Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry

, Volume 298, Issue 3, pp 2075–2083 | Cite as

Reinforced evidence of a low-yield nuclear test in North Korea on 11 May 2010

  • Lars-Erik De GeerEmail author


In May 2010 unique aerosol-bound and noble gas (xenon) radionuclide signatures were observed at four East Asian surveillance stations designed to detect evidence of nuclear testing. An article published in early 2012 provided an analysis that suggested the findings were due to a low-yield underground nuclear test in North Korea on 11 May 2010. As the aerosol and noble gas datings, however, only agreed on the fringes of their uncertainties an official North Korean telegram that on 12 May 2010 reported about a nuclear fusion experiment 1 month earlier inspired a solution. Assuming that included a low-yield nuclear explosion and that it had left xenon isotopes in the same cavity, the xenon dating could be “moved” to overlap with the aerosol dating. The article stirred a serious controversy where representatives of the U.S. government and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) refused to comment on it. In this paper the xenon dating agrees with the aerosol one without resorting to a previous explosion. It shows instead that fractionation during lava cooling is the explanation and how that plays a paramount role in how xenon signatures from underground nuclear explosions should be interpreted. It also presents new observations that effectively imply that no nuclear reactor or any other nuclear installation could have caused the May 2010 signals. All in all these are the most interesting and rich ones ever encountered by the Organization and they truly demonstrate that the verification system can deliver much better sensitivity than it was originally designed for.


CTBT North Korea Underground nuclear testing Xenon leaks 

Supplementary material

10967_2013_2678_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (128 kb)
ESM-1: For convenience this file essentially reproduces Table 1 and Fig. 2 in Ref. 1, De Geer, L.-E. Radionuclide Evidence for Low-Yield Nuclear Testing in North Korea in April/May 2010. Science & Global Security 20, 1–29 (2012). The 137Cs data was, however, moved from the text to the Table and the 141Ce data is new as reported in the present article. (PDF 128 kb)
10967_2013_2678_MOESM2_ESM.nb (678 kb)
ESM-2: This Mathematica program, Xebate, is a general purpose routine for handling detailed Bateman expansions of the fission product decay chains (A = 131, 133, 135, 137, 140 and 141) that involve xenon isotopes and metastable states that are of interest for analysing nuclear explosion debris collected by verification systems of the types run by the CTBTO. In addition to undisturbed decay, it also contains code to simulate different degrees of iodine precursor trapping. To check the code the supplied version controls that the number of atoms in each chain stays constant with time (except for the small effects of some very short-lived delayed neutron decays). It then calculates the pre-release transport time and calculates and plots the basis for Fig. 4. Finally a sensitivity-check for Fig. 4 is done by using six different fission yield compilations. (NB 679 kb)
10967_2013_2678_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (96 kb)
ESM-3: Here the soundness of using the 140Ba to 140La decay for dating within the first week is demonstrated. (PDF 96 kb)
10967_2013_2678_MOESM4_ESM.xls (601 kb)
ESM-4: It is important for the current analysis that the gamma peak integrations are very carefully done. Ref. 1 used the results reported by the IDC, but now also the well-known software UniSampo was tested. As some discrepancies were detected a manual integration was used in Excel such that full control could be exercised. This file shows all these results. The file encompasses five sheets, the 487 keV 140La peak data for 13 days during and around the positive detections, the same for the 537 keV 140Ba peak, the 487 keV 140La peak data for four 15 May spectra, the same for the 537 keV 140Ba peak and finally a summary of all analyses. In the summary corrections are made for small radon daughter contributions to the 487 keV peak and for the impact of cosmic radiation on the 537 keV peak. (XLS 601 kb)
10967_2013_2678_MOESM5_ESM.nb (131 kb)
ESM-5: This Mathematica program is used to calculate the maximum likelihood explosion time (in days) before the start of acquisition of the first sample. It also gives the probability density distribution around this maximum. The 84-point case is active, but the 14-point data is also given for anyone who wants to check that. The results are given in Fig. 3. (NB 131 kb)


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Upplands VäsbySweden

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