What if the test did leak? What if there's a gigantic plume of radioactive gases over the Pacific that evaded monitoring apparatuses on aircraft and on land? Certainly when the plume, or future plumes, reach the United States, our stationary and permanent EPA and regional DOE facility monitoring networks will fail miserably at detecting danger. For instance, the monitoring network around the Nevada Test Site, where over 800 underground tests were conducted through 1992, no longer has noble (radioactive) gas monitoring detectors even though underground cavities from the test site in fact do leak long-lived radioactive gases.
What if drillback operations or small earthquakes during the next few weeks or years at the North Korea test site release plumes of radioactive gases? Who will know if no one is monitoring in, or in close proximity to, North Korea?
And then, what if there's a third test? There's speculation that North Korea will conduct its third nuclear test by year's end. What if it becomes a Baneberry of the East? Baneberry was one of the worst underground nuclear testing accidents in world history. Conducted in 1970 at the Nevada Test Site, Baneberry's 10-kiloton underground explosion resulted in a horrible containment failure that sent 6 million Curies of radioactive gases and cancer-causing, food chain-accumulative radioisotopes seven thousand feet up and across the entire U.S. and into Canada. (Three Mile Island's (TMI) emissions, largely comprised of radioactive gases, included only about 15 Curies of radioisotopes capable of entering the food chain and reacting chemically within our bodies. However, no one will ever know the exact numbers because TMI's monitoring systems were a complete failure).
The simple fact is that the chances of a huge radioactive release that will result in thousands of lethal cancers will most likely come not from a nuclear satellite re-entry, or a nuclear plant meltdown, or a terrorist attack on a nuclear weapons lab. I am convinced our best chance for a tremendous worldwide radiological incident will be from one of North Korea's 'underground' nuclear tests in the very near future.
And what is being done about it?
Sanctions, and an information vacuum in the media regarding radiation.
One must ask if this information vacuum about radiation from nuclear testing has its roots in our own past. U.S. nuclear testing took place in Amchika, Alaska; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; in Carlsbad, Alamogordo and Farmington, New Mexico; Rifle and Grand Valley, Colorado; central and southern Nevada; in the Pacific (in sea, on land and in space) and over the South Atlantic. Yet very little is known about where fallout went. Or who it sickened. Or how the fallout affects health (other than just radioactive Iodine).
The U.S. nuclear testing program spanning the 1950s through the 1990s was carried out with one and only one concern: testing for national defense. Protecting the public from injury came near last as a priority. And, in our present times, I am hard-pressed to believe anything other than there is little federal concern for the 'public injury' caused by the U.S. testing fallout.
Perhaps there is some evil conspiracy at keeping us from becoming literate in all things radiation to keep us from complaining, organizing, suing, getting 'bitter' and otherwise knowing better that we in fact have been poisoned.
Meanwhile, as our downwinders and atomic veterans face the steep uphill battles for apologies and compensation; meanwhile as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) remains unratified; and stockpile stewardship experiments on main bomb-ingredient plutonium continues at the Nevada Test Site as it has since the 1990s; meanwhile as people who have never smoked or drank or worked for a chemical company succumb to cancer; we have another set of ills: one, North Korea's 'radiation illiterate' population may be terribly poisoned (They need some kind of monitoring rescue-mission.) And, two, we face the perils of another Baneberry from 6,000 to 9,000 miles away, as long as concern for global public health takes a back seat to international (un)diplomacy that is obsessed about national defense. If the overwhelming concern is about another country's nuclear bombs going off and hurting other people, then we should focus on nuclear testing, which has killed more people worldwide than even the holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We should focus on having all nations ratify the CTBT, including the U.S., and put a stop to all activities, such as subcritical and stockpile experiments, that go against the spirit of the treaty and furthermore provoke non-nuclear nations into becoming nuclear nations.
Nuclear testing is nuclear war. It just happens without any war declarations. We must do all we can to stop both.