North Korea today confirmed it had carried out its third and most successful nuclear test yet which triggered an artificial earthquake near the underground explosion site.
The test was an important step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile that could reach United States.
North Korea made clear that the explosion of its third atomic device – which it claimed was smaller than the ones in its previous two tests – was a warning to what it considers a ‘hostile’ United States.
Its actions drew immediate condemnation from Washington, London, the U.N. and others – even its only major ally, China, voiced opposition.
Spreading the news: South Korean news organizations were the first to report that a possible test had taken place
Taking precautions: South Korean army soldiers patrolled the border shortly after North Korea held covert nuclear tests underground
Off the charts: Neighboring countries (like Japan, whose Meteorological Agency’s technology is shown) detected the test due to the seismic activity that it caused
The state news agency said it had used a ‘miniaturised’ and lighter nuclear device, indicating that it had again used plutonium which is more suitable for use as a missile warhead.
Official state media said the test was conducted in a safe manner and is aimed at coping with ‘outrageous’ U.S. hostility that ‘violently’ undermines the North’s peaceful, sovereign rights to launch satellites.
North Korea was punished by U.N. sanctions after a December launch of a rocket that the U.N. and Washington called a cover for a banned missile test. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful satellite launch.
Location: A Google map images shows the ‘earthquake; was centered at the end of a nuclear test road
‘It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,’ state news agency KCNA said.
The United States Geological Survey said earlier Tuesday that it had detected a 4.9 magnitude earthquake in North Korea.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang.
North Korea faced sanctions after a December launch of a rocket the U.N. and Washington called a cover for a banned missile test.
This morning Foreign Secretary William Hague ‘strongly condemned’ the nuclear test calling it a ‘violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.’
Mr Hague said: ‘North Korea’s development of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities poses a threat to international and regional security. Its repeated provocations only serve to increase regional tension, and hinder the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.’
Just before 2am in Washington, D.C., President Obama’s team released a statement condemning the tests.
‘The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region,’ he said in a released statement.
A history of tests: The United Nations has formally banned tests by the rogue nation but they have continued to build and perfect their arsenal
‘These provocations do not make North Korea more secure. Far from achieving its stated goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, North Korea has instead increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.’
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned North Korea’s test, saying it was a ‘clear and grave violation’ of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The nuclear test is North Korea’s first since leader Kim Jong Un took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Undeterred: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has announced that it will carry out more rocket launches
It marks a bold statement for the young leader as he unveils his domestic and foreign policy for a country long estranged from the West.
The test came as China celebrated the lunar new year, potentially increasing embarrassment for Beijing, the North’s sole major economic and diplomatic ally.
‘I think it will be proven to be a self-defeating and self-suffocating blunder on the part of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),’ an Asian diplomat to the United Nations told Reuters in New York.
‘They have chosen the worst timing to conduct this testing… This will also be an open invitation to the international community to up the ante to corner the DPRK.’
Alert: South Korean police chief Kim Ki-yong held a press conference saying that North Korea had likely made their third formal missile test prompting a 4.9-magnitude earthquake
Too close for comfort: Chen Kuo-chang, a senior technical specialist from Taiwan’s Seismology Center, showed where the nuclear test is believed to have taken place
To the point: Initial reports about the test were speculative but North Korean media later confirmed it
The South Korean Defense Ministry raised its military alert level after the quake and were the first to sound the alarm that a test may have taken place.
They were validated by a U.N. nuclear test monitoring organisation detected what it called an ‘unusual seismic event’ in North Korea.
Nuclear blasts can create tremors but they are distinct from those caused by natural earthquakes.
The U.S. Geological Survey as well as earthquake monitoring stations in South Korea detected an earthquake just north of a site where North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in 2009, according to the government-funded Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources.
‘There is a high possibility that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test,’ said Chi Heoncheol, an earthquake specialist at the institute.
Mr Chi said a magnitude 3.9 magnitude earthquake and a magnitude 4.5 earthquake were detected in the North’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
The United States and its allies have been on edge since North Korea said last month it will conduct its third nuclear test to protest toughened sanctions over a December rocket launch that the U.N. called a cover for a banned missile test.
Burning: Activists from an anti-North Korea civic group burn a North Korea flag in front of banners bearing anti-North Korea messages near the U.S. embassy in central Seoul
Protest: Activists from anti-North Korea civic group chant slogans during a rally against North Korea’s nuclear test near the U.S. embassy in central Seoul
Anger: An activist from an anti-North Korea civic group defaces a North Korea flag depicting North’s leader Kim Jong-un (right) and his wife Ri Sol-ju during a rally
International attention: A passer-by prepares to pick up an extra edition of a Japanese newspaper reporting a nuclear test conducted by North Korea
North Korea’s powerful political faction vowed to continue firing ‘powerful long-range rockets,’ but a statement by state media made no mention of a nuclear test.
North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission said on January 23 that the United States was its prime target for a nuclear test and long-range rocket launches.
North Korea accuses Washington of leading the push to punish Pyongyang for its December rocket launch.
Last October, a spokesman from the commission told state media that the country had built a missile capable of striking the United States, but did not provide further details.
A missile featured in an April 2012 military parade appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, but its authenticity has not been verified by foreign experts.
John Everard, who was British ambassador to North Korea at the time of the country’s first nuclear test in 2006, said the latest test could be ‘a lot more serious’.
‘They are claiming that they have now miniaturised a nuclear device,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘They have proven that they can launch a long range missile. If you marry a missile and a miniaturised device, so nuclear bomb on top of a missile so you can deliver it to all kinds of places that they couldn’t have reached before.’
He said that it was also possible that the North Koreans had for the first time tested a uranium device, rather than the plutonium devices it had tested previously.
‘Its plutonium stock is limited so therefore the number of bombs they can make is also limited but uranium they have proven they can manufacture,’ he said.
Concern: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, right, talks with President-elect Park Geun-hye during their meeting about North Korea’s nuclear test at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea
Tensions: A researcher looks at radiation detection monitors at the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety in North Korea as the secretive state threatened to carry out measures ‘stronger than a nuclear test’
Threat to world peace? A man walks past a display illustrating the damage a 1MT class nuclear weapon would cause if detonated in Seoul, at the War Memorial Museum of Korea in Seoul on February 5
‘This means that they can manufacture all the bombs that they could want.’
However he said that it could also be the test which finally stretches the patience of North Korea’s key ally, China, to breaking point, prompting it to take action against its neighbour.
‘There is not a lot of love lost between the two countries, however strong the rhetoric on internal friendship might be,’ he said.
‘A lot of people are saying that this is getting ridiculous, that China is getting the runaround from the North Koreans, and that if they test again China really ought to take measures to stop the North Koreans misbehaving.’
North Korea cites the U.S. military threat in the region as a key reason behind its drive to build nuclear weapons.
The two countries fought on opposite sides of the Korean War, which ended after three years with an armistice signed on July 27, 1953, not a peace treaty.
The U.S. stations more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to protect the ally.
Whatever scientific advancements the North can gain from its third nuclear test, there’s also an important political angle.
Many analysts believe the North uses nuclear and missile tests to win greater concessions in stalled nuclear disarmament-for-aid talks.
‘A third test increases uncertainty about the North’s intentions and calculations,’ Robert Carlin, a former U.S. State Department official who has made dozens of trips to North Korea, said in a Stanford University website posting last year.
The other part of a credible North Korean nuclear deterrent is its missile program. While it has capable short and medium range missiles, it has struggled in tests of technology for long-range missiles needed to carry bombs to the United States.
North Korea isn’t close to having a nuclear bomb it can use on the United States or its allies
Instead American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker said in the Stanford web posting, ‘it wants to hold U.S. interests at risk of a nuclear attack to deter us from regime change and to create international leverage and diplomatic maneuvering room.’
The North Korean nuclear program has long been a worry for Washington and Pyongyang’s neighbors.
Condemnation: The American ambassador in South Korea released a statement at the same time as the White House, condemning the test and pointing out that it is a violation of numerous international treaties
North Korea has been steadily enhancing its missile technology for years
A nuclear crisis in the early 1990s was followed by another standoff during the early 2000s during the George W. Bush administration.
Starting in 2003, negotiators from five nations – China, Russia, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea – tried to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs with offers of aid in return.
North Korea walked away from those talks after being punished by the U.N. Security Council for an April 2009 rocket launch.
Its 2006 nuclear test using plutonium produced a puny yield equivalent to one kiloton of TNT – compared with 13-18 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb – and U.S. intelligence estimates put the 2009 test’s yield at roughly two kilotons.
North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for about a dozen plutonium warheads, although estimates vary, and intelligence reports suggest that it has been enriching uranium to supplement that stock and give it a second path to the bomb.
According to estimates from the Institute for Science and International Security from late 2012, North Korea could have enough weapons grade uranium for 21-32 nuclear weapons by 2016 if it used one centrifuge at its Yongbyon nuclear plant to enrich uranium to weapons grade.