North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Friday, drawing strong condemnation from the international community over the “recklessness” of young ruler Kim Jong-Un, and a U.S.-Russian pledge to refer it to the United Nations.
The blast at the Punggye-ri nuclear site was the North’s fifth and most powerful yet at 10 kilotons — approaching the might of the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in 1945, experts in Seoul said.
Pyongyang’s state media said the test, which comes after a series of ballistic missile launches that have drawn international condemnation and U.N. sanctions, had achieved its goal of being able to fit a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a rocket.
The test also coincided with the anniversary of North Korea’s 1948 foundation as a republic.
“Our nuclear scientists staged a nuclear explosion test on a newly developed nuclear warhead at the country’s northern nuclear test site,” a North Korean TV presenter said.
“Our… party sent a congratulatory message to our nuclear scientists… for conducting the successful nuclear warhead explosion test,” said Ri Chun-Hee, a veteran who has delivered all the North’s biggest announcements.
The news drew swift condemnation from U.S. President Barack Obama who warned of “serious consequences” and said he had called the leaders of South Korea and Japan to confer over the crisis.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov also condemned the test and said it would be referred to the United Nations.
“Obviously Japan and South Korea, particularly, are deeply concerned because of the neighborhood,” Kerry said. “But I think it’s fair to say China, Russia and the United States, everybody shares concerns about it.
“We’re trying to monitor to precisely find out what took place… and we will certainly be discussing this in the context of the United Nations, for sure.”
The South’s President Park Geun-Hye spoke out against the “maniacal recklessness” of Kim, who since taking control after the death of his father in 2011 has carried out a series of purges and weapons tests designed to show strength and consolidate power.
“Kim Jong-Un’s regime will only earn more sanctions and isolation… and such provocation will further accelerate its path to self-destruction,” Park said, warning his obsession with creating a nuclear arsenal posed a grave challenge.
“We will step up pressure on the North by using all possible measures, including more, stronger sanctions on the North with the international community and at the U.N. Security Council,” she said.
News of the test emerged when seismic monitors detected a 5.3-magnitude “artificial earthquake” early Friday near the Punggye-ri nuclear site, where the last test took place in January.
“The 10-kiloton blast was nearly twice the fourth nuclear test and slightly less than the Hiroshima bombing, which was measured about 15 kilotons,” said Kim Nam-Wook from the South’s meteorological agency.
If Pyongyang can make a nuclear device small enough to fit on a warhead, and bolster the range and accuracy of its missiles, it might achieve its oft-stated aim of hitting U.S. targets. But its claims to that in the past have been discounted.
Japan condemned the move as “absolutely unacceptable” while the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said it was a “clear violation” of numerous Security Council resolutions.
North Korea has been hit by five sets of United Nations sanctions since it first tested a nuclear device in 2006, but has insisted it will continue, arguing it faces an existential threat from U.S. aggression.
A series of ballistic missile launches has also drawn intense criticism, with another three fired on Monday even as world powers gathered for a G20 meeting in China.