N. Korean Nuke Claim Met with Skepticism U.S. officials say they are still evaluating the data after North Korea claimed that it detonated a nuclear device underground. Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz talks with Alex Chadwick about why some officials are skeptical about the nature of the explosion.
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N. Korean Nuke Claim Met with Skepticism

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N. Korean Nuke Claim Met with Skepticism

N. Korean Nuke Claim Met with Skepticism

N. Korean Nuke Claim Met with Skepticism

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U.S. officials say they are still evaluating the data after North Korea claimed that it detonated a nuclear device underground. Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz talks with Alex Chadwick about why some officials are skeptical about the nature of the explosion.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up: why bother listening to this radio program when you could be at YouTube right now? Google's big media bed and the fascination of watching.

CHADWICK: First, the more ominous news of the day: North Korea's nukes. This is still the lead story pretty much everywhere. Reaction to the test explosion on Sunday and the announcement from North Korea that it is now a nuclear power.

Here's America's U.N. ambassador John Bolton speaking earlier today on CBS.

Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (United States Ambassador to the U.N.): I think that North Korea has had a successful history of intimidating other countries. I think they did that leading up to what we call the agreed framework of 1994, but they're not going to be successful with us this time.

CHADWICK: But maybe there's less here than we feared. Many news accounts say the test explosion was much smaller than experts would have expected. And in the Washington Times today, national security correspondent Bill Gertz says it was not a nuclear blast.

Bill Gertz, welcome to DAY TO DAY. If it wasn't a nuke, what was it?

Mr. BILL GERTZ (National Security Correspondent, Washington Times): Well, it was something short of a nuclear yield. What they do when they have a plutonium device - which is what they believe this was - is you take a pit of eight pounds or so of plutonium and wrap it with extremely high explosive conventional explosives. The pressure from that is supposed to detonate the plutonium and create a yield.

It looks right now from the preliminary indications of all the intelligence sensors that it did not achieve a yield, and that all they got were the readings caused by the conventional explosions.

CHADWICK: So when you use this term yield, that means you achieve nuclear status. The thing went off properly and you got a chain reaction, and...

Mr. GERTZ: Yes. Yeah, that's the big blast from a nuclear device, is when this pressure on the plutonium creates a chain reaction which releases this enormous amount of energy and that's what shakes the ground.

And based on the seismic readings, they don't think that they achieved a yield.

CHADWICK: So are your sources saying this may have been a complete fake, or was it a misfire?

Mr. GERTZ: More likely a misfire. There's no question that they tried to produce a nuclear yield, and they're looking at about as many as five different tunnels in this northern part of North Korea where they think nuclear testing could be going on. So it's entirely possible that they will have learned from this failed test and then go ahead and try it again at least, perhaps, as many as five times.

CHADWICK: How widespread are these views, do you know, in the U.S. intelligence community?

Mr. GERTZ: Well, you know, you don't know what you don't know is what they say. But they have very good sensors. They have planes that sniff the air. These tests usually cause some kind of venting so that they would be able to detect that, and I think that's what's going to figure out conclusively whether or not it was a successful test. But the point is, they're trying to do it. So even if they fail one time, it doesn't mean that they won't try it again.

CHADWICK: One other subject, Bill: what are you hearing about this U.S. proposal to search everything going in and out of North Korea? Wouldn't that mean naval ships along the coast interrupting tankers and cargo ships that would be going into North Korea, and is the U.S. prepared to deploy U.S. Navy ships to carry that out?

Mr. GERTZ: Clearly, that's what it sounds like they're going for at the United Nations, what they refer to as an inspection regime that would involve searching and stopping - not just ships, I would presume - but also aircraft going into and out of the country.

If they pass it and the Chinese and the Russians go along - which is still an open question - it could involve naval forces, probably an international force, doing an actual naval blockade.

CHADWICK: Bill Gertz, the very well informed national security reporter for the Washington Times. He's also author of the new book Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets and How We Let It Happen.

Bill Gertz, thank you.

Mr. GERTZ: Thank you.

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