Quake desta­bilises nu­clear test site

Ex­perts say shocks likely dam­aged area

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

SEOUL: A se­ries of tremors and land­slides near North Korea’s nu­clear test base likely mean the coun­try’s sixth and largest blast has desta­bilised the re­gion, and the Pung­gye-ri nu­clear site may not be used for much longer to test nu­clear weapons, ex­perts say.

A small quake was de­tected early yes­ter­day near the North’s nu­clear test site, South Korea’s weather agency said, but un­like quakes as­so­ci­ated with nu­clear tests, it did not ap­pear to be man­made. The tremor was the lat­est in a string of at least three shocks to be ob­served since Py­ongyang’s Sept 3 nu­clear test, which caused a 6.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake.

Yes­ter­day’s quake was a mag­ni­tude 2.7 with a depth of 3km in North Ham­gy­ong Prov­ince in North Korea, the Korea Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ad­min­is­tra­tion said. The United States Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey mea­sured the quake at 2.9 mag­ni­tude at a depth of 5km.

The se­ries of quakes has prompted ex­perts and ob­servers to sus­pect the last test — which the North claimed to be of a hy­dro­gen bomb — may have dam­aged the moun­tain­ous lo­ca­tion in the north­west tip of the coun­try, where all of North Korea’s six nu­clear tests were con­ducted.

“The ex­plo­sion from the Sept 3 test had such power that the ex­ist­ing tun­nels within the un­der­ground test­ing site might have caved in,” said Kim So-gu, head re­searcher at the Korea Seis­mo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute.

Ac­cord­ing to 38 North, a Wash­ing­ton­based project which mon­i­tors North Korea, nu­mer­ous land­slides through­out the nu­clear test site have been de­tected af­ter the sixth test. These dis­tur­bances are more nu­mer­ous than seen af­ter any of the North’s pre­vi­ous tests, 38 North said.

The ex­plo­sion from the sixth test was large enough for res­i­dents of the Chi­nese bor­der city of Yanji, 200km north of the nu­clear test site, to feel the ground shake.

“The rea­son why Pung­gye-ri has be­come North Korea’s nu­clear test­ing field is be­cause this area was con­sid­ered sta­ble and rarely saw tremors in the past,” said Hong Tae-kyung, a pro­fes­sor of earth sys­tem sci­ence at Yon­sei Univer­sity in Seoul. “The re­cent small quakes sug­gest that the test might have trig­gered crust de­for­ma­tion.”

South Korea’s spy agency said re­cently the North was ready­ing pos­si­bly two more tun­nels fol­low­ing its lat­est test, ac­cord­ing to rul­ing Demo­cratic Party law­mak­ers who had been briefed on the is­sue.

The tun­nel used for Py­ongyang’s first nu­clear test had been shut down af­ter that test, while a sec­ond tun­nel had been used for the fol­low­ing five, the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice said last month. This sec­ond tun­nel may have caved in af­ter the sixth test, the in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said.

North Korea has hinted its next test could be above the ground. For­eign Min­is­ter Ri Yong-ho said last month the North could test “an un­prece­dented scale hy­dro­gen bomb” over the Pa­cific Ocean, in re­sponse to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threat to “to­tally de­stroy” the coun­try.

Arms ex­perts say det­o­nat­ing a nu­cle­artipped mis­sile over the Pa­cific Ocean, while seen as the log­i­cal fi­nal step to prove the suc­cess of its weapons pro­gramme, would carry huge risks.

Another is­sue that could keep North Korea from us­ing Pung­gye-ri for nu­clear tests the nearby ac­tive vol­cano of Mt Paektu, Yon­sei Univer­sity’s Mr Hong said.

The 2,744 me­tre moun­tain, strad­dling the north­west­ern bor­der be­tween China and North Korea, last erupted in 1903. Since North Korea be­gan test­ing its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties, ex­perts have de­bated whether ex­plo­sions at Pung­gye-ri could trig­ger another vol­canic erup­tion.

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