SEOUL, South Korea – A large explosion occurred in the northern part of North Korea, sending a huge mushroom cloud into the air on an important anniversary of the communist regime, a South Korean news agency reported today. The South Korean government said it was trying to confirm the report.
The Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified diplomatic source in Seoul, said the explosion happened at 11 a.m. local time Thursday in Yanggang province near the border with China. The blast in Kim Hyong Jik county left a crater big enough to be noticed by a satellite, the source said.
“We understand that a mushroom-shaped cloud about 3.5- to 4-kilometer (2.2 miles to 2.5 miles) in diameter was monitored during the explosion,” the source said.
Thursday was the anniversary of the 1948 foundation of the communist regime. Leader Kim Jong Il uses the occasion to stage performances and other events to bolster loyalty among the impoverished North Korean population.
Experts have speculated that North Korea might use a major anniversary to conduct a nuclear-related test, though there was no immediate indication that the reported explosion on Thursday was linked to Pyongyang’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
“It remains unclear whether it was a deliberately planned nuclear test or it was just an accident,” the source in Seoul told Yonhap. “But it doesn’t seem to be an ordinary explosion.”
The source said the explosion took place “not far” from a military base that holds North Korea’s Taepo-dong ballistic missiles. North Korea, which has a large missile arsenal and more than a million soldiers, is dotted with military installations.