Nuclear blast eyed in 5.1-quake near North Korea test site
UPDATED @ 10:55 a.m., January 6, 2016, to add Japan’s comment.
Originally posted @ 10:37 a.m.
TOKYO, Japan — The Japanese government said Wednesday that an earthquake recorded in North Korea might have been caused by a nuclear test.
“Considering past cases, there is the possibility that this might be a nuclear test by North Korea,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said at a regular briefing, adding that Tokyo was analyzing the situation.
He said senior officials from government agencies concerned were gathering at the prime minister’s office to share and analyze data.
Japan has taken steps in recent years to upgrade its intelligence-gathering capability including launching satellites to monitor North Korea, which has carried out previous nuclear tests and routinely threatens Japan.
Earlier, Chinese earthquake monitors suggested that it could be the result of an atomic explosion.
The US Geological Survey said the epicenter of the quake — detected at 10:00 am Pyongyang time (0130 GMT) — was in the northeast of the country, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Kilju city, placing it right next to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
The website of the China Earthquake Network Center described it as a “suspected explosion”.
The South Korean defense ministry said it was looking into the reports, while Yonhap news agency said Foreign Minister Yun Byng-Se had convened an emergency meeting.
“Further analysis is necessary to determine whether it is an artificial or a natural quake,” a spokesman for the Korea Meteorological Administration told AFP.
The North has conducted three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 — all at the Punggye-ri site.
Researchers at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said last month that recent satellite images showed North Korea was excavating a new tunnel at Punggye-ri.
“While there are no indications that a nuclear test in imminent, the new tunnel adds to North Korea’s ability to conduct additional detonations over the coming years if it chooses to do so,” they said at the time.