North Korea’s 2017 nuclear test 17 times powerful than Hiroshima: ISRO study

Digital rendering of the earth observation satellite Sentinel-1. Satellites such as Sentinel-1 and ALOS-2 carry advanced synthetic aperture radars that can provide data to map changing land cover, ground deformation, ice shelves and glaciers. (Photo: ESA / ATG medialab via Royal Astronomical Society)

The 2017 nuclear test by North Korea was 17 times more powerful than the bomb dropped in Hiroshima, a group of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists have said. Over 1 lakh people died in 1945 after USA dropped the bomb in Japan.

A team of researchers led by Dr K M Sreejith of Space Applications Centre, ISRO, revealed that the explosion on September 3, 2017 was powerful enough to shift the surface of Mount Mantap, the test site, above the detonation point by a few metres. The flank of the peak was also moved by up to half a metre.

In a paper in Geophysical Journal International published by Royal Astronomical Society, the researchers said the deformation of the ground detected using satellite data predicted that the explosion created a cavity with a radius of 66 metres and had a yield of between 245 and 271 kilotonnes, compared to 15 kilotonnes of the ‘Little Boy’ bomb used in Hiroshima attack in 1945.

According to the paper, the researchers moved away from conventional methods used to detect the magnitude of the nuclear test. Instead of relying on seismic data, they used satellites to measure the changes on the surface above the test site in North Korea.

Analysing the satellite readings in detail revealed that the explosion took place about 540 metres below the summit, about 2.5 kilometres north of the entrance of the tunnel used to access the test chamber.

In 2003, North Korea had withdrawn from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and has since been developing nuclear weapons. Till date, they have conducted a total with five underground nuclear tests with the latest being a suspected thermonuclear explosion (a hydrogen bomb) on September 3, 2017.

Last year, US President Donald Trump claimed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un committed to him that Pyongyang would refrain from conducting nuclear tests.