The Blast!

July 14, 2017

Upcoming Events at the Museum

 

For information on events, education, museum tours, intern and docent programs, call 702.439.8438 or email jordan.mcgee@natm-nv.org.

Recent Lecture: “Nuking Asteroids”

On Friday, June 30, the museum hosted it’s third lecture for international Asteroid Day, featuring scientist and television personality Ben McGee.  Ben’s lecture, “Nuking Asteroids,” was to a packed house, and we want to offer our thanks to all of you who attended this year’s Asteroid Day event.

Ben’s lecture gave the audience a great overview of what an asteroid is, how the impact craters they make compare to the craters made by nuclear bomb tests on the Site, and whether a WMD could be used to neutralize an asteroid threatening Earth. (Spoiler alert: it depends on the size of the asteroid! If it’s as big as the one in the movie “Armageddon,” our largest nuclear weapon would leave but a tiny crater on its surface.)

However, Ben did propose that nuclear rocket technology developed on the Site as part of the NERVA program might be able to steer an asteroid away from our planet, should we be able to land one of those rockets on the asteroid (which Ben thought we could make happen).

Before his lecture began, Ben participated in the museum’s first Facebook Live broadcast, where he answered questions about his talk from remote viewers, giving thousands of people the opportunity to interact with our speaker without having to be at the museum.  We hope to do more of these broadcasts in the future for all of you who live outside of Las Vegas.  If you haven’t already, please “like” our Facebook page here.

Part of Ben’s lecture was also covered this week by Las Vegas’ Channel 8 for a story on the threat asteroids might post to Earth–scroll down to our In the News section for the link to George Knapp’s story!

Our next Distinguished Lecture will be on Friday, Sept. 8, with Dr. Michael Voegele on “The History of Yucca Mountain.”  See the flyer above for all the details.

 

NATM Partners with Kidscademics for Nuclear Energy and Tech Workshop

We are thrilled to partner on an upcoming education outreach program with Kidscademics, a non-profit STEM educator dedicated to teaching kids through innovative programming designed to entertain and captivate young minds.

We will be hosting a four-session workshop in September focused on radiation and nuclear energy, where students will tour the museum, learn the basics of radiation, and then work together to build tech projects such as websites and apps related to the topic.  The sessions will take place on September 9, 16, 23, and 30 (all Saturdays) from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the museum and are geared for students ages 9 and older.  Each session will be hands-on, encourage creativity and teamwork, and will culminate in students presenting their projects in the final session.  Museum docents will join us for these session to help guide participants and answer their questions as they innovate their tech projects.  Kidscademics is offering this workshop for $125 if you register before August 15; registration is available here.

Pima Medical Institute Visits NATM

Two groups of students from Pima Medical Institute visited the museum in June as part of their Nevada History class.  Pima Medical Institute is just down the street from the museum, and their students frequently visit–they are always great groups and we are happy to have them!

We book student groups year-round for a rate of $6 per person, and are already booking up field trips for the 2017-2018 school year.  To schedule your tour, please email jordan.mcgee@natm-nv.org.

 

NATM License Plates Available Now

Atomic Testing Museum charitable license plates are available through the Nevada DMV, and you don’t have to wait until your current plate expires to get one! Just take your current registration and license plates to your nearest DMV and ask for the Atomic Testing Museum license plate. There will be a one-time fee of $62, and a one-time admin fee of $6. Atomic Testing Museum license plates can also be personalized for an additional cost.

The museum receives $25 for each new license plate, and $20 for each year you renew, and you get the tax deduction. It’s an easy (and stylish!) way to support the museum. For more information, visit the Nevada DMV website here.

Museum Store Product Highlight:
Area 51 Caps

The Museum Store has a great selection of baseball caps to keep the sun out of your eyes during long summer days.  These Area 51-themed caps, however, will not block your view of the sky if you’re looking for unusual aircraft that might be flying overhead.

All three are available in person in the store, and they are also available at our online store here, here and here; they retail for $12 each.  Your purchases in our store go directly to supporting the museum’s programs and mission–we appreciate your support!

In the News

To help keep you up to date on local and global current events in the nuclear world, we share links to relevant items in the news.  The National Atomic Testing Museum does not endorse any views or opinions expressed in these stories; we are sharing for informational purposes only.

Las Vegas’ Channel 8 interviewed our distinguished lecturer Ben McGee before his lecture on June 30 for a story on the threat asteroids might pose to the Earth; you can watch the whole story here.

Time writes about the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons approved by 122 countries; the meeting was boycotted by all nuclear-armed nations.  Read the full story here.

It is our mission at the National Atomic Testing Museum to document the history of and current events in nuclear testing. We never take a political stance on any issue; rather, we do strive to keep you informed.  In each newsletter, my Spot On column will highlight history and happenings in the nuclear world and at the museum. 

Michael Hall

North Korea Update 13:
Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month

North Korea has, once again, made the headlines with a missile launch that the U.S. agrees has the hallmarks of a true intercontinental ballistic missile test. This is a significant red line that few thought would be crossed so soon. There are many recent developments in North Korea, but little substantive news is being reported by the mainstream press. For example, only minor attention has been paid to the date of June 25, which marked the 65th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. That date also marks the annual DPRK “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month.” On June 29 of this year more than 100,000 North Korean citizens gathered in the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang to show support for their country. The patriotism and nostalgia over the Korean War is displayed in almost every aspect of life and especially in Korean art. That is nothing new. Patriotic fever and state-directed propaganda continue to aim attention on America and its allies as an ever-eager aggressor. The unsettling variable, however, is the North Korean rationale that it has the sovereign right to arm itself with nuclear weapons to create a deterrence against that perceived aggression.

The recently released 30 Won DPRK stamp depicting North Korean missiles crashing into the U.S. Capital is an extreme yet disturbing example of this growing rhetoric. Kim Jong Un did state at the beginning of this year that his goal was to build an ICBM capable of reaching America. However, truly sorting out what is propaganda from what is strategy is very difficult. Of course, what it really all boils down to is what is going on in the mind of Kim Jong Un. The young leader has a seemingly monolithic control over all levels of North Korean policy. He is always personally engaged in every decision-large or small. Unfortunately, we may never be able to decode his thinking. So, are there any hard facts and figures that we can analyze?

A look at the ongoing North Korean military buildup gives a good indication of a possible direction, and the facts are sobering. Of course, everyone is concerned about Kim’s nuclear weapons. Those feared devices have everyone’s attention, although, before looking at their growing nuclear activity, a note bears mentioning about the North Korean conventional forces.

They, in fact, have a formidable army. Called the Korean People’s Army Ground Force or KPAGF, it numbers 950,000 ground troops. They also claim to have 4,500,000 reserve status soldiers. Estimated at 5,450,000 total military personnel fit for service, this rivals the total number of active U.S. military personnel of 1,281,000 for all the services combined. U.S. reserves and national guard number 801,000. Currently the U.S. has approximately 28,500 military personnel stationed in South Korea with about 150,000 associated American civilians who are either military family members or contractors. Most of those forces make up the Eighth United States Field Army, or EUSA, based in the Yongsan District of Seoul, South Korea.

Numbers alone do not necessarily mean that much. However, the Korean Army is very often taken too lightly. Their weapons may not be as sophisticated as those of U.S. forces, yet, KPAGF fighting spirit and inclination to follow orders may be very high, if not fanatical. North Korean conventional weapons are thought adequate for defensive warfare. This includes 5,000 tanks, which range from very modern armor all the way to World War II-era Russian T-34 tanks that are still in service in North Korea. Most significant, the KPAGF field 9,000 varied pieces of artillery and rockets with a large number of decoy artillery sites, as well. Again, their arms lack the high-tech quality of modern U.S. Army hardware, but they are believed to be well-maintained and well-suited to their entrenched defensive positions.

Surprisingly, almost half of the North Korean Army is composed of women. Despite being outfitted with mini-skirt parade uniforms designed by Kim Jong Un, these women soldiers are not to be underrated. Many of the women serve in the hundreds of frontline artillery units, but are also increasingly used in other frontline combat units. Army training is intense and is infused with an indoctrination to cast America and its allies as dangerous aggressors.

The North Korean air and naval forces are in no way comparable to those of the U.S. and its allies; however, they are making significant progress in submarine-launched ballistic missile technology. Another often overlooked factor is the rugged and mountainous terrain of much of that region and how easy it is for the North Korean forces to use geography to their advantage. The sheer numbers alone of the North Korean forces make the prospect of fighting any large-scale ground war again in Korea unthinkable to western policy makers. The precedent China set when it sent troops to assist North Korea in the last war makes the idea of a ground war even more unattractive. Most strategists agree that war in Korea would be far more challenging than anything we have faced in the Middle East.

The big question now on everyone’s mind is what does North Korea’s nuclear program look like? Some we know, and a lot we simply do not know. It is not an easy subject to study in any detail. However, here is some of what we do know.

The South Korean Ministry of Defense has identified approximately 100 North Korean nuclear-related sites. They believe their nuclear program may utilize 9,000 to 15,000 personnel who are directly involved in the research, development, and testing of nuclear weapons. That number is not too far from the total who worked at the Nevada Test Site years ago, although overall it is much smaller than even our World War II-era Manhattan Project. In this country, the Atomic Energy Commission made great use of civilian contracting firms. That type of system does not exist in North Korea, and their technical people, who include scientists and engineers, may not all be Korean.  There is a great deal we do not know concerning how much outside assistance North Korea is getting or has benefited from in the past.

It is believed much of North Korea’s nuclear weapons infrastructure is at a site called the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Center 85 kilometers north of Pyongyang. The activities taking place there likely involve fission and fusion research, radioactive isotope processing, neutron physics, nuclear electronics research, reactor design research, radiation shielding research, and nuclear materials research development and processing. Key research centers may also be located near Hamhung, Pyongsong, and Pyongyang itself. The Soviet-era manufactured cyclotron is in Pyongyang.

Experts believe North Korea could have 26 million tons of natural uranium deposits. Ten locations have been identified with uranium ore mining and three more with milling. The key figure that intelligence officials would like to know is how much fissile material and weapons inventory they actually have. The best guess is 33 kilograms of plutonium and 175 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium. That assumption and very rough estimate is based on only one centrifuge facility. More may exist. The annual report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute or SIPR, released this June, states that North Korea likely has at least 20 nuclear warheads.

Other conservative estimates describe a nuclear arsenal of about six to nine plutonium bombs and 13 to 18 uranium bombs of unknown yield or physical size. Physical size is important because only a miniaturized standardized weapon could be launched on a missile, yet that is probably exactly what the five previous nuclear tests and many missile launches were striving to develop.

As far as where their nuclear weapons may be stored-there seems to be a total lack of any intelligence. That is a big problem when talking about a preemptive strike against Kim Jong Un. North Korean experts will defy the military opinion and objectively state that there is simply no way to easily take out his nuclear or chemical weapons in a first strike. In fact, many analysts say it could take weeks to give a knockout blow to North Korea in which time they would have many opportunities to use weapons of mass destruction. And even senior military analysts point out that if you knock out all their weapon positions you would still be faced with almost five million armed combatants that may simply refuse to give up and proceed to dig in. History has taught us that despite the most brilliant initial strategies and technology, wars eventually come down to foot soldiers fighting foot soldiers. It would take a huge resolve to fight that type of continued resistance.

So, we not only do not have a clear way to start a conflict but no clear place to end one, either. If the West has any doubts about the commitment that the average North Korean has in defending his land in a war, Korean art, although very propagandistic, does show the intensity inherent in its people that have been molded from intense indoctrination since childhood.

Ironically, the most vulnerable target is the isolated mountainous Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility. It, however, is not much of a military target because they have excavated enough tunnels that they could conduct a sixth, seventh or more tests with almost no warning. They also have numerous other sites around the country where existing mines could facilitate a nuclear test with little or no warning.

The whole image of Kim Jong Un and his peculiar nation could be described as comical if the situation was not so serious for the people of the Koreas and the world. As President Trump heads to the G-20 summit in Germany, China and Russia have joined together and called for the United States and South Korea to cease joint military exercises as a compromise to Kim Jong Un curbing his nuclear weapon developments. This seems to be a non-starter because new joint U.S. and South Korean missiles exercises have begun. Kim Jong Un has also just announced his nuclear program will not be subject to negotiations. North Korea is becoming a big story-quickly.

As a side note, we have a nice display within the museum that allows smartphone users to scan a QR code (something like a barcode that can be scanned with a phone app) that links them directly to all of our North Korea updates, so visitors can instantly access our history of articles on this topic and read them at their leisure.

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You may also purchase a gift membership from the Museum Store and have it sent with a recent copy of The Blast, the museum’s newsletter.  For more information regarding museum memberships, please visit our FAQ page here.

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