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  • Position : Executive Secretary
  • Affiliation : Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)
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«Israel and Iran could and should be next to ratify CTBT»

Lassina Zerbo

Lassina Zerbo, Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, in interview with Olga Mostinskaya, Editor-in-Chief of the “Security Index”


- According to the most recent data available, what type of device was tested in the DPRK? Can it be assumed to be a hydrogen bomb, and what would this mean for the development of the North Korean nuclear program?

- As I said at the CTBT and the International Monitoring System, we focus on whether it is a test or not. That is the first thing, because any test intended to improve or develop a nuclear weapon is what we are trying to ban through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Even before the DPRK announced its test, we detected suspicious events in the peninsula at a location that was basically a test site that they use. Then they confirmed that they did something at that particular location that was identified by our system. We came out with a preliminary analysis showing that the event was similar to that of 2013, not only in terms of location, which is the same location as that of the three previous ones, but also in terms of magnitude. The magnitude being similar, or even lower, led to speculations from experts that it is unlikely to be caused by a hydrogen bomb. That is not something that the CTBT focuses on. But any scientist will be aware that there is indeed a big difference between a fission bomb and a fusion bomb in terms of the yield that can be produced, and even in the magnitude that this will generate in terms of earthquakes. So in that sense, we follow what the scientific community says.

But as we stand today, the first conclusion we have come to is that it is indeed a man-made explosion. We have published what we call our Reviewed Event Bulletin to that effect, to say that it is definitely not a natural event, but a man-made explosion. What we are waiting for is any sniff of a radioisotope that could give an indication that it is indeed a nuclear test to our state signatories. Our first samples come to normal concentration, but sampling continues. This is where we stand today.

- So in order to collect air samples, the wind would have to blow in the direction of one of the stations?

- Air currents coming from the peninsula reached the first station in Japan 24 and 36 hours after the test was announced. But the question is if there is venting, and venting could occur after a short time, or it could take longer. In 2013, we did not have venting until 55 days after the event. But if you take 2006, it took 12 days to have a sniff of a radioisotope, not only in Japan, but also 12 days for it to reach Canada. As we stand now, the 36 hours that have passed have given no specific abnormal reading. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have any. It depends, because it has to seep through the cracks of the ground and then come in the air before it can be taken by the wind. Right now, winds are favorable to the direction of Japan, and this is why we are monitoring this particular station closely.

So, regarding your question whether it is a hydrogen bomb and if that means that they have improved their technology: Before we even get to address the nature of the bomb, if we allow somebody to conduct one, two, three, four tests, each test is an improvement on the previous one because they master the technology. And this is what we are focusing on. We have to make sure that there is no possibility to even carry out a test, whether it is an A-bomb, an H-bomb, or any other type of bomb. 

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