News / Asia

S. Korea, Japan Move to Bolster Defenses After North's Nuclear Test

South Korean protesters burn the pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korea rally following a nuclear test conducted by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, February 12, 2013.
South Korean protesters burn the pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korea rally following a nuclear test conducted by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, February 12, 2013.
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— North Korea is being sharply criticized for conducting a third nuclear test Tuesday. The underground explosion is in defiance of previous United Nations Security Council resolutions that followed similar nuclear tests. One immediate result is tough talk by South Korea and Japan  -- both U.S. allies -- about bolstering their defensive capabilities.

North Korean state media hail the nuclear test as a success, saying it "did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment."

A television announcer in Pyongyang says the country detonated a "miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force" than previous tests.

The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.
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The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.
The location of the nuclear test site in North Korea.
Analysts say that indicates North Korea may have set off a plutonium-fueled bomb, suitable to be placed atop a missile.

There has been speculation North Korea has been enriching uranium for use in its nuclear weapons.

North Korea is believed to have only enough plutonium for a small number of weapons. But a supply of domestically enriched uranium would allow it to have a larger nuclear arsenal.

Related video report by Jerome Socolovsky

Stakes High After Third North Korean Nuclear Testi
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February 12, 2013 12:01 PM
North Korea has conducted a third nuclear weapons in violation of United Nations sanctions. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that the stakes are higher this time than with previous tests in 2006 and 2009.

Japan and the United States have deployed aircraft with special equipment to collect radioactive gases. An analysis of those gases could determine what type of nuclear material was used.

South Korean officials say tremors recorded by seismographs around the world suggest the device has a yield of six to seven kilotons.

North Korean Nuclear Tests

2006
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Powered by plutonium
  • Released radioactive materials

2009
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Seismic signals were consistent with a nuclear test
  • Radioactive material was not detected
North Korea claimed an initial underground test in 2006, but some scientists contend that one might not have triggered a nuclear explosion. A second nuclear test North Korea claimed in 2009 had an estimated yield of two to seven kilotons. By comparison, the U.S. nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in the final days of WWII in 1945 carried a yield of about 20 kilotons.

Chun Young-woo, South Korea's presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, says Seoul is maintaining a high readiness posture amid concerns of more provocations by Pyongyang.

Chun says to protect South Korean people and property from North Korean nuclear and missile threats, the government is expanding its military capability. He explains that will include deploying missiles, as soon as feasible, that will be capable of hitting a target anywhere in North Korea.

Copies of an extra edition of a Japanese newspaper reporting North Korea's nuclear test are handed out to passers-by in Tokyo Feb. 12, 2013.Copies of an extra edition of a Japanese newspaper reporting North Korea's nuclear test are handed out to passers-by in Tokyo Feb. 12, 2013.
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Copies of an extra edition of a Japanese newspaper reporting North Korea's nuclear test are handed out to passers-by in Tokyo Feb. 12, 2013.
Copies of an extra edition of a Japanese newspaper reporting North Korea's nuclear test are handed out to passers-by in Tokyo Feb. 12, 2013.
Japan, which also has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, is feeling increasingly vulnerable as a potential target of a nuclear missile fired from North Korea.

In a VOA interview just hours after the nuclear test, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera termed it a big threat not only to Japan, but all of East Asia.

The minister says Japan will need to bolster its defenses to counter such a threat, but the country's pacifist constitution prevents Japan from acquiring its own nuclear weapons and limits the scope of its forces. So, Onodera says, it is very important to strengthen the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

The two previous North Korean tests took place under the leadership of Kim Jong Il.  This is the first such event ordered by his young son, Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his late father. It comes two months after North Korea launched a long-range rocket with a satellite into orbit.

That was also in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting Pyongyang from utilizing ballistic missile technology.

  • An extra edition of a Japanese newspaper was delivered reporting North Korea's nuclear test, in Tokyo, February 12, 2013.
  • South Korean protesters burn a North Korean flag following a report of the nuclear test conducted by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, February 12, 2013.
  • Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake and tsunami observations division director Akira Nagai points to a spot on the map showing the quake center during a news conference in Tokyo, February 12, 2013.
  • South Korean soldiers check military fences as they patrol near the demilitarized zone separating North Korea from South Korea, in Paju, north of Seoul, February 12, 2013.
  • A screen grab of the Nuclear Test Facility site in North Korea, via Google Maps satellite view.
  • South Korean soldiers monitor computers at the Seoul train station following a report about a possible nuclear test conducted by North Korea, February 12, 2013.
  • A video grab from KCNA shows the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket launching at North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control center in Cholsan county, North Pyongang province December 12, 2012.
  • North Koreans celebrate the successful launch of the Unha-3 rocket at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang December 14, 2012. The sign reads: "Let's glorify dignity and honor of great people of Kim Il Sung and of Korea of Kim Jong Il in the world!"

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
February 12, 2013 10:06 AM
The UN resolutions condemning North Korea for nuclear underground tests are of no avail. Increasing the defenses of South Korea and Japan does not stop the nuclear threat of North Korea. The security alliance of Japan-US also do not deter North Korean nuclear armament. The on and off six party talks is only helping North Korea to buy time for nuclear developments. China is the only country capable of restraining North Korea. Instead of focusing on North Korea, the countries threatened by North Korea should focus on restraining China.

In Response

by: Truong Tiep from: Mississippi, USA
February 12, 2013 5:56 PM
I agree with Davis K. Thanjan. If we can restrain China looks like we cut off the head of the snake . All people in south east and far east asia knew this.


by: Mark from: USA
February 12, 2013 9:46 AM
North Korea has been behaving like a bad neighbor in the international community. Several of the community members have decided not to trade with or assist them because of that.

I don't see how any rational nation can construe that as being a "hostile action against North Korea" or "nuclear war action" as North Korean media has reported. It is the right of every nation to decide who they want to do business with.

When North Korea becomes a good neighbor and a partner for peace in the region they'll get the respect they're seeking from the international community. Right now they (their leaders) are acting like spoiled brats.

If China is willing, it would seem like this is a great opportunity to show the world that they are ready to be leaders in modern geo-politics.

In Response

by: Sherry Chen from: LA
February 12, 2013 12:16 PM
As people mentioned, N Korea acts as a bad neighbor of many countries, two of which are severely threaten should be China and S Korea. It is unwise to support N Korea developing any form of nuclear weapons from the view of chinese, since the distance of nuclear missile lauchers and Beijing is so short. A famous chinese saying goes "how can let a tiger sleep beside my bed?" By analysis of consequence of N korean unclear weapons producing, N korean can easily ask china for aid further by bully and threaten and get rid of chinese supervise.

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