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2009/05/28 11:19 KST

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Says Second Nuclear Test Successfully Conducted

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Less than three years after its first nuclear test, North Korea conducted a more powerful one May 25 to "bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense." The underground test immediately prompted international condemnation and warnings of tougher United Nations sanctions. Pyongyang also fired two short-range missiles from its eastern coastal launch site in the afternoon. Three other missiles were fired the next day.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the underground nuclear blast was carried out "successfully" and "on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology" than its first test in October 2006. The KCNA said the test helped resolve technical problems that had prevented the country from improving its nuclear arsenal in the past.

   The next day, May 26, North Korea held a mass rally in Pyongyang to celebrate the successful underground nuclear test.

   North Korea's second nuclear test indicated that the socialist country has improved its capacity to some extent since 2006, as it inches toward full membership in the club of unofficial nuclear weapons states, most experts agreed.

   South Korean officials said they detected seismic tremors in the northeastern village of Pungkye in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, near the site where the North detonated its first nuclear device in 2006. The U.S. State Department also said the test was conducted.

   Seismic activity indicated the test was more powerful than the first and took place in Kilju, northeast North Korea, at 9:54 a.m. South Korean and U.S. institutes said they detected a 4.4-4.7 magnitude earthquake at a depth of 10 km at a location about 375 km northeast of Pyongyang, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey. The seismic magnitude of the 2006 test was measured at 3.6. It is unclear whether the more powerful tremor resulted from technological advancement or simply the use of more plutonium.

   The Russian Defense Ministry was quoted as saying the explosion was measured at up to 20 kilotons, 20 times more powerful than the 2006 test.

   Estimates of the size of the latest underground explosion in North Korea vary from one to two kilotons to as high as 10 to 20 kilotons. The higher estimate would match the power and potency of the bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to end World War II. Russia estimated its measurements reflected the higher range, while the U.S. downplayed it as a few kilotons of TNT.

   Seoul's National Intelligence Service said May 26 that the second test by the North is believed to have had an explosive force four to eight times stronger than that of the first test. It also warned that Pyongyang could test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile soon (ICBM).

   A successful nuclear test is considered to be one that produces a yield of 5-15 kilotons. A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT. Washington regarded the 2006 test as a failure, citing the explosive force of 0.8 kilotons.

   "They're not anywhere as good as Israel, but they could probably deploy a weapon on top of a Rodong missile and be fairly confident that it would work," David Albright, a former nuclear inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, was quoted by the Washington Times as saying.

   Speculation has run high that North Korea may have produced nuclear warheads that could be carried by its short- and medium-range missiles that could hit all of South Korea and Japan. The North is believed to have deployed more than 600 Scud missiles with a range of 320-500 km and 200 Rodong missiles with a range of 1,300 km near the inter-Korean border.

   In 2006, Pyongyang test-fired a series of missiles off its eastern coast toward Japan, including a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile with a range of 6,700 km, enough to hit the U.S. with a light payload. It is estimated that North Korea has about 30-50 kg of plutonium ― enough to make six to 10 nuclear bombs.

   The North had threatened to stage new nuclear and missile tests and reactivate its frozen nuclear programs to protest against a U.N. condemnation of its long-range rocket launch conducted on April 5.

   Citizens of Pyongyang held a mass rally May 26 to celebrate the country's second "successful" nuclear test, state media said, hailing the blast as a self-defense measure against hostile U.S. policy. For the nation's first nuclear test in October 2006, celebratory rallies were organized 11 days later.

   North Korea routinely holds mass rallies in the capital and towns after important events in an apparent attempt to maximize propaganda and internal unity. Such gatherings were also held after the long-range rocket launch in April.

   Choe Thae-bok, secretary of the Workers' Party central committee, said military threats and economic sanctions posed by the U.S. prompted the North to conduct the nuclear test.

   The nuclear test "was a grand undertaking to protect the supreme interests of the DPRK (North Korea) and defend the dignity and sovereignty of the country and nation in the face of the U.S. imperialists' unabated threat to mount a preemptive nuclear attack and sanctions and pressure upon it," Choe was quoted by the KCNA as saying. "The situation of the country is growing tenser," he said, blaming the "vicious hostile policy" pursued by the U.S., Japan and South Korea's conservative government.

   Watchers say North Korea's foremost goal with the nuclear test was to pressure the Barack Obama administration into starting direct negotiations. Pyongyang believes only bilateral talks can move Washington to normalize relations and lift sanctions against it, they say.

   There was no sign, however, of compromise by Washington. Obama strongly condemned North Korea's nuclear test, while the U.N. Security Council was working to introduce harsher sanctions against the North.

   The Minju Joson, the North's Cabinet newspaper, slammed the U.S. rush to isolate and sanction the nation as "ludicrous," claiming the North has been in restrictive conditions for decades. "Nothing is going to change as long as the U.S. doesn't change its hostile, rejective innate tendency toward us," the paper said. "It is a ludicrous idea for the U.S. to think that it can defeat us by sanctions. We have been living under U.S. sanctions for decades ... The U.S. hostile policy toward us is like beating a rock with a rotten egg."

   The Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper that conveys North Korea's stance to foreign readers, said May 26 that North Korea will continue to raise the stakes unless Washington takes direct action, no matter how seriously it is punished by the international community.

   At the rally, Choe also promoted an internal slogan called the "150-day campaign," the North's latest effort to increase labor productivity. The campaign was launched last month as part of the country's pledge to become a strong and prosperous country by 2012, the centenary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung. The KCNA report did not say how many had gathered at the rally at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium.

   The North is seen to be trying to secure recognition of its nuclear power status and greater leverage in negotiations with the U.S. It also appears to be trying to consolidate its leader Kim Jong-il's grip on power. He reportedly suffered a stroke last year.

   On the day of the nuclear test, the North launched two short-range missiles off its east coast hours after the nuclear test, Seoul defense officials said. A day later, North Korea fired three more short-range missiles, increasing the total number of missiles launched to five.

   The launches were seen as an apparent move to threaten U.S. spy planes monitoring the nuclear test site, they added. "The latest missiles were fired from Wonsan, which isn't too far from Taepodong, where the first (missile) was launched," an official said. "The launches appear to be a reaction to U.S. surveillance efforts."

   In 2006, North Korea had coupled its first nuclear test with the launch of seven missiles, including a long-range one.