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May 30, 2017

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Technology means N. Korea nuke test would be no secret

WASHINGTON -- North Korea remains largely cut off from the Internet and mobile phone technology that links much of modern society, but any nuclear test would be swiftly revealed by global scientists, experts say.

Thousands of earthquake specialists would be able to measure the seismic waves from any underground blast and alert the world in real-time, a capacity that has grown since the hermit state's last nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Speculation has mounted that North Korea could soon conduct a third nuclear test, after a failed rocket launch last month embarrassed the new regime of leader Kim Jong Un.

"Just within a very few minutes it would be really obvious that they would have done this," said Paul Richards, a leading expert in nuclear weapons seismology and a professor at Columbia University.

"The only delay would be the delay in which seismic waves travel around the world to various stations," he added.

Those waves travel about 5 miles per second, and would be picked up first by the nearest monitoring stations in South Korea and Japan, followed by other worldwide outlets that typically record hundreds of earthquakes each day.

The waves from a nuclear test look different to scientists than the waves from an earthquake, so there is no chance of getting the two confused, Richards said.

A report earlier this year by the U.S. National Research Council, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, described a host of recent improvements to worldwide technology when it comes to detecting and verifying a nuclear test.

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