When the North Korean leadership made the bombshell announcement that they would cease their nuclear testing programme, it was hailed as an incredible coup for international diplomacy, and the tireless behind the scenes work from representatives from many countries seeking an end to the fractious situation on the Korean peninsula. However, it appears that there may have been another factor in the sudden North Korean volte-face on their once-prized nuclear programme.
Could this be the real reason North Korea stopped its nuclear programme?
According to researchers from the University of Science and Technology in China, the mountain which lies above the primary North Korean nuclear testing site at Punggye-Ri shows serious signs of collapse following test launches in the autumn of last year which could lead to significant radioactive fallout and associated environmental catastrophes in the region.
In a paper which will appear in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers explain that the nuclear test of 3rd September last year caused a cavity and a damaged ‘chimney’ of rocks which could well have become contaminated with radioactive material.
“The onsite collapse calls for continued close monitoring of radioactive materials from the nuclear test site,” the geologists wrote in a study that will appear in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters. “Given the history of the nuclear tests North Korea performed beneath this mountain, a nuclear test of a similar yield would produce collapses in an even larger scale creating an environmental catastrophe,” says the paper.
Scientists from all over the world were aware that something dramatic had happened on the day of the test site as North Korea was suddenly struck by a powerful earthquake measuring in at 6.3 on the Richter scale. Over the next couple of weeks, the country suffered another four earthquakes of lesser magnitude. As the landscape surrounding the testing site had managed to withstand numerous other tests, this indicated to researchers that the region had hit a critical state owing to constant pressure which could have irrevocably damaged the landscape’s ability to withstand explosions on the scale associated with nuclear testing. Further tests in the area could unleash yet more destructive earthquakes and a significant collapse in the rocks around the mountain.
Significant damage has already been done to the area surrounding the mountains, and it is of serious concern that geographical volatility in the region could lead to an outburst of radioactive materials from the test site being scattered. As of yet, no radioactive material has been collected from the test site, but the Chinese scientists have advised constant monitoring to ensure that damage associated with a radioactive fallout does not come to pass.