Wednesday morning, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test, creating an artificial earthquake of around 5.1 magnitude. The North Korean government followed this up with a claim that unlike previous atomic tests, this was a proper hydrogen bomb.
Experts were almost immediately expressing doubts about this claim, as a hydrogen bomb test would’ve certainly produced a much larger explosion, and the earthquake detected was roughly in line with the 2013 test of an atomic bomb, later described as around 7 kilotons.
Experts said it was possible that they’d tested some sort of “middle stage” device between an A-bomb and H-bomb, but that without any evidence even that was doubtful. The White House similarly said their early data was not consistent with the claim of a hydrogen bomb.
It’s not unusual, of course, for North Korea to dramatically overstate their military accomplishments, but given that the particles released by the test will be detected, the claim seems to be setting the stage for embarrassment down the line.
Still, sorting the matter out is likely to take some time, and whatever sort of test it was, the fact that North Korea did not notify any country in advance is raising further eyebrows, as their three previous tests had all come with advanced warning.
That lack of warning is likely to fuel even more international fallout, with UN officials calling it “profoundly destabilizing,” and traditional North Korea ally China similarly expressing annoyance at the sudden incident.