Update at 1355 KST: This article has been amended to include an up to date statement by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)
Update at 1315 KST: This article has been amended to include an up to date assessment by USGS
A 6.3 magnitude seismic event, likely a nuclear test, was detected approximately 10 km from North Korea’s nuclear test site on Sunday afternoon, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) earthquake monitoring service indicated.
The event, which appears to be North Korea’s sixth ever nuclear test, has led South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) to convene an urgent meeting, which took place at 1330 KST.
The explosion occurred at exactly 1200 Pyongyang time, the USGS warning indicated.
Not all assessments agreed on the magnitude of the explosion, however, a figure that would give analysts a strong idea of what kind of nuclear device has been tested.
The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said that a 5.6 magnitude earthquake occurred at a depth of 10 km at 1236 KST in Kilju County in North Hamgyong Province, but later updated their assessment to say it had taken place at 1229 KST and that it had had a magnitude of 5.7.
The KMA said it was “presumed to be an artificial earthquake” and they are in the process of “conducting detailed analysis.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) later said Seoul believed it to have been a nuclear test.
“The 5.6-magnitude artificial earthquake which occurred near Punggye-ri area in North Korea at around 1229 KST today (September 3) is presumed to be the North’s sixth nuclear test,” JCS said in a written statement, later upgrading their estimate to 5.7.
The possible test comes just hours after North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the country had developed a hydrogen-bomb that can be loaded onto a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The KCNA published photos of Kim Jong Un inspecting what was described as a thermonuclear warhead being prepared adjacent to the nosecone of a Hwasong-14 ICBM.
A second quake on a scale of 4.6 was detected around the site, which AFP later reported Chinese officials said was caused by a “cave in.”
The event was felt in neighboring northeast China, according to one resident of Yanji.
“I was on the fifth floor and we felt the building move, glass shaking outside, for about five seconds,” Michael Spavor of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, told NK News.
Spavor said buildings nearby were also shaking, according to reports from local friends.
Jets from China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) have been scrambled to respond to the test, another informed source in Yanji, who wished to remain anonymous, told NK News.
The test comes following North Korean state media on Sunday showcasing a hydrogen bomb that could be loaded on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The test occurred just under a year after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test on September 9.
North Korea has previously conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, and two in 2016, with explosive yields of less than one kiloton, 2-4 kilotons, 6-9 kilotons, 7-10 kilotons, and 20-30 kilotons, respectively.
“Assuming Sunday’s test got what North Korean nuclear scientists set out to achieve, we can now expect a long-distance ICBM test in the short to medium term,” Chad O’Carroll, Managing Director the Korea Risk Group – which owns and operates NK News – said.
“A successful full-distance range ICBM test into the Pacific Ocean would subsequently help North Korea show the U.S. that its long-range nuclear weapons capabilities are credible and ready for deployment.”
Coming as it does less than a week after a launch by North Korea of the Hwasong-12, the test is likely to increase Chinese and Russian support for recent calls among some U.S. policymakers for the imposition of an oil embargo against North Korea.
Recent reports suggesting that a fuel price surge in the DPRK was caused by an order by Kim Jong Un to stockpile one million tons of oil supplies in anticipation of forthcoming sanctions could, therefore, explain why North Korea unexpectedly last week canceled an air show scheduled for mid-September.
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