anti-aircraft guns. They used Russian radars, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and other military vehicles. Iraq had FROG and SCUD missiles (shall I tell you where they bought them? Yup, Russia.). They then had some upgraded SCUDs with the range to hit Israel (which they built/modified themselves). Now when it came to the air-force they had MiG and Sukhoi aircraft, and Russian helicopters, but yep, they did have some nice French Mirages as well. And it was Chirac that sold them the nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in the 80s. Co-incidentally it was France and Russia that vetoed most attempts to tighten sanctions throughout the 90s (and of course war in 2003) and that French and Russian officials (amongst others) were taking bribes in the form of UN oil export credits.

I believe that German companies sold Iraq a bunch of machine tools and chemicals plant. Which were used in the process of making chemical weapons. But that stuff could have been, and was, used in the Iraqi civilian economy for things like making fertilizer. No-one (not even the Russians) sold the Iraqis their chemical weapons, they built them themselves. Even after whatever happened to their remaining stockpiles in the late 90s had happened, Iraq still had the know-how to rebuild their chemical arsenal. As for the biological stuff, I don't think they ever managed to weaponise that successfully.

So nope, the US didn't arm Iraq in the 1980s, although they also didn't stop them arming. The Kuwaitis in particular (along with the other Gulf states) did loan them loads of cash to buy Russian weapons - I guess Kuwait didn't fancy having Iran as a neighbour. The French sold them multiple billions worth of kit (mostly aeroplanes), but the Russians were their main weapons supplier. I know we in the UK sold them some stuff, not sure if it was dual-use or actual military stuff, but I think they had a couple of British patrol boats. The Americans didn't supply much stuff at all. Also Iraq bought some of its kit via Syria and Jordan, to confuse the issue further.

However, no-one sold Iraq any chemical weapons. They built those themselves. I've still not seen anything to say what happened to the stuff the UN inspectors didn't destroy in the 90s. It would seem that there was some stuff found dangerously corroded that were leftovers from the Iran-Iraq or 1991 wars. And Iraq declared some sites when it signed up to the convention on chemical weapons, but they got bombed and were too dangerous to inspect, let alone clean up. I wonder if we'll find out when the Syrian regime collapses? Did Saddam destroy them, given them away, or did the UN Inspectors over-estimate the stockpiles?

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Re: We played this wrong.

Total comprehension fail. Where did I mention "the West" or "the US"? "We" was in quotes, see?

That said we know the US sold arms to Iran and issued 771 dual-use technology export licenses, and that the UK & Germany sold pralidoxine and VX precursors to Iraq, as well as biological agents, up to 1992.

Furthermore, the UN didn't over-estimate anything leading up to the 2003 invasion They estimated zero.

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Streisand effect?

What has this story got to do with staring at the back of a spoon and noticing that you look like Barbara Streisand?

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Holmes

How did they measure the <sup>133</sup>Xe?

Presumably the North Koreans didn't release the map of 133Xe concentrations? Unless some North Korean leaked the data, this report doesn't ring true. Since 133Xe emits β- , which will be rapidly attenuated in the atmosphere, satellite observation doesn't seem promising*. I guess that North Korea takes steps to ensure that other nations can't fly over North Korea to take atmospheric samples?

*unless North Korea is so dark at night, that a satellite can measure atmospheric Cherenkov radiation.

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Re: How did they measure the 133Xe?

There's a description of the SAUNA equipment developed for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty here. This looks to be beyond the capacity of most casual observers.

http://144.206.159.178/ft/787/183944/4699966.pdf

The technology is remarkable: initial capture using activated charcoal, concentration and separation using gas chromatography and a molecular sieve, then analysis with a carefully shielded dual scintillation beta gamma coincidence detector..

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Joke

Re: How did they measure the 133Xe?

Yeah but the coincidence detector goes haywire every time the Heart of Gold flies past.

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Mushroom

The simple answer is

NK set off 7.5 million buried tons of TNT and *claimed* it was a nuke.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/hlmencke129796.html

Or Duke Nukem has struck again.

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Re: The simple answer is

Presumably you'd use a fuel-air explosive mixture in a sealed tunnel. As opposed to a nuke in a sealed tunnel.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The simple answer is

Lots of mining explosive would do the job. Basically oil and an oxidising agent. Getting 10kt yield out of a fuel air mixture would require a very, very big cavern, about 1/50 of a cubic kilometre. The requirements for mining explosive are much more modest.

Perhaps that's why the North Koreans train all those people in mass gymnastics; the North Korean Bomb will weigh about 10 kilotonnes and have to be lugged down South on a huge trailer pulled by the entire population, possibly shaped like a very large horse. They're working on the basis that the border guards won't suspect several million people pulling a big cart all the way to the centre of Seoul, before they all run off in various directions.

As a plot it sucks, but then the North Korean government is delusional.

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I'd annoy NK a bit more

I'd insult the NK's a bit more, get them to use up ALL their stockpile of weapons grade fissile material in ever bigger underground tests. That would leave them with nothing to threaten anyone with.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'd annoy NK a bit more

Isn't NK China's Israel? When China wants to annoy the West, don't they call Pyongyang with instructions? And when China condemns NK, they are no more serious than we are when we criticize Israel.

Living next door to China, NK can get all the fizzy stuff they need.

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Anonymous Coward

In short..

.. no glowing reviews for "Nature" this month.

There, I said it.

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radionuclides

CTBTO detected radionuclides after the 2006 test, but not after the 2009 test, and lots of folks think the 2009 test was faked. There is not yet a report of radionuclide detection for the 2013 test, but we need to wait a few more days at least before we get a definite statement from CTBTO. My guess is this one was also a fake.

They were observed to have dug two tunnels. My guess is that one has a real A-bomb, while the other was filled with conventional explosive. The real test failed and they then blew the conventional bomb as a cover-up. This was not to fool the world, but rather to fool the upper echelon of NK, to avoid being executed for failure. It is not possible to fake the radionuclide signature, which is not just Xenon 133. It is, however, just possible that an underground test completely seals all of the cracks and that there is therefore no radionuclide signature at all.

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Mushroom

Oh Happy Day ... the World MafiaPoliceMan just took a Nuke to the knee

.. further cramping that PeeNACker ideological swagger to more of an arthritic hop ";0))

Cue much deflationary baaawwing from the Blowhard Bryant-class WMBs [White Man's Burdenites].

Congratulations to DPRK on fielding the only 'legal argument' today's cloth-eared NATO warcrims care to comprehend -- a verified readiness to pack their already prolapsing jacksies with a fissile punch at the first sign of trying on any business-as-usual aggression.

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