Did N. Korea Actually Test a Nuclear Bomb?

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -
People walk by a screen showing the news reporting about an earthquake near North Korea's nuclear facility, in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. South Korean officials detected an "artificial earthquake" near North Korea's main nuclear test site Wednesday, a strong indication that nuclear-armed Pyongyang had conducted its fourth atomic test. North Korea said it planned an "important announcement" later Wednesday. The letter read "5.1 Earthquake near North Korea's nuclear facility." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
People in South Korea walk by a screen showing news of the earthquake, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

A South Korean lawmaker says the country’s spy agency told him in a private briefing that North Korea may have conducted a nuclear bomb test, given the relatively small size of the seismic wave reported.

Lawmaker Lee Cheol Woo, who sits on the parliament’s intelligence committee, says the National Intelligence Service told him that an estimated explosive yield of six kilotons and a quake with a magnitude of 4.8 were detected on Wednesday. If those figures are accurate, that’s smaller than the estimated explosive yield of 7.9 kilotons and a quake with a magnitude of 4.9 that were reported after the 2013 nuclear test, and only a fraction of a typical successful hydrogen bomb test’s explosive yield of hundreds of kilotons. Lee says the agency told him that even a failed hydrogen bomb detonation typically yields tens of kilotons.

In Pyongyang, North Koreans reacted enthusiastically to the news that the country has carried out its fourth nuclear test since 2006.

Despite their doubts over the true nature of the test, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye convened an emergency national security council meeting and is vowing a tough response to the North’s bomb test. At the start of the meeting  she said that the government “must get North Korea to face corresponding measures based on close cooperation with the international community. It’s not only a grave provocation of our national security, but also an act that threatens our lives and future. It’s also a direct challenge to world peace and stability.”

Park also ordered the military to bolster its combined defense posture with the U.S. military, saying South Korea will sternly deal with any additional provocation by North Korea.

She called for swift, accurate analysis of the North’s claim to have conducted a hydrogen bomb test.

The White House said that it can’t confirm a North Korean nuclear test, but said it would condemn such a test as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price says the U.S. is “aware of seismic activity on the Korean Peninsula in the vicinity of a known North Korean nuclear test site and have seen Pyongyang’s claims of a nuclear test.” He calls on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments, and said the US has consistently made clear that it will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state and will continue to defend US allies in the region.