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Asia-pacific

North Korea confirms 'successful' nuclear test

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-02-12

North Korea has confirmed that it "successfully" carried out a third nuclear test, drawing immediate condemnation from world powers. The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to debate a response.

North Korea’s confirmed on Tuesday that it had "successfully" carried out an underground nuclear test, its third nuclear test and which it said involved a “miniaturised” device with greater explosive power.

"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," the state-run Korean Central News agency (KCNA) said.

"The nuclear test was conducted as part of measures to protect our national security and sovereignty against the reckless hostility of the United States that violated our republic's right for a peaceful satellite launch," KCNA said.

The move drew an immediate reaction from world powers, with the UN Security Council saying it would hold an emergency meeting on North Korea's nuclear test at 2pm GMT on Tuesday.

France condemned the move in the “strongest possible terms”, a position echoed by the European Union, which called North Korea's nuclear test "a further blatant challenge" to the world's non-proliferation regime.

US President Barack Obama reiterated support for regional allies South Korea and Japan, saying the United States “remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region''.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the test “deplorable”, saying Pyongyang had “defied the strong and unequivocal call from the international community to refrain from any further provocative measures”, while Russia called on North Korea to stop its “illegal” activities. "We insist that North Korea halts illegal actions, strictly adheres to all orders of the UN Security Council [and] completely gives up its rocket-nuclear programmes," the foreign ministry said in a statement.


North Korea's Punggye-ri facility
© The Punggye-ri nuclear test facility in North Korea (Photo credit: AFP)

North Korea’s two previous nuclear tests triggered fresh waves of UN sanctions. South Korea is the current president of the 15-country Security Council and had been calling for strong action against its arch-rival neighbour in the event of a nuclear test.

Advance warning

North Korea reportedly told China and the United States in advance that a test was imminent after the communist state earlier on Tuesday called for "high-intensity" action and continuing long-range rocket launches.

The test came despite a "strong warning" from China to Pyongyang, a UN Security Council diplomat said.

In Vienna, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation said the location of Tuesday's explosion was "roughly congruent" with the 2006 and 2009 tests, and labelled the event a "clear threat" to international peace.

The long-term response of China, North Korea's economic and diplomatic patron, will be key. While restraining US-led allies from stronger action against Pyongyang in the past, Beijing had pressed the country to hold off on the third test.

But China's leverage is curtailed, some analysts say, by its fear of a collapse of the North Korean regime, and the prospect of a reunified Korea -- allied with the United States -- directly on its border.

The dangers of ‘miniaturisation’

For nuclear experts, the key question will be whether North Korea used up more of its scarce reserves of plutonium for the suspected third test, or used uranium in a new and self-sustaining path to atomic detonations.

The South Korean defence ministry spokesman said it was unclear yet whether uranium was used.

Regional seismic monitoring agencies detected a seismic event, of a magnitude between 4.9 and 5.1, at 11:57 am (0257 GMT) with the epicentre in the same location as the North's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, some 100 kilometres from the border with China.

The explosive yield estimated by Seoul's defence ministry compared with 15 kilotons in the world's first atomic bomb dropped by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.

North Korea's first test yielded less than one kiloton and was widely seen as a dud. The second test yielded between two and six kilotons, according to Seoul.

Pyongyang's promise of a "higher-level" test had fuelled speculation it would be of a uranium device.

A uranium test would confirm suspicions that the North has been secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium for years and open a path for Pyongyang to significantly expand its small nuclear arsenal.

There will be particular concern at any sign that the North has made progress in the technically complex process of "miniaturising" a bomb to fit on the head of a long-range missile.

The regime’s possible advances in miniaturisation would take on added significance in the wake of December's long-range rocket launch, which marked a major step forward in its ballistic prowess and provoked still-tighter UN sanctions.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)
 

Date created : 2013-02-12

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