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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons Test - 25 May 2009

On Monday 25 May 2009, North Korea said it successfully conducted an underground nuclear test that was more powerful than the country's first test two-and-a-half years ago. Shortly after a seismic event was detected in northeastern North Korea, North Korean official media confirmed that a nuclear weapons test had taken place. A North Korean newsreader says the country "successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test," demonstrating what Pyongyang called its "self-defensive nuclear deterrent" to the entire world. Also Monday, the North test fired at least one and probably three short range missile into waters off its east coast.

This is North Korea's second nuclear test, conducted near the site of North Korea's first test in 2006. That test drew condemnation from the international community as well as the passage of a punitive United Nations Security Council Resolution. The first test registered a magnitude 3.58 to 3.7 on the Richter scale, and was variously estimated to have had a yield of as low as 0.2 kilotons, or 0.8 kilotons.

Geological agencies in the US, Japan and South Korea reported that the test produced a tremor with a magnitude of between 4.5 and 5.3 on the Richter scale. Alexander Drobyshevsky, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, told RIA-Novosti that the yield of the test was 10 to 20 kilotons. The bombs the US dropped on Japan in 1945 had yields of 15 and 22 kilotons. Kim Sung-han, a security expert at Korea University in Seoul, was reported to have estimated the test at one kiloton.

The International Monitoring System’s (IMS) seismic stations registered a seismic event at 41.2896 degrees North and 129.0480 degrees East at 00:54:43 GMT (08:54 local time). The signal’s area of origin was largely identical with the 2006 DPRK nuclear test.

The event’s magnitude was slightly higher than in 2006, measuring 4.52 on the Richter scale, while in 2006 it was 4.1. Considerably more seismic stations picked up the signal from the 2009 test: 23 primary seismic stations compared to 13 in 2006; the closest IMS station to the event was at Ussuriysk, Russia, and the furthest in Texas, USA – halfway around the world. Since the previous DPRK nuclear test, the number of seismic stations in the IMS network increased from 89 to 130. Overall, three-quarters or 75 percent of the 337 facilities in the International Monitoring System were already in place.

Tass reported that an official in North Korea's embassy in Moscow claimed that new tests would take place "if the United States and its allies continue the policy of intimidation against North Korea."

The test did not come as a complete surprise. North Korea warned in April 2009 that it would conduct more nuclear tests, after the Security Council condemned its launch of a long-range rocket. It had since ejected international nuclear inspectors and announced its permanent withdrawal from the six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear programs. The North also said it would recommence the process of deriving weapons-grade material from spent nuclear fuel.

On 29 April 2009 North Korea threatened to conduct a nuclear test and more ballistic missile tests if the UN Security Council failed to withdraw its condemnation of Pyongyang's 05 April 2009 rocket launch, which Pyongyang said was carrying a communications satellite. A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry said "In case the UNSC does not make an immediate apology, such actions will be taken as: Firstly, the DPRK will be compelled to take additional self-defensive measures in order to defend its supreme interests. The measures will include nuclear tests and test-firings of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Secondly, the DPRK will make a decision to build a light water reactor power plant and start the technological development for ensuring self-production of nuclear fuel as its first process without delay."

Gary Samore, President Barack Obama's coordinator for weapons of mass destruction policy, said on 01 May 2009 during an event at The Brookings Institution [ Obama Aide Expects North Korea Nuclear Test By AP / DESMOND BUTLER Saturday, May. 02, 2009], that he expected North Korea will carry out another nuclear test. Asked if he expected Pyongyang to carry out another nuclear test, Samore said: "I think they will. That's what they are threatening to do." Siegfried S. Hecker warned on 12 May 2009 that North Korea could " ... separate approximately 8 kilograms of bomb-grade plutonium by October 2009 and produce at most another 6 kilograms of plutonium per year for the next two to four years with its existing stocks of fresh fuel."

John Bolton, former Bush Administration UN Ambassador, warned on 20 May 2009 in the Wall Street Journal "Despite Kim Jong Il's explicit threats of another nuclear test, U.S. Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth said last week that the Obama administration is "relatively relaxed" and that "there is not a sense of crisis." They're certainly smiling in Pyongyang.... This is precisely what the North wants: America in a conciliatory mode, eager to bargain... Negotiations like the six-party talks are a charade and reflect a continuing collapse of American resolve."

The international community responded with condemnation to reports of North Korea's nuclear test and firing of short-range missiles. The United States and France have called for action to be taken against Pyongyang, while Russia and China have urged for a return to dialogue. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is deeply worried and that any nuclear test would be a clear violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning North Korea from such acts. He said he plans to consult with the Council when it meets in a special session later Monday.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency security session immediately after news broke of the nuclear test. South Korean Presidential Spokesman Lee Dong-kwan called North Korea's nuclear test Monday a "serious threat to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula." He said South Korea will work together with the United States, Japan, China and Russia to seek a response at the United Nations Security Council.

US President Barack Obama said North Korea's actions are violations of international law that constitute a "threat to international peace and security." Obama said North Korea's activities warrant action by the international community. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, said the North Korean tests were not a surprise and are part of what he called growing belligerence on the part of Pyongyang. Mullen told CNN that it could take a couple of days to verify the test, but he had no reason to doubt North Korea's claims.Washington's top nuclear envoy, Stephen Bosworth returned earlier in May from a trip to the region that included stops in China, Japan and South Korea. Bosworth says Washington is ready for direct talks with Pyongyang. North Korea has yet to respond to the offer.

The Chinese government said it is "resolutely opposed" to its communist neighbor and ally's actions. It also urged Pyongyang to avoid actions that sharpen tensions. China, the communist state's closest ally, joined in the international condemnation. The country's Foreign Ministry said: "The Chinese government expresses a resolute protest against North Korea's conducting of a new nuclear test despite protests from the international community."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that six-party talks on North Korea are the only solution to the crisis. Russia's Foreign Ministry said the nuclear test "is a serious blow to international efforts aimed at strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and undermines the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty" while threatening "security and stability in the region." Russian presidential spokeswoman Natalia Timakova called the test a direct violation of UN Security Council resolution 1718, and said the location of the blast, near Russia's border, provokes "serious concern." She said those who made the decision to conduct the test should be held responsible to the international community.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana threatened a "firm response" to what he called "irresponsible acts" by North Korea. Solana warned of international sanctions against Pyongyang. "These irresponsible acts by North Korea warrant a firm response by the international community. The EU will be in contact with its partners to discuss appropriate measures," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters on that his country would push for a UN resolution to be adopted against North Korea. The test "is an obvious violation of the UN Security Council resolution... Naturally, we will insist that a Security Council resolution be adopted," he said. The Japanese government said it has set up a task force at the crisis management center of Prime Minister Taro Aso's office. Japan vowed to seek a stern response from the UN security council.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul said "Kim now feels that because of his declining health, he feels he must be on a faster timetable." Cheong expected Pyongyang to indicate the nuclear test was in some part planned by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader's youngest son and frontrunner to take control. "The outside world tends to underestimate Kim Jong-un at his young age," he said. "If Kim Jong-un played a decisive role in this nuclear test, it helps spread internally and externally a perception that he is a man of resolution."

Col.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, a former military cooperation chief at the Russian General Staff, and now president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems, said North Korea's test posed no danger either to Russia or to any other country in the region. "North Korea's nuclear test is an attempt by the country to balance the nuclear potential deployed on the Korean peninsula. The North Korean authorities have repeatedly called for removing [suspected U.S.] warheads and offering security guarantees against aggression," Ivashov said.

Siegfried S. Hecker, who served as director of Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997, had written "The greatest threat of a restart is that it may embolden Pyongyang to test another weapon in order to improve its arsenal's sophistication or that it would give it an additional incentive to link up with Iran in a troublesome alliance of nuclear and missile technology cooperation..."

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Page last modified: 12-02-2013 11:54:54 ZULU