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Thursday, September 16, 2004

North Korea: Analysis of the explosive power in a missile vs various deployment options


This note outlines the various scenarios that might have occurred in the North Korean explosion in Sept 2004. It doesn't suggest that the problem is definitely X, Y, or Z. Rather, this note focuses on the rage of possible failure modes that might account for a 4 Ton TNT-level explosion.


One possible failure mode that could be photographed by a geo-synchronous orbit is a single tankcar holding 1,000,000 pounds of fuel exploded during the NoDong refueling operation.

Based on the difference between the total car capacity, and the actual number of gallons in the tank, we might speculate as to the number of NoDong missiles that had previously been refueled. In other words, if the tank car contains 1M pounds of fuel, but the "amount of the blast" was "only" 850K pounds, we might speculate as to the number of NoDong missiles that had already been refueld prior to this explosion.

What could have been happening is that the NoDong missile fleet were undergoing fuel change out in the field [strange, but possible] as opposed to moving the missiles out of the field, and changing out the fuel. It remains to be determined whether the "fueling in the field scenario" is consistent with prior satellite imagery of the North Korean missile fleet.

The Math

Ref: Previous Blog

Update: 145K gallons of gasoline would be the equivalent to 4 Tons of TNT required to generate a 2.6 on the Richter scale. Mind you, we've already Calculated in a previous blog the fuel-types in a NoDong missile, and the equivalent of fuel in terms of TNT; the previous blog already goes into a discussion on how to convert the Richter scale to an equivalent TNT.

Note: Thee following calculations are in error as I have transposed kerosene and gasoline. 135K gallons corresponds to kerosene, while the correct volume should be 145K gallons of gasoline. However, given the size of the 1M tankcar [speculated], it is likely that this error is not important [We'll have to see on that, pal]

Let's run through the math on the "exploding rail car scenario" to see whether fuel could be the source of the 2.6 on the Richter scale. Indeed, the problem is "how do we account for the Richter scale without the seismic wave detection." Maybe it was big, but not big enough? [We'll see]

  • Rail car with oxidizer

    How big of a rail car for 1 explosion of oxidizer would be able to carry 135K gallons of liquid gasoline/kerosene? 510 cubic feet, Converter

    How big is one rail car with that much fuel? 510 cubic feet is equivalent to about 70 drums, so this doesn't make sense. However, 2450 drums is equivalent to 134,750 gallons. ref. A rail car has about 340 drum capacity; which means that 7 railcars with a 340-drum capacity would have to be involved. Another way to look at this is that there are each tank of 2,600 cu-ft translates to 19,449 gallons. ref.

    Another way to look at it is the speed to which it takes to unload X-cars with all this fuel. 5 tanks take about 1.5 hours to unload, meaning there is sufficient time for any polar-orbiting satellite to spot. In other words, if this is the failure mode, then there are satellite photos either showing all 7 tank cars; or a picture of the large tankcar which would take about 126 minutes to unload.

    The problem is: A ~single~ tank car of [in a chain of 7] isn't enough fuel to create a 2.6 on the Richter Scale--there's no way that all 7 tank cars would explode at the same time.

    US Says max hazard waste is 92K gallons, ref meaning the Koreans are definitely moving a single-object around that is not only dangerous, but fails to comply with the US government standards! Where's an EPA inspector when you need one?

    What is the ratio of Oxidizer to Propellant in the NoDong missile?

    Railcar size: What could North Korea have

    Does the North Korean Railway have fuel cars in the 135K gallon range?
    The are some specialized tanker cars.

    Note: Following equations may have mixed up pounds, kg -- need to recheck the math.

    Gallson to pounds of water converter: 135K gallons of is 1,126,596 pounds of water, which exceeds the 750K lb load limit by 375K pounds, or 50%. This means [if there was a single explosion of kerosene] that the North Koreans would have to have a fuel container 50% larger than the traditional "large" tank car. However, there is one tank car that has a 1,000,000 pound load limit. This is good, since gasoline and kerosene are lighter than water, making it more plausible that the 135,000 gallons of kerosene could feasibly have been in a single tank-car.

    The math is: here: Weight of the gallons of gas, times the required volume of gasoline that would have to explode to create a 2.6 on the Richter scale, or 850,000 pounds. Given the rail car capacity of 1 Million pounds of fuel, it is well within the scope of possibility that a single refueling tanker car exploded, causing the massive fire in the trees.

    Taking the high side of the weight on the gasoline, a single railroad tank car could contain sufficient fuel to create the 2.6 movement on the Richter scale. It is possible that 2.6 on the Richter scale was caused by a single-tank-car explosion near a NoDong missile site on the railway. It remains to be understood whether a fuel fire would reasonably explain the lack of a seismic wave.

    Other transportation systems other than rail

    What kind of transportation systems are there in this region of North Korea: Either water [barges], or land [tanker truck, rail, special purpose vehicle]

    How close is the explosion site to rivers that might be needed to transport fuel via water?

    What other single-transportation methods could carry 135K gallons of kerosene-gasoline to include trucks, trains, and piplelines, or Barges with fuel bellies? Ref

    Are there any gasoline=kerosene fuel tanks that might have exploded in a single blast at a 2.6 on the Richter scale?

    1 gallon of gasoline weighs ___________ 2.925 kg or 6.44 pounds Ref, and converter

    135K gallon of gasoline weighs ________ 394 875 kg, or 868,725 pounds ref ...converter

    Ratio of Oxidizer [x] to propellant [Y] in the NoDong missile is assumed to be generally in the range of western ratios; this ratio is ___________ : ___________

    X ________ + Y ________ = 12K kg in the NoDong missile

    There is a problem with comparing tons of fuel to tons of TNT

    Total Portion
    Fuel TNT
    Weight Force
    Mass Explosive power

    There are various possible explanations why rocket fuel, or a single stage of Sum 12K would explode at a level less than max strength.

    12K kg = 26.4K lbs -- 13.2 tons of fuel

    Interesting that there are 13.2 tons of fuel, but only a 4 Ton blast, suggesting that only a portion of the fuel exploded.

    4.6 Equivalent tons TNT does not equate to the actual tonnage of fuel that would ignore/ thus to compare 4.6 tons equivalent to 13.2 mixes apples and oranges; nor reasonable to assume that 4.6 represents 34% of the total 13.2 tons of fuel.

    4 Components:

    1 _____ + 2 _______ + 3________ + 4 __________ = 12K , or 13.2 tons.


    4 Tons [2.6 Richter] is a force, not energy; therefore there is a problem converting X # Joules of TNT into equivalent Y-tons oxidizer [for that many joules]

    Thus: This is a problem: 2.6 = ________ joules

    What number of moles/volume of oxidizer/propellant in that equation would generate that much energy?

    4 Equations

    1. Ratio of kerosene to gasoline 4:1
    2. Ratio of Oxidizer to propellant _____
    3. ___ ___ ___ ___ = 12K
    4. ___ ___ __ ___ = Joules

    What would cause a 2.6 Magnitude quake [4 Tons equivalent TNT] without creating a detectable ground seismic wave?

    Would gasoline above surface blast account for [a] the fire in the trees; and [b] the lack of a seismic wave?