North Korea confirms third nuclear test, sparks protests

International
DAVID E SANGER & CHOE SANG-HUN

North Korea on Tuesday confirmed it had conducted its third, long-threatened nuclear test, according to the official KCNA news service, posing a new challenge for the Obama administration in its effort to keep the country from becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.

The KCNA said it used a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously" and that the test "did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment." It said a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously" was used and that the test "did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment."

The test drew a crescendo of international condemnation Tuesday, with President Obama calling it a "highly provocative act" that demands "swift and credible action by the international community" against North Korea. Russia, Britain, South Korea and the United Nations similarly quickly condemned the blast.

The UN Security Council "strongly condemned" the nuclear test and vowed to take "appropriate measures" in response to Pyongyang's action. The powerful UN body held urgent consultations here to discuss the "serious" situation. In a statement, the council said its members will "begin work immediately on appropriate measures in a resolution" in line with the "gravity of this violation", Press Trust of India reported.

Preliminary estimates by South Korea suggested the test was much more powerful than the previous two conducted by the North.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea's Defence Ministry, said Tuesday's blast generated an explosive yield of between six and seven kilotons, far greater than the yield of less than one kiloton detected in the North's 2006 test and an estimated yield of two to six kilotons in its 2009 test. But it appeared less powerful than the first bomb the United States dropped on Japan, in Hiroshima in 1945, which had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons.

The test is the first under the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un, and an open act of defiance to the Chinese, who had urged the young leader not to risk open confrontation by setting off the weapon. In a relatively muted statement issued several hours after the blast, China expressed its "staunch opposition" to the test but called for "all parties concerned to respond calmly".

Even before Pyongyang conducted Tuesday's test, the Obama administration had already threatened to take additional action to penalize the North through the United Nations. The only penalty that would truly hurt the North would be a cut-off of oil and other aid from China. And until now, despite issuing warnings, the Chinese leadership has refused to participate in sanctions.

Later Tuesday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry warned of "second and third measures of greater intensity" if Washington remains hostile. It may take weeks to determine independently if the test was successful.

Defiant nuclear programme

1998

ROCKET LAUNCH (August): This early launch gets the world's attention, because it goes well beyond North Korea's known capability. The rocket, which hurtles over Japan, has an estimated potential range of 2,500 km.

2006

ROCKET LAUNCH (July): A three-stage rocket with a potential range of 6,700 km fizzles soon after liftoff, the US and South Korea say. North Korea has never acknowledged the launch.

NUCLEAR TEST (October): North Korea detonates a nuclear device for first time, but yield is a very low 0.5 to 1 kiloton.

2009

ROCKET LAUNCH (April): This launch is a partial success, with two of three stages pushing the rocket out over Pacific. The third stage fails, and, despite North claims of success, no satellite is put into orbit, the US says. The rocket dubbed Unha-2 represents a significant advancement over previous rockets, according to experts.

NUCLEAR TEST (May): Second detonation of a nuclear device is a partial success with a larger yield of 2 to 6 kilotons, but still below the 10 kilotons experts consider a successful blast.

2012

ROCKET LAUNCH (April 2012): Launch of Unha-3 rocket, with a potential range of 10,000 km, ends in embarrassing failure, splintering into pieces soon after takeoff. Hours later, the country acknowledges the satellite failed to enter orbit.

ROCKET LAUNCH (December 2012): The rocket succeeds in launching a satellite into space. Its range, though questioned by some experts, in theory puts the US West Coast, Hawaii, Australia and eastern Europe within striking distance.

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