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Failed rocket signals poor North Korean capability, expert says

April 12, 2012 | 10:28 pm

LaunchNorth Korea's failed rocket launch has shown that the reclusive communist nation isn't as far along with its nuclear warhead-delivery capabilities as many in the West had feared, said David Wright, an arms control expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Unha-3 rocket was expected to boost a satellite into orbit in three stages, yet plunged into the sea off the southwestern coast of South Korea far short of even the first-stage splashdown area, Wright said.

This image, for his report on the failed launch in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, shows the location of the rocket's first stage where it plunged into the sea about 80 miles from the launchpad, marked as "Norad info."

“The reason this launch was seen as a big deal was because it was seen as an indication of how far North Korea has advanced on the road toward a working ballistic missile,” Wright said. “Not only is this the third failure with this technology but it didn’t even get as far with it as it did last time.”

Whether Pyongyang will go forward with the underground nuclear test expected to follow the launch is unclear, Wright said, noting that North Korea’s leadership appears to be divided over whether and how to open the hermetic country to better relations with the outside world.

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-- Carol J. Williams

Map: Red dots locate the launch site and position of the rocket after 90 seconds, and the site of the failed delivery system plunge about 80 miles to the south, from NORAD information. The red-outlined box was the intended first-stage splashdown zone. Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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