North Korea ‘tests nuclear weapons’ as country is shaken by 4.9 magnitude earthquake
- A third nuclear test has been widely anticipated since December
- Neither Pyongyang nor Seoul have said if the tremor resulted from one
- Analyst in Seoul says a nuclear detonation was a ‘high possibility’
By Leon Watson
PUBLISHED: 23:09 EST, 11 February 2013 | UPDATED: 00:22 EST, 12 February 2013
North Korea is suspected of carrying out a nuclear test after an ‘unusual’ earthquake was detected early this morning.
Experts said the quake happened just north of a site where the country has previously conducted nuclear tests.
Neither Pyongyang nor Seoul confirmed whether it resulted from a widely anticipated third nuclear test, though an analyst in Seoul said a nuclear detonation was a ‘high possibility.’
The South Korean Defense Ministry, which raised its military alert level after the quake, said it was trying to determine whether it was a test.
Nuclear blasts can create tremors but they are distinct from those caused by natural earthquakes.
A U.N. nuclear test monitoring organisation detected what it called an ‘unusual seismic event’ in North Korea.
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.
North Korea’s powerful politburo 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.
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
The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
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.
HOW NORTH KOREA HAS DEFIED THE WEST WITH ITS NUCLEAR AMBITIONS
October 9, 2006: North Korea carries out first nuclear test in Punggye-ri.
May 25, 2009: Second under nuclear test is conducted 10-15km away from first test site.
Spring 2009: North Korea withdraws from talks with its neighbours and the U.S. over ending its nuclear program and conducts a second nuclear test.
September 2010: Kim Jong Il unveils his third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, as his successor, and assigns him to high-ranking positions in the Workers’ Party and military.
July 27, 2011: Senior North Korean diplomat visits New York to negotiate ways to restart six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
October 24, 2011: U.S. and North Korean diplomats open talks in Geneva on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
November 30, 2011: North Korea says it is making rapid progress on work to enrich uranium and build a light-water nuclear power plant, increasing worries that the country is developing another way to make atomic weapons.
December 19, 2011: North Korea announces that Kim Jong Il has died of a heart attack while riding on his personal train. South Korea puts its military on alert while people break into tears on the streets of Pyongyang as they learn the news. Kim Jong Un dubbed ‘great successor’.
December 30, 2011: North Korea warns the world there will be no softening on its position toward South Korea’s government.
February 23, 2012: Amid cautious optimism, U.S. and North Korean envoys meet in Beijing for their first talks on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programs since the death of Kim Jong Il.
February 29, 2012: In concurrent announcements, the U.S. and North Korea say they have reached a deal for the U.S. to provide food aid to North Korea in exchange for the North’s suspension of uranium enrichment and a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests.
March 2011: North Korea rebuffs food aid deal by launching a long-range rocket after promising not to.
December 2012: The North in violation of U.N. resolutions that banned it from developing missile or nuclear technology.
January 30, 2013: South Korea successfully launches it first satellite into space.
February 5, 2013: North Korea threatens ‘a measure stronger than a nuclear test’ in response to UN sanctions.