The U.S. Air Force and Japanese Defense Ministry have both dispatched nuclear-sniffer planes to investigate North Korea’s latest nuclear test.
Japan Times reports three planes were sent by the Defense Ministry to “understand the impact of possible radioactive materials released by the test,” as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained. Dust particles collected by the planes were sent to the Japan Chemical Analysis Center. Suga said the aircraft remained in Japanese airspace while collecting atmospheric samples.
Although the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna said it could take anywhere from “several days to several months” to analyze radioactive particles from the North Korean detonation, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said the initial results from aircraft testing would be released on Thursday.
The Washington Post reports that a WC-135 Constant Phoenix nuclear sniffer plane will be deployed by the U.S. Air Force, although the Pentagon would not officially confirm the mission or discuss when the flight would occur. A defense official expressed confidence that it would be possible to conclusively determine if the North Koreans detonated a hydrogen bomb after the WC-135’s mission is completed.
“The WC-135 is currently the only aircraft in the service carrying out air-sampling missions, with crews from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska typically manning them. Equipment on board is operated by members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center,” the Post explains, noting that such aircraft have been employed to monitor nuclear radiation levels after the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima.
The WC-135 is designed to fly directly through radioactive air while protecting its crew, which would suggest the plane dispatched to North Korea will be flying very close to the test site.