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(LEAD) S. Korea says 'high possibility' of nuke test by N. Korea

2016/01/06 12:26

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES with comments from meteorological agency)

SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) - The South Korean meteorological administration is trying to verify whether North Korea has conducted a nuclear test after detecting an "artificial earthquake" of magnitude 4.3 near the North's nuclear test site, officials said Wednesday.

The Meteorological Administration said the quake occurred in an area some 49 kilometers north of Kilju, home to the country's Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

"Considering the waveform and the amplitude of the earthquake, it seems certain that it was an artificial quake," an agency official said. "(We are) going through a thorough analysis based on the high possibility of it being a nuke test."

Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea's presidential office, plans to hold a session of the National Security Council over the issue.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the preliminary magnitude at 5.1. It's not clear why there are varying magnitudes.

North Korea has hinted that it may conduct a nuclear test in response to what it claims is a hostile policy by the United States and its allies toward the country.

North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, drawing international condemnation and U.N. sanctions.

When the North conducted its third atomic test in February 2013, a similar artificial earthquake occurred.

"We decided the North Korea's quake as artificial since it mostly had primary waves, with little or no secondary waves," the official said.

According to the meteorological agency, natural earthquakes usually incur similar or larger vibrations of secondary waves than the primary ones.

The meteorological administration originally announced that the magnitude of the quake was 4.2 but later elevated it to 4.3.