North Korea Conducts Nuclear Test
DAVID GREENE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away this week. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
North Korea sent a message to the world today. The message was received by seismic monitors run by the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
GREENE: And that shaking of the earth came around the time North Korea claims it conducted a nuclear test. The country also fired three short-range missiles, according to a news report from the region. These moves have prompted angry responses from around the world and we'll be covering the story throughout the morning.
INSKEEP: NPR's Mike Shuster covers the spread of nuclear weapons, and he's with us. Mike good morning.
MIKE SHUSTER: Good morning Steve.
INSKEEP: We should stress it's early here, the evidence is still coming in. But how do you read the evidence so far.
SHUSTER: Well, we know that some serious seismic activity occurred in the northeast corner of North Korea, about 10 till 10 this morning, Korea time. This was near the town Kilju. And this is the same area where the North Koreans conducted their first underground nuclear test back in October 2006. And then soon after that, the North Korean Government did issue a statement, and they announced they had conducted an underground nuclear test, they said, in order to bolster their nuclear deterrent for self defense. The statement went on to say that the current nuclear test was safely conducted - this is an underground nuclear test - and that it was a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology, and that it had solved, satisfactorily, some of the scientific and technological problems the North Koreans had encountered when they first tested a nuclear weapon a couple of years ago.
INSKEEP: Oh yeah, we should remember that in 2006, it was such a small nuclear explosion. There was speculation it might have been almost a dud.
SHUSTER: That's right. It was only estimated at half a kiloton. And now it's believed, based on the initial seismic reading, that this was a much larger one. The Russian Defense Ministry said today that it was a 10 to 20 kiloton blast. But the Russians overestimated the first North Korean test. So I'm not sure if we can that as hard fact.
INSKEEP: Ten to 20 kilotons. And a kiloton is - that's the equivalent of like a thousand - that's - that's a lot of TNT. For example…
SHUSTER: That's the equivalent of a thousand tons of TNT.
INSKEEP: Huge explosion. Now it's hard to read why the North Korean Government does what it does. But why would they conduct a test now?
SHUSTER: Well one reason they would conduct a test now because they said they were going to. This - we have to dial back a bit to earlier this year when the North Koreans planned and then launched a rocket that they said had put a satellite in space. There was no evidence that they'd actually put a satellite in space. This rocket launch was condemned by the U.N. Security Council, citing previous Security Council resolutions which prohibited missile and nuclear weapon activity in North Korea.
The North Koreans reacted very hostilely to the statement from the Security Council, which by the way was backed by all the members of the Security Council - including China and Russia. And as a result, the North Koreans said that they were going to carry out additional missile tests. That they might carry out an additional nuclear weapons test. They threw inspectors out of their nuclear weapons compound in North Korea. So, in effect they did what they said they were going to do. The further background is that there's uncertainty in North Korea over leadership. Kim Jong-il the leader - has been sick and appeared feeble when he appeared at recent government meetings in North Korea. So all this uncertainty in North Korea is the background.
INSKEEP: And Mike Shuster, is this, very briefly, a difficult situation for a new American president to approach?
SHUSTER: Certainly it is. President Obama didn't want to deal directly with North Korea. He's got many other key issues on his agenda. But this is going to go the U.N. Security Council now for sure.
INSKEEP: Mike, thanks very much.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mike Schuster who covers nuclear proliferation issues. And once again this morning, the news that we have is that North Korea says, it has conducted a nuclear test and a significant movement has been picked up by seismic monitors run by the United States, South Korea and Japan.
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