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North Korea carried out a second and more powerful nuclear test, defying international pressure to rein in its atomic programmes after years of six-nation disarmament talks.
he hardline communist state, which stunned the world by testing an atomic bomb for the first time in October 2006, had threatened another test after the UN Security Council censured it for a long-range rocket launch in April.
The North “successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
“The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology,” it said.
The force of the blast was between 10 and 20 kilotons, according to Russia’s defence ministry quoted by news agencies, vastly more than the estimated one kiloton blast three years ago.
The United Nations Security Council, which sanctioned the North for its previous test, planned to meet Monday afternoon in New York, the Japanese UN mission said.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia and the European Union expressed serious concern, as did the North’s closest neighbours South Korea and Japan.
US President Barack Obama said Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes threaten world peace.
“North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons, as well as its ballistic missile program, constitute a threat to international peace and security,” Obama said in a written statement.
“The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants action by the international community.”
The North informed the United States and China in advance of the test, a Seoul official said on condition of anonymity.
South Korea, in mourning over the weekend suicide of former president Roh Moo-Hyun, called its neighbour’s atomic test a “serious threat” to regional peace and a grave challenge to non-proliferation efforts.
It put its military on heightened alert.
In Tokyo chief cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura called the test “absolutely unacceptable.”
“Japan will take stern action against North Korea,” he added.
The KCNA report did not say where the test was conducted. South Korean officials said a tremor was detected around the northeastern town of Kilju, near where the first was staged.
The Korea Meteorological Administration said it measured 4.5 on the Richter Scale conmpared to 3.6 in October 2006.
Yonhap news agency said the North also appears to have test-fired a short-range missile Monday from its launch site at Musudan-ri near Kilju.
China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have been negotiating since 2003 to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear programme in exchange for energy and security guarantees.
The negotiations led to an agreement signed in 2007, under which the North said it would dismantle its nuclear facilities. The deal bogged down last December over ways to verify the North’s declared nuclear activities.
In April the North fired a long-range rocket for what it called a satellite launch. Many nations saw a disguised ballistic missile test and the Security Council condemned the launch and tightened sanctions.
A defiant North vowed to conduct a second nuclear test as well as more ballistic missile launches unless the world body apologised.
It also announced that it was quitting the six-way talks, which are hosted by its closest ally China, and would restart its plutonium-making programme.
Analysts believe the North has stockpiled enough plutonium for six to 12 small nuclear bombs. Its first test was seen as only partially successful.
KCNA said Monday’s test had resolved “scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology.”
North Korea has frequently said it needs a nuclear deterrent to prevent any attack. It said Monday’s test would “contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the region.”
The North has expressed disappointment at the Obama administration, calling it no better than its precedessor.
“The second test was earlier than expected and reflects the North’s growing anger at Washington,” said Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul’s Dongguk University.
“Or some internal problems may be forcing Pyongyang to take a strong attitude.”
Leader Kim Jong-Il, 67, was widely reported to have suffered a stroke last August, prompting speculation overseas about the succession. The North’s position has noticeably hardened since then.