Is North Korea's Nuke-Testing Mountain at Risk of Collapse?

Photo credit: Google EarthPhoto credit: Google Earth
Photo credit: Google Earth

From Popular Mechanics

Since 2006, North Korea has successfully complete six nuclear tests in its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility buried deep inside the 7,200-foot Mount Mantap. With each blast comes a siesmic shake so strong that it registers as an earthquake, and these terrible tremors are what let us figure out exactly how big the blasts might be. But after so many blasts, might a mountain start to sag? The answer is yes.

Mount Mantap is starting to exhibit “tired mountain syndrome,” according to the Washington Post, which spoke to analysts on the subject. This specific term used to indicate the changes repeated underground explosions can have on a mountain was first used during the Cold War, when it was applied to sites in Russia. A 2001 paper from the United States Geological Survey describes it as follows:

The underground detonation of nuclear explosions considerably alters the properties of the rock mass. Fracturing and rock breakage are extensive and markedly increased, and permeability is appreciably increased both in the rock mass itself and along isolated tectonic faults. …These changes in properties of rocks and rock masses in the vicinity of previously conducted underground explosions impose certain requirements on selection of a location for conducting underground tests. The location of a new test must be chosen such that zones of increased fracturing of the rock mass from previously conducted explosions do not intersect with the planned explosion.

Evidence of Mount Mantap’s tiredness is becoming clear in various ways. Satellite imagery has shown how the force of the blasts actually moves the entire mountain, and certain seismic detections-which occur after, and on a smaller scale than the blast themselves-seem to indicate tunnel collapses.

But while Mantap may be tiring, North Korea has plenty of progress to show for it. All evidence suggests that the biggest challenge facing the nation now is not developing the bombs, but making them smaller and perfecting the missiles designed to deliver them. Hopefully that progress will never be put to any use besides deterrence.

Source: Washington Post

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