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North Korea nuke test could send radiation to Pacific Northwest

FILE - In this July 28, 2017, file photo distributed by the North Korean government on Saturday, July 29, 2017, shows what was said to be the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. North Korea has been testing missiles at an unprecedented pace and threatening to launch some of those toward Guam. Pyongyang may be looking to eventually use the existence of its nuclear weapons to negotiate a peace treaty with the United States to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War and remove U.S. troops from the South. Until, and unless, that happens, Seoul probably will have little luck building bridges. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

Responding to U.S. threats of military action, North Korea says it may detonate what it calls the “strongest” hydrogen bomb ever somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Experts say detonating that kind of bomb anywhere in the world is dangerous.

Kathryn Higley, the head of Oregon State University’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, says the radiation threat from a North Korean nuclear test may be hard to predict.

“It really depends on the size of the weapon and if it is detonated in the water, on the ground or high in the atmosphere,” Higley said.

This computer model produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the 2011 explosion at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant shows how fast Cesium-137 spread across the Pacific Ocean.

Setting off a nuclear bomb, Higley said, would have a bigger impact.

“In Fukushima, you had sort of a little burst from a ground-level reactor building and elevated because of a small hydrogen explosion. With a nuclear weapon, it's a very energetic occurrence and so you can lob the contents of the detonation up in to the stratosphere and you'll get global circulation,” said Higley.

While the radiation would be measurable, Higley doesn't believe it would be an immediate health threat in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said Friday that threatening North Korea militarily only pushes that country toward setting off a nuclear bomb.

“The belligerent rhetoric is almost like an arms race. It just mushrooms up and up and up. And what I feel very strongly about is that there's still room for stronger financial sanctions,” said Wyden.

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