Red alert across Asia: North Korea tests nuclear bomb in underground bunker

North Korea triggered a red alert across Asia this morning, after it carried out a nuclear weapon test and fired a short-range missile.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s decision to renew nuclear tests has caused international condemnation Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Tremors from a 4.7 magnitude artificial earthquake were detected just before ten o’clock local time, after North Korea detonated a bomb in a bunker six miles underground.

The rogue state, which had previously tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, boasted that its latest test was more powerful “in terms of its explosive power” and more technologically-advanced.

“We successfully conducted another underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures aimed at strengthening our self-defence nuclear deterrent in every way,” said the state-run North Korean news wire.

The test will “contribute to safeguarding our sovereignty and socialism and guaranteeing peace and safety on the Korean peninsula and the surrounding region,” it added.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he condemned North Korea’s announcement that it has conducted a nuclear test “in the strongest terms”.

“This act will undermine prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula and will do nothing for North Korea’s security.

“The international community will treat North Korea as a partner if it behaves responsibly. If it does not, then it can expect only renewed isolation.”

The test site was around 230 miles north east of Pyongyang, according to the United States Geological Survey. The location is just a few miles from where North Korea tested its first nuclear device in 2006.

Yonhap, the South Korean news wire, also reported that a single ground-to-air missile, with a range of 80 miles, was fired from a launch site nearby just a few hours later. The rogue state is not thought to have yet developed a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, experts said.

Taro Aso, the Japanese prime minister, said he would set up a task force to handle the situation and seek an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss a plan of action.

Barack Obama, the US president, said the nuclear and missile tests were “a threat to international peace” and warranted “action by the international community.”

The Chinese Foreign ministry said it was investigating the situation and could not comment immediately. Diplomatic sources said they had been expecting a North Korean nuclear test, and said the rogue state was trying to increase pressure on the United States in a high-stakes negotiation.

“The reported test appears to be aimed at securing ultimate endorsement of its nuclear power status from the United States and bringing Washington to the negotiation table,” said Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University.

Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the situation. “Both South Korea and US intelligence agencies are analysing and closely monitoring the situation,” said a spokesman for his office.

He added that the South Korean government had been warned beforehand that a nuclear test was possible. At the end of last week, an unnamed South Korean defence official was quoted saying that “brisk activity” had been detected along North Korea’s northern coast and that “trucks mounted with mobile rocket launchers are on the move”.

North Korea has repeatedly warned in the past month that it intends to restart its nuclear programme and build up its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Pyongyang was furious in April after the United Nations Security Council issued a rebuke against it for testing a long-range missile. The United States believed the missile was a weapon capable of striking continental America.

Reports of the nuclear test hit South Korean financial markets and the main KOSPI share index was down four per cent, while the won dropped more than one per cent against the US dollar.

In 2006, North Korea detonated a very small nuclear device which the Atomic Energy Commission estimated at “about or less than a kiloton”. Doubts were raised about whether it was actually a nuclear weapon, since conventional arms could have generated a similar blast.

The test drew international condemnation, including from China, Pyongyang’s traditional ally, since Beijing was notified just 20 minutes before the test. “This test has brought about a negative influence on our bilateral relationship,” said the Chinese Foreign ministry at the time. The UN approved military and economic sanctions against the state shortly afterwards.

By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Last Updated: 8:49AM BST 25 May 2009

Source: The Telegraph

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