South Korea was shocked, both literally and figuratively, when a record-breaking earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 hit Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province on September 12, only three days after the North’s fifth nuclear test. It was one of the strongest earthquakes South Korea has experienced since 1978.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, rumors quickly spread on South Korean social media, with some people suggesting a connection between the North Korean government’s test and the earthquake in the South.
Many brushed off this claim as nothing but a silly theory. But it wasn’t long before Jung Woo-taek, a lawmaker from the ruling Saenuri Party, took the idea seriously.
“I was so surprised of the aftershock, something that I have never experienced before,” Jung wrote on his official Facebook account, adding “it makes me question if this could be the aftermath of the North’s nuclear test on September 9.”
“Wouldn’t the earthquake be the sky’s will asking Kim Jong Un to drop his practices that angers the sky, and choose the path of mutual prosperity that the people of both the South and the North can live in happiness?”
The lawmaker’s statement was ridiculed by most of the South Korean media including The Hankyoreh and The Herald Business, but some media like Dong-A Ilbo quickly jumped on on the media-hype train and reported the “possibility” of the North’s test triggering of the South’s worst earthquakes in recent history.
MY LORD, PLEASE SPEAK IN SCIENCE
It is not the first time in Korean history that a quake has been “interpreted” as being linked to politics.
More than 500 years ago, according to the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the King Sejong the Great expressed his worry that frequent earthquakes in three Korean provinces might be an omen of impending invasions by Japanese raiders, one of the most feared events of that period.
But the king’s concerns were soon refuted by his advisor Kwon Chae, who urged him not to make connections between disasters and current affairs, slamming the king’s statement as an “unreasonable claim.”
South Korean geologists, responding to the theory, had a similar response to modern day theories.
“The complaint that the North’s test has triggered the South Korean earthquake is just unscientific,” Dr. Son Moon from Pusan National University told NK News. “This is the matter of science, and should not be dealt politically.”
Son said the North’s detonation, which had a magnitude of 5.3, occurred around 700 to 800 kilometers away from Gyeongju.
“By the time the North Korean seismic wave arrived Gyeongju, it would’ve been diminished down to around 2.0 magnitude, a level that none of us can feel.”
As Son puts it, 2.0 magnitude is less than a detonation of dynamite used for tunneling works, and around the level of ground shake that a big dump truck makes when it passes over rough roads.
The theory does not explain the previous South Korean earthquakes before the detonation
“If such a diminutive wave can ‘trigger’ earthquakes like that of Gyeongju, then we should be right now and right here surrounded by the earthquakes all the time,” Son continued. “Also, the theory does not explain the previous South Korean earthquakes before the detonation.”
There have been nine South Korean earthquakes with over the magnitude of 5.0 since the South first started observing the seismic activities in 1978, Son explained.
“During that all nine times, were there ‘artificial triggers’ like this? No.”
WHAT IF THEY USED TSAR BOMBA?: NUCLEAR SCIENTIST
Tsar Bomba, also known as the “King of Bombs,” is the largest thermonuclear hydrogen bomb ever detonated in the history.
Initially designed for 100 megatons (100 million tons of TNT) but halved to 50 million, but the bomb is still around 2,800 times stronger than the “Little Boy” used at Hiroshima.
Claiming that its weapon was more powerful than Tsar Bomba, Pyongyang last year threatened to strike New York and to devastate the whole U.S. mainland altogether.
“Our hydrogen bomb’s power is greater than the Soviet Union’s bomb that is capable of causing third-degree burns 100 kilometers away from ground zero and partially broken windows at distances of 1,000 kilometers,” the North Korean state-bulletin DPRK Today said last year.
You would certainly need more than 10,000 tons of TNT even to tickle the earth’s crust
But in a nuclear scientist’s eyes, even the so-called “King of Bombs” wouldn’t be able to match the power of nature.
“Well… you would certainly need more than 10,000 tons of TNT (ten kilotons) even to tickle the earth’s crust,” Dr. Suh Kune-yull, a nuclear scientist from Seoul National University told NK News.
Ten kilotons is, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry, the presumed yield of the North’s fifth nuclear bomb, a value around 1/5000th that of Tsar Bomba.
“From a practical standpoint, the earthquake generates around 50 megatons to 100 megatons of energy while the recent Gyeongju earthquake was around 60 megatons. But the North caused only 1/6,000 or maybe even 1/10,000 of what Gyeongju earthquake has.”
Unless the North successfully develops the Pyongyang version of Tsar Bomba, and the technology to detonate it under its ground – at the cost of melting the whole of Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site – there is no way that an explosion could shake the South’s earth crust, Suh said.
“While the nuclear power might look like a magnificent force in our eyes, the power is nowhere near to move the earth’s crust or push the Korean Peninsula one centimeter to the east as the earthquake possibly would.”
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun