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North Korea conducts 3rd nuclear test

Publication Date : 12-02-2013


Explosion was stronger than previous tests but far weaker than the nuclear bomb dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945


North Korea on Tuesday conducted a third, more powerful nuclear test near its northeast village of Punggye-ri, triggering international condemnation and warnings of tougher sanctions.

Confirming the nuclear test, Seoul’s Defence Ministry said the explosive power of the test was around 6-7 kiloton -- stronger than its previous tests but far weaker than the nuclear bomb dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

Its 2009 explosion was between 2 kiloton and 6 kiloton while the Hiroshima bombing was recorded at around 22 kiloton. A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT. Whether the North used highly-enriched uranium or plutonium for the test was not immediately known.

An artificial earthquake with a magnitude of 4.9 was detected at around 11:57am in Gilju Country, North Hamgyeong Province, the Korea Meteorological Administration said. The site is where the North carried out the two previous tests in 2006 and 2009.

Less than three hours after the earthquake, the North’s official Korean Central TV announced that it carried out a “high-level, safe, perfect nuclear test with no negative environmental impact.” The North reportedly notified the US and China of its test plan earlier in the day.

“The nuclear test was carried out to safeguard our nation’s security and sovereignty, as part of our real response to the US’ flagrant, hostile action that encroached upon our right to make a legitimate, peaceful satellite launch,” said the state media.

“The test results matched our design numbers and estimates, which physically shows off the excellent capability of our nuclear deterrence capabilities.”

The test came after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2087 condemning its launch of the rocket in December, which experts believe had a potential range of 10,000 km.

Both current and incoming Seoul governments condemned the North’s nuclear test, stressing that it poses a grave threat to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency session of the National Security Council at an underground security control center at Cheong Wa Dae to discuss national and international measures to deal with the provocation.

“Its nuclear test that came after a missile launch in December is a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718, 1874 and 2087. It is an unacceptable threat to peace and stability on the peninsula and Northeast Asia and a direct challenge to the entire international community,” Lee’s top security secretary Chun Young-woo said during a press conference.

“The North would face grave responsibilities for all results caused by such a provocative action. We will seek necessary measures including UN measures in close cooperation with the international community.”

Chun added that South Korea will speed up its efforts to bolster its military capabilities including the early deployment of long-range ballistic missiles currently under development that could put all North Korean military sites into striking range.

President-elect Park Geun-hye renewed her warning that the nuclear test would invite deeper international isolation. Later in the afternoon, she met President Lee to discuss responses to the atomic test.

“I think that the reason why North Korea launched the provocation at the time of government change in South Korea is to cause confusion in our government and anxiety among our people,” she said at Cheong Wa Dae.

“At this juncture, we should put up a united front and take a pan-partisan approach, and should not allow for any small loophole in our security.”

The third nuclear test is expected to affect the North Korea policy for the incoming government. Park has stressed a dialogue-based approach, but her policy plan could face some readjustment amid the North’s continued push for the nuclear power status, observers said.

South Korea, the rotating chair of the UNSC for this month, called an emergency meeting at 11pm, Korean time. The UNSC was expected to issue a statement condemning the test, which could be read by Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, who is now visiting New York.

As UNSC Resolution 2087 warned of “significant action” in case of North Korea’s additional provocations, tougher sanctions are expected to punish Pyongyang. Observers say that the UNSC could adopt additional sanctions such as freezing the North Korean leadership’s overseas financial assets and sanctioning vessels that travelled to the reclusive state.

Observers said it would be unlikely the UNSC would include Article 42 of UN Chapter 7, which offers grounds for military action, in a fresh sanction against the North as China and Russia could oppose it, quoting Article 42.

There are many cases the UNSC quotes Chapter 7, which includes Article 41 authorising economic and non-military sanctions, and Article 42 for military options. But China, the sole major ally of the reclusive state, has been opposed to quoting Article 42 in resolutions against the North.

The nuclear test came as a surprise. Some observers raised the possibility that the North might delay or cancel the test plan as Beijing and other countries had made aggressive efforts to dissuade the North from carrying it out.

“We had some optimism that the international community could negotiate a way to dissuade the North from the test. But North Korea appears to have made a decision to develop nuclear arms to maintain its regime,” said Yoo Ho-ryul, North Korea expert at Korea University.

“The test also showed that China has only limited influence over the North. But Beijing might not seek a measure that could deal a direct blow to the North.”


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