SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said it successfully detonated a miniaturized nuclear device at a northeastern test site today, defying U.N. Security Council orders to shut down atomic activity or face more sanctions and international isolation.
The underground explosion could take North Korea a big step closer to its goal of building a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile that could threaten the United States. It will also be seen as a direct message from young leader Kim Jong Un to the United States, Pyongyang’s former wartime enemy.
North Korea’s official state media said the test was conducted in a safe manner and is aimed at coping with “outrageous” U.S. hostility that “violently” undermines the North’s peaceful, sovereign right to launch satellites. North Korea faced sanctions after a December launch of a rocket that the U.N. and Washington called a cover for a banned missile test. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful satellite launch.
The timing will be seen as significant. The test came hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to give his State of the Union speech, a major, nationally televised address. It’s also only days before the Saturday birthday of Kim Jong Un’s father, late leader Kim Jong Il, whose memory North Korean propaganda has repeatedly linked to the country’s nuclear ambitions. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-’53 Korean War.
The North said it used a “lighter, miniaturized atomic bomb” that still has more explosive force than past tests. North Korea is estimated to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight bombs, according to American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker. However, it is not known whether North Korean scientists have found a way to miniaturize warheads.
Earlier today, South Korean, U.S. and Japanese seismic monitoring agencies said they detected an earthquake in North Korea with a magnitude between 4.9 and 5.2.
Experts say regular tests are needed to perfect North Korea’s goal of building nuclear warheads small enough to be placed on long-range missiles. This atomic test is North Korea’s third since 2006.