H-bomb analysis must focus on HEU question

Headshot of Andrew O'Neil, director Griffith Asia Institute.
Professor Andrew O'Neil says analysis of the North Korea announcement should focus on one key question.

Griffith University researcher Professor Andrew O’Neil says analysis of North Korea’s announcement that it successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test should focus on whether it involved a device using highly enriched uranium.

“The thermonuclear question is a bit of diversion really,” Professor O’Neil, Head of Griffith’s School of Government and International Relations, said.

“Meaningful speculation should centre around whether North Korea has managed to weaponise an HEU device.

“Experts remain split on whether the 2013 test was HEU or Plutonium.”

Plutonium was the source for tests carried out by North Korean in 2006 and 2009, while its state media announced an underground nuclear test had been conducted in February 2013.

“Pyongyang’s claim it’s a thermonuclear device should be treated with caution,” Professor O’Neil said.

“The magnitude at the test site appears similar to the 2013 test, which was around 10kt (kiloton).”

Professor O’Neil is an academic expert on extended nuclear deterrence relationships and is the author and co-author of a number of books on this subject.

Among these are Australia’s Nuclear Policy: Reconciling Strategic, Economic and Normative Interest, Asia, the United States (2015), and Extended Deterrence: Atomic Umbrellas in the 21stCentury (2013), and Nuclear Proliferation in Northeast Asia: The Quest for Security (2007).

“If it emerges HEU fuelled the latest test, and it’s a much bigger shot than 2013, we should be very worried because this is essentially confirmation North Korea has a dual fissile material program,” he said.

“This means more bombs for the future stockpile, and more options for exporting to customers willing to pay.”