South Koreans watch breaking news on North Korea’s nuclear test at Seoul Station on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
South Korean government and authorities confirmed Tuesday that North Korea conducted a third nuclear test in its northeastern village of Punggye-ri in the morning in defiance of international warnings against it.
South Korea seismologists detected an artificial earthquake with a magnitude of between 4.5 and 5.0 at around 11:57 a.m.
“In close cooperation with the U.S., South Korea has been closely watching the possibility of its third nuclear test, and based on our analysis of various materials, it is presumed that the North carried out a nuclear test,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.
The South Korean military has raised its readiness posture one notch, and is keeping closer tabs on the North Korean military’s movements by mobilizing South Korea-U.S. combined intelligence assets, Kim added.
After being briefed on the earthquake, President Lee Myung-bak immediately convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council at an underground security control center at Cheong Wa Dae.
Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Unification Minister Ryu Woo-ik attended the meeting to discuss how to respond to the provocation.
The test dashed hopes that the North might delay or cancel the plan brought by China’s unusually aggressive efforts to dissuade Pyongyang from carrying it out.
The site where the artificial earthquake took place is the same as where the North conducted the previous two tests in 2006 and 2009. In the 2009 test, an artificial earthquake of magnitude 4.5 was detected.
Experts believe the explosive power of the third test is about 6-7 kilotons. A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT.
In the North’s first nuclear test in 2006, its explosive power was about 1 kiloton. Due to its weak explosion, experts evaluated the test as a failure. But the second one recorded an explosion of between 2 kilotons and 6 kilotons, which was regarded as a “half success.”
North Korea is expected to face tougher international sanctions as U.N. Security Council Resolution 2087 recently adopted to condemn its December rocket launch warned of “significant action” in case of additional provocations.
By Song Sang-ho