North Korea’s Nuclear Testing: How Big Was The Bomb?


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An atomic bomb explosion is devastating. Image courtesy of FEMA

Bomb Sizes And Their Power

When a nuclear weapon discharges an amount of energy, it is measured in a TNT equivalent, usually in kilotons (1000 tons of TNT). For example, Hiroshima’s fission bomb was 13-18 kilotons while we estimate the USSR Tsar Bomba yield at 57 megatons. The Tsar Bomba, nicknamed Kuz’kina Mat-, which roughly translates to  “We’ll Show You”, was the largest nuclear bomb ever built and tested. Compare this to the first two tests from North Korea, 2006 was less than 1 kiloton and 2009, 2-6 kilotons.

The Bomba blast was 1,400 times more powerful than Hiroshima but the damage was not linear. The actual size of the damage depends on the amount of nuclear material, what nuclear material is used, the height of the explosion plus several other parameters.  For a yield of 20 kT, you’d need a distance of .35 miles to survive the blast wave. For a typical strategic nuke of 600kT, a person would need approximately 1.1 miles and for a 20 MT, a distance of 3.5 miles.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

North Korea is not ready to launch a missile with a sizeable warhead to cause major devastation. The problem seems to be more centered on North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile system, and issues related to accurate targeting. However, more testing and time will solve these problems. With the projected two nuclear warhead tests, each larger kiloton than the last, and one rocket launch this year, North Korea is quickly marching to a solution.

Swiftly becoming a nuclear threat to the world and its nearest neighbors, North Korea is a country to watch.


Lim, Benjamin Kang. Exlusive: North Korea Tells China of Preparations for fresh nuclear test – source. (2013). Reuters. Accessed February 27, 2013.

Martin, Gradley. North Korean nukes unlikely to reach US. (2013). Global Post, Accessed February 27, 2013.

Wilson, Mark. Ingeniously Charting The Horrifying Power Of Today’s Nuclear Bombs. Accessed February 27, 2013.

Sanger, David and Sang-Hun Choe. North Korea Confirmed It Conducted 3rd Nuclear Test. NY Times (2013), February 27, 2013.

Wellerstein, Alex. NukeMap. (2013). Accessed February 27, 2013.

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