South Korea, US and Chinese authorities have scrambled for confirmation of the test, however officials in Seoul have cast doubt on the claim it was a hydrogen bomb saying no radiation had been detected. If confirmed, the explosion marks a major step forward in the country’s nuclear development. The surprise test was personally ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and came just two days before his birthday ::::::
“Let the world look up to the strong, self-reliant nuclear-armed state,” Mr Kim wrote in what North Korean state television displayed as a handwritten note. “The republic’s first hydrogen bomb test has been successfully performed … based on the strategic determination of the Workers’ Party, with the perfect success of our historic H-bomb, we have joined the rank of advanced nuclear states. The latest test, completely based on our technology and our manpower, confirmed that our newly-developed technological resources are accurate and scientifically demonstrated the impact of our miniaturised H-bomb.”
A magnitude-5.1 tremor was earlier detected by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and South Korean officials said they suspected it was an explosion.
“We suspect a man-made earthquake, and are analysing the scale and epicentre of the quake with the geoscience and mineral resource institute of South Korea,” a Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) official said.
A revised location of the tremor by the USGS put it at the same location as previous tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and at surface depth.
Chinese border residents, however, were evacuated from buildings after feeling the tremors, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said on a verified social media account.
The areas included Yanji, Hunchun and Changbai in Jilin province, some of the counties closest to the North’s nuclear test site.
Students at a senior high school were dismissed during an examination after its recreation ground cracked, it added.
Last month, Mr Kim suggested Pyongyang had already developed a hydrogen bomb, although the claim was greeted with scepticism by international experts.
The North’s miniaturisation claims have also not been independently verified. A hydrogen, or thermonuclear, device uses fusion in a chain reaction that results in a powerful explosion.
Unexpected Test Draws Immediate International Condemnation
The nuclear test drew widespread international condemnation, with China, the North’s chief ally, expressing “resolute opposition” and saying it would lodge a protest with Pyongyang.
The United Nations Security Council is planning to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday (New York time) to discuss the test, three council diplomats have said.
It was not immediately clear what action, if any, the 15-nation council was planning to take in response to the statement.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called on international bodies, including the council, to provide a strong response to North Korea’s actions.
“The nuclear test confirms North Korea’s status as a rogue state and a continuing threat to international peace and security,” Ms Bishop’s statement said.
While vowing to stick by a no-first-use policy, North Korea said it would continue to pursue an advanced nuclear strike capability.
“As long as the vicious anti-North policy of the US persists, we will never stop development of our nuclear program,” its state television news reader said.
The White House said it could not confirm the claims of miniaturisation and a hydrogen bomb test, but added the United States would respond appropriately to provocations and defend its allies.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would make a firm response to North Korea’s challenge against nuclear non-proliferation.
“North Korea’s nuclear test is a serious threat to our nation’s security and we absolutely cannot tolerate it,” Mr Abe told reporters.
“We strongly denounce it.”
South Korea’s intelligence agency said the device may not have been a hydrogen nuclear bomb, Yonhap news agency reported.
Its meteorological agency said separately that it had not detected any radiation.
In Seoul, the presidential Blue House called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council as officials scrambled to confirm the precise nature of the tremor.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said the country will take decisive measures against any additional provocations by the North, and work with the international community to make sure the isolated country pays the price for its latest nuclear test.
China’s Xinhua state news agency said a new test runs counter to the goal of denuclearisation, and warned that any practice that disrupts stability in northeast Asia is “undesirable and unwise”.
A nuclear test is as a major slap in the face to its chief ally China, and extinguishes any chance of a resumption of six-country talks on North Korea’s nuclear program that Beijing has been pushing for.
China Urges ‘denuclearisation’
North Korea’s claim that it carried out a successful hydrogen bomb test has drawn global condemnation from friends and foes alike. China said it “firmly opposed” its neighbour’s actions while NATO condemned the test as a threat to regional and international security.
Several governments promised a firm response as tensions soared, with many calling for further action by the United Nations against North Korea, which is already subject to an array of international sanctions.
China, North Korea’s most important diplomatic and economic partner, took a more nuanced stance than others, saying it “firmly opposes” the test and would summon Pyongyang’s ambassador for “solemn representations,” It added that dialogue was the “only practical way to resolve the relevant issue”.
Beijing is Pyongyang’s key provider of aid and trade but relations have become more strained in recent years, in part because of North Korea’s persistence with its nuclear program in the face of international condemnation.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has yet to visit Beijing since coming to power following the death of his father four years ago.
“We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearisation commitment, and stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, using the North’s official name.
The United Nations Security Council said in an unanimous statement that it will prepare “further measures” against North Korea as the nuclear test was a “clear threat to international peace and security”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned North Korea’s action, calling it “profoundly destabilising for regional security”.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye described the test as a “grave provocation” at an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council.
“The test is not only a grave provocation to our national security but also a threat to our future … and a strong challenge to international peace and stability,” she said, calling for strong sanctions on Pyongyang.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed it as “A serious threat to the safety of our nation, this clearly violates UN Security Council resolutions and is a grave challenge against international efforts for non-proliferation.”
The White House said initial analysis of North Korea’s reported nuclear test was not consistent with claims of a successful hydrogen bomb.
North’s Actions Draw Ire from NATO and UN Security Council
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said North Korea should abandon nuclear weapons.
“The nuclear weapons test announced by North Korea undermines regional and international security, and is in clear breach of UN Security Council resolutions,” Mr Stoltenberg said in a statement.
The foreign ministry of Russia, a permanent Security Council member, denounced the test as a “flagrant violation of international law and existing UN Security Council resolutions”.
“Such actions are fraught with the possibility of aggravating the situation on the Korean peninsula, which already has a very high potential for military and political confrontation,” it said.
Other veto-wielding Security Council members Britain and France also joined in the chorus of condemnation.
Speaking in Beijing, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the test was “a grave breach of UN Security Council resolutions and a provocation”.
Paris labelled the move an “unacceptable violation” of UN resolutions and called for a strong reaction from the international community.
Germany said it would summon North Korea’s ambassador over the testing, adding the step was “a strong signal, even a protest”.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the test, which “confirms North Korea’s status as a rogue state and a continuing threat to international peace and security”.
Jean Lee, an expert in North Korean studies from Yonsei University says that North Korea’s target was the United States, its “main enemy”.
“They have been developing missiles designed to reach US territory. US is their main enemy,” Ms Lee said. “North Korea has been trying to create friction with its neighbours and that often is an excuse or reason for North Korea to test a nuclear device or test one of its missiles.”
With each test, Ms Lee said, the world had a better indication of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and how regional powers could try and stop the developments.
“With each case, they spend a certain amount of material on the nuclear bomb,” Ms Lee said. “That puts pressure on the regional powers to try to bring North Korea to the negotiating table to see what they can do to come to some sort of agreement to slow down this program if not stop it altogether.”
North’s Defiance Continues
The test, which came just two days before Mr Kim’s birthday, was initially detected by international seismology monitors as a 5.1-magnitude tremor next to the North’s main Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east.
Last month Mr Kim suggested Pyongyang had already developed a hydrogen bomb. The claim was questioned by international experts and there was continued scepticism over Wednesday’s test announcement.
Whether an H-bomb or not, it was North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and marked a striking act of defiance in the face of warnings that Pyongyang would pay a steep price if it continued pursuing its atomic weapons programme. The three previous tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 triggered waves of UN sanctions.
Experts Cast Doubt Over North’s H-Bomb Claim
Nuclear experts have cast doubt on North Korea’s claimed first successful test of a miniaturised hydrogen bomb, saying the detected seismic activity suggested a less powerful device.
The announcement followed hints last month by leader Kim Jong-un that Pyongyang had already developed a hydrogen, or thermonuclear, bomb — a claim greeted with scepticism by experts at the time.
Crispin Rovere, an Australia-based nuclear policy and arms control specialist, said the 5.1 magnitude tremor detected at the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site was too small to support Pyongyang’s claim.
“The seismic data that’s been received indicates that the explosion is probably significantly below what one would expect from an H-bomb test,” Mr Rovere said. “So, initially, it seems to be that they’ve successfully conducted a nuclear test but unsuccessfully completed the second-stage hydrogen explosion.”
Analysts said the North’s leader had been looking for a major achievement to highlight at a rare ruling party congress scheduled for May, the first gathering of its kind for 35 years.
“I don’t think it was a hydrogen bomb test — the explosion had to be larger if it was a hydrogen bomb test,” said Choi Kang, vice president of the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “I think they are disguising it as a hydrogen test because Kim Jong-un mentioned it before.”
A thermonuclear bomb uses fusion in a chain reaction that results in a far more powerful explosion than the fission blast generated by uranium or plutonium alone.
The North has made many unverifiable claims about its nuclear weapons strength, including the ability to strike the US mainland, which most experts dismiss – at least for now.
In September, however, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security raised a red flag over what appeared to be a new “hot cell” facility under construction at the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex. Analysts at the think tank said satellite images suggested it could be an isotope separation facility capable of producing tritium, a key component in the design of thermonuclear weapons.
H-bomb ‘would have struck higher on Richter scale’
Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst with the Rand Corporation, was also unconvinced by the H-bomb test claim.
“If it were a real H-bomb, the Richter Scale reading should have been about a hundred times more powerful than what we saw, which would have been in the range of seven or so,” Mr Bennett said.
He assessed Wednesday’s explosion as in the 10-15 kiloton range, just less than the Hiroshima blast in 1945. He said the fusion element of the explosion may have failed entirely, or the fission element did not operate correctly.
However, Mr Bennett said the increasing power of the blasts heightened the prospect of triggering an earthquake and the release of radiation from the underground test site, a source of great concern to Chinese people across the border. Asked about next steps, Mr Bennett said: “We have to be concerned because he has this separate party congress that he’s planning to do in May, which is a huge political deal. “And he’s done a test now which most people and most experts in the world will say didn’t work. Is he going to be forced before May to do another test to demonstrate that they can get it to work? And that’s the ultimate instability.”
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, which briefed MPs after the North’s announcement, also said it was unlikely to have been a hydrogen bomb.
A member of the parliamentary intelligence committee who attended the briefing said the NIS had seen no tell-tale signs of an explosion powerful enough to be attributed to an H-bomb.
The North’s first two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 were of plutonium devices, while the third in 2013 was believed — though not confirmed — to have used uranium as its fissile material.
Seong Chai-Ki, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses, said Wednesday’s test was more likely a boosted fission test, generally seen as a precursor to a full H-bomb detonation.
“There has been speculation that North Korea would first test its boosted fission weapon rather than going directly to a hydrogen bomb test,” Seong Chai-Ki said.
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