Could a North Korean ICBM Impact Frostburg?

Relations between the United States and North Korea have hit a staggeringly new low this summer, with no signs leading towards improvement. Since the two haven’t exactly been “friendly” for some time, the increasingly downward trend in progressive diplomacy between the two countries is slightly disconcerting, if not alarming.

Since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, talks of peaceful negotiations have dwindled and threats of violence have come from each of the world leaders, both President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. These offhand threats stem from North Korea’s steady ambition to build a credible nuclear arsenal. In the past, the United Nations has attempted to resolve the nuclear problem in Pyongyang by striking disarmament deals and offering economic incentives, but to this point, diplomatic strategies have not appeased Kim Jong-un, who continues to strengthen North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

To date, North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests. The earliest of these tests occurred in Oct. 2006 and the latest was detonated just this month, Sept. 2017. The North Korean administration claims the Sept. 2017 blast was that of a hydrogen bomb, which involves the process of nuclear fusion – the combining of atoms – making the blast much more powerful. In contrast, atomic bombs, like those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, use nuclear fission, which splits the atoms. Another notable aspect of the latest nuclear test is that the warhead can be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Without the capability to fit a nuclear warhead onto an ICBM, North Korea would have no way to launch their warhead across continents.

The latest achievement coming from Pyongyang’s nuclear exploits features the Hwasong-14. The Hwasong-14 is Kim Jong-un’s best ICBM, with the capability to carry a nuclear warhead a distance of 10,400 kilometers. Assuming this number is accurate, North Korea could potentially launch a missile to the western half of the United States – possibly even to Chicago. Given Kim Jong-un’s rapid advancement of his nuclear arsenal, a future missile that could reach the U.S. East Coast is not impossible.

So, merely for analytical purposes, say North Korea develops a missile that can launch a warhead to the East Coast. What areas would be reached by the blast and could it affect Frostburg? Using NUKEMAP, a nuclear blast simulator created by Alex Wellerstein of the Stevens Institute of Technology, I tested nuclear detonations in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md., and Pittsburgh, Pa. In accordance with North Korea’s largest and most recent bomb test, I used a blast yield of 100 kilotons, which is 5 times the yield of “Fat Man,” the bomb dropped on Nagasaki to end World War II.

My findings, while devastating to each of the aforementioned cities, concluded that Frostburg would not be affected at all by the blast itself, and only minimally by radiation fallout- only with a very precise wind pattern that blows the radiation to Western Maryland.

In short, a North Korean nuclear attack is very unlikely to occur. Experts on North Korean relations state Kim Jong-un’s comments of nuclear war are deterrent in purpose, and that Pyongyang would only attack in retaliation, if the U.S. struck first. Therefore, in the current state of international relations, a nuclear option should remain off the table for the United States, and subsequently, North Korea.

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