Sunday, April 7, 2013

What if North Korea isn't blowing smoke?

During a recent discussion about North Korea, it occurred to me to assess the risk that Kim Jung Un isn't just blowing smoke. How much damage could his forces do? I decided to keep things simple and a make a conservative estimate of the death toll of a North Korean nuclear strike against Seoul.

I used the population density of 16,700 people per square km from here. A conservative estimate of the most recent North Korean nuclear test suggests a 6 kiloton detonation. NUKEMAP suggests that fatalities will be equal to the population within the 4.6 psi* airblast radius and also calculates that radius. That gives us roughly ninety thousand deaths.

* Yes, I know, units. Call it 32 kPa

It's easy to see how a pre-emptive attack against North Korea can be justified. They've got the ability to kill at least ninety thousand people in a single strike. And they're threatening as much. Is there an international equivalent to assault?

And all of this ignores the casualties that would follow and uses the conservative guesses to the power of the weapons North Korea has tested. The higher estimates look more like 40 kilotons, and the corresponding deathtoll is 327 thousand people. It's quite possible that a North Korean nuke strike to wipe out the population equivalent of more than a half a US state.

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