North Korea confirms nuclear test

This screen grab from North Korean television on April 9 shows leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang.
North Korea has conducted its second nuclear test, the country’s state news agency announced Monday.

The confirmation came little more than an hour after the U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude 4.7 seismic disturbance at the site of North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006. The North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency said Monday’s test was conducted “as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way.” In Seoul, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak’s office said the country was investigating the reported test and would hold an emergency meeting of its national security council. And in Tokyo, Prime Minister Taro Aso’s office said it has set up a special task force to look into the test and how to respond. There was no immediate response from Washington or Beijing. Watch how the test may have taken world by surprise » “The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control and the results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology,” KCNA announced. There was no immediate information on the yield of the weapon used. But the first North Korean test produced, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, an explosion equal to less than 1,000 tons of TNT — a fraction of the size of the bombs the United States dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Watch South Korea’s initial reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test »

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The test, which North Korea had threatened after the U.N. Security Council criticized Pyongyang’s April 5 test of a long-range rocket, was “faster than expected,” said Jim Walsh, an international security analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The questions raised by the test are less military and more political, he added. “We know so little about this country,” Walsh told CNN. “We don’t have good relations with them, they’re going through a leadership transition and on top of that, they test a nuclear weapon. So the problem with this is we’re not going to have military action, but it’s all the uncertainty and political consequences.” The test comes two days after former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, who’d sought improved relations with North Korea during his 2003-2008 tenure, committed suicide. Just before he left the presidency, Roh became the first South Korean leader to cross the demilitarized zone and meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Watch how Roh’s legacy may be remembered » Roh’s successor, Lee, takes a harder line on the north and has so far not continued Roh’s efforts. The test also comes less than three weeks after the United States announced a new diplomatic effort to restart the stalled North Korean nuclear talks. The Obama administration’s designated point person on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, visited the region for talks with China, South Korea, Japan and Russia — the other participants in the six-party talks. In July 2008 negotiators reached agreement with Pyongyang on a timetable for North Korea to resume disabling its nuclear facilities. But the reclusive communist state balked at the deal, demanding the United States first take it off its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Bush administration lifted that designation in October, but plans to push for an agreement allowing the other parties to check whether Pyongyang has revealed all of its nuclear secrets stalled. In June 2008, North Korea acknowledged producing roughly 40 kilograms of enriched plutonium — enough for about seven nuclear bombs.

But North Korea remains “years and years” away from having a weapon it can put atop a long-range missile like those in the United States, Chinese or Russian arsenals, said Walsh, the international security analyst. “Nothing good” can come from Monday’s test, he said, “but it doesn’t mean they’re going to have a real working nuclear weapon tomorrow or next year.”