North Korea may have more nuclear bomb material than thought: U.S. think tank

A satellite image of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in North Korea by Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North released on July 14, 2017. “Includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017 Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved.” Courtesy Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North/Handout via REUTERS

By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Thermal images of North Korea’s main nuclear site show Pyongyang may have reprocessed more plutonium than previously thought that can be used to enlarge its nuclear weapons stockpile, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

The analysis by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korean monitoring project, was based on satellite images of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant from September until the end of June, amid rising international concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The think tank said images of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon could also indicate operation of centrifuges that could be used to increase North Korea’s stock of enriched uranium, its other source of bomb fuel.

There were signs too of at least short-term activity at North Korea’s Experimental Light Water Reactor that could be cause for concern, 38 North said.

The images of the radiochemical laboratory showed there had been at least two reprocessing cycles not previously known aimed at producing “an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile,” something that would worry U.S. officials who see Pyongyang as one of the world’s top security threats.

It was unclear if the thermal activity detected at the uranium plant was the result of centrifuge operations or maintenance.

It said the thermal patterns at the plant’s isotope/tritium production facility suggested it was not operational and was therefore not producing tritium, an essential isotope used in boosted yield and hydrogen weapons.

North Korea manufactures atomic bombs using uranium and plutonium and has tested five nuclear bombs. Officials and experts say it could test a sixth at any time, despite U.S.-led international efforts to curb its program.

Pyongyang said its penultimate test in January 2016 was of a hydrogen bomb, something experts have treated with skepticism.

North Korea has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and last week tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts said could hit all of Alaska and parts of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Frustrated that China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has not done more to rein in Pyongyang, the Trump administration could impose new sanctions on small Chinese banks and other companies doing business with Pyongyang within weeks, two senior U.S. officials told Reuters this week.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been seeking to overcome resistance from China and Russia to a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing stiffer international sanctions on Pyongyang.

Experts at 38 North estimated in April that North Korea could have as many as 20 nuclear bombs and could produce one more each month.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)

North Korea activity points to possible space launch, U.S. officials say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has seen increased activity around a North Korean missile site, suggesting preparations for a possible space launch in the near future, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.

The finding was revealed as Washington shows growing concern that Pyongyang could use space technology to enhance its missile capability and while United Nations Security Council members discuss fresh sanctions against North Korea after it conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.

The officials cited intelligence suggesting movement of components and propellant at North Korea’s Sohae satellite launch facility. A test could take place within a couple of weeks, they said.

“Our concern though is … it’s the same technology to develop ICBMs” (inter-continental ballistic missiles), one of the officials said.

“We are keeping a close eye on these activities by the North Koreans. We’re watching 24/7,” a second official said.

Joe Bermudez, chief analytics officer at commercial intelligence firm AllSource Analysis, said open source imagery showed increased activity at the site in northwestern North Korea.

Movement of vehicles, construction and other activities suggested test preparations for a rocket engine test soon, Bermudez said. Activities were also noted at the launch pad, however, but it was not clear whether a rocket had already been delivered to the site.

North Korea was concealing activities on the site through construction of new buildings and a cover that obscures satellite views of the gantry tower next to the launch pad.

“This is the first time leading up to a potential launch that all the concealment shelters are in place,” said Stephen Wood, chief executive officer of AllSource.

An analysis by 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said the cover near the gantry tower could conceal a rocket, and a rail-mounted shelter has been moved adjacent to the engine-test stand on the site.

The shelter could allow for rocket stages to be assembled and moved to the tower under cover of darkness of heavy clouds, 38 North found. It is large enough to conceal the first stage of North Korea’s Musudan intermediate range ballistic missile, its Unha space-launch vehicle, or a new rocket engine.

The analysis said commercial satellite images, taken as a series of “snapshots” from Dec. 28 to Jan. 25, showed “low-level activities” throughout the Sohae Rocket Launch Facility.

North Korea last conducted a long-range rocket launch in late 2012, sending an object it described as a communications satellite into orbit. Western and Asian experts said it was part of an effort to build an ICBM.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok declined to comment on possible pre-launch activities by North Korea, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters.

North Korea has not yet warned about potential interference with navigation, a step it has taken ahead of previous launches, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a trip to China this week warned against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s declared intention to develop an ICBM with the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead.

“It is a threat the United States must take extremely seriously,” Kerry told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday.

“The United States will do what is necessary to protect people in our country and our friends and allies in the world,” Kerry said.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Thursday carried out a test of ground-based interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a source with knowledge of the test said. The test, aimed at improving the reliability of U.S. interceptors based in Alaska and California, met the agency’s objectives, the source said.

The U.S. military is adding 14 interceptors to the 30 already in place, and defense advocates have called for increasing the number of interceptors.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation to broaden existing sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear program, human rights record and cyber activities.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Ju-min Park and Jack Kim; Editing by David Greising and Grant McCool)

U.S. prisoners leave Iran, arrive in Germany as Obama hails diplomatic win

WASHINGTON/ANKARA (Reuters) – Three Iranian-Americans arrived in Germany after leaving Tehran on Sunday in a prisoner swap that followed the lifting of most international sanctions on Iran under a deal U.S. President Barack Obama said cut off Tehran’s path to a nuclear bomb.

In a sign of sustained readiness to track Iranian compliance with remaining United Nations curbs, the United States imposed fresh sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for supplying Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The Obama administration had delayed the step for more than two weeks during tense negotiations to free five American prisoners, according to people familiar with the matter. Iran conducted a precision-guided ballistic missile test last October, violating a U.N. ban.

Speaking after the released Americans had left Iran, Obama said Iran now would not “get its hands on a nuclear bomb” and the planet would be more secure.

“This is a good day because once again we are seeing what’s possible through strong American diplomacy,” Obama said at the White House. “These things are a reminder of what we can achieve when we lead with strength and with wisdom.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the nuclear deal as a “golden page” in Iran’s history and said the agreement could be used as a model to resolve other regional issues.

The lifting of sanctions and the prisoner deal considerably reduce the hostility between Tehran and Washington that has shaped the Middle East since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

A Swiss plane took Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief; Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho; and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Flint, Michigan, as well as some family members, from Tehran to Geneva, Switzerland.

Shortly afterward, the three left for a U.S. military base in Germany, arriving there later on Sunday, a U.S. State Department official said.

One more Iranian-American released under the same swap, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, was not aboard the aircraft. A fifth prisoner, American student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately on Saturday, a U.S. official said.

Several Iranian-Americans held in U.S. prisons after being charged or convicted for sanctions violations have also been released, their lawyers told Reuters on Sunday.


Rezaian told two Post senior editors in a phone call on Sunday night that he was doing “a hell of a lot better than I was 48 hours ago.”

The newspaper, which released details of the conversation with Rezaian, said he “found escape in the fiction he was allowed to read, and today he was avidly reading whatever he wanted.”

Rezaian, 39, was arrested in July 2014 and sentenced in November to a prison term. Iranian prosecutors had accused him of espionage, charges the Post had dismissed as “absurd.”

Obama called family members of the released prisoners on Sunday, including Rezaian’s brother Ali, and Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of the Idaho pastor.

“I am thankful for our president and all of the hard work by the White House and State Department in making this happen,” said Abedini, who has appeared with U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator and a harsh critic of the Iran nuclear deal.

The American Iranian Council, which promotes better relationships between the United States and Iran, said in a statement on Sunday: “The prisoner exchange, Iran’s dutiful implementation of its nuclear obligations, and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions all herald a new era of US-Iran relations.”

But the U.S. thaw with Iran is viewed with deep suspicion by U.S. Republicans as well as allies of Washington in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Cruz and fellow Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio praised Iran’s release of five detained Americans on Sunday, but said the deal the White House made to win their freedom would lead to more Americans being taken “hostage.”


The prisoner deal was the culmination of months of contacts, secret talks and legal maneuvering that came close to falling apart on at least one occasion.

Speaking to parliament on Sunday, Rouhani, a pragmatic cleric elected in 2013 on promises to end Iran’s years of sanctions and isolation, said he looked forward to an economic future less dependent on oil exports.

The exports are nevertheless likely to jump now that the United States, European Union and United Nations have scrapped the sanctions in return for Tehran complying with the deal to curb its nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says were peaceful.

But Rouhani noted bitter opposition to the lifting of economic curbs from Israel, some members of the U.S. Congress and what he called “warmongers” in the region – an apparent reference to some of Iran’s Gulf Arab adversaries, not least Saudi Arabia.

Presenting the draft budget for the next Iranian fiscal year, which begins in March, Rouhani told parliament the deal was a “turning point” for the economy of Iran, a major oil producer virtually shut out of international markets for the past five years.

He said later he expected 5 percent economic growth in the next Iranian fiscal year and assured foreign investors of political and economic stability.

“The nuclear negotiations which succeeded by the guidance of the Supreme Leader and support of our nation, were truly a golden page in Iran’s history,” he said.

Tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian assets will now be unfrozen and global companies that have been barred from doing business there will be able to exploit a market hungry for everything from automobiles to airplane parts.

After the prisoners were freed, it was announced that the United States and Iran settled a long-standing claim, releasing to Tehran $400 million in funds frozen since 1981 plus $1.3 billion in interest, the State Department said. The funds were part of a trust fund once used by Iran to purchase military equipment from the United States, which was tied up for decades in litigation at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.


In Tehran, ordinary Iranians were cautious about what the future holds after the lifting of sanctions. Many have lived under sanctions or wartime austerity for so long that they have no clear expectations about what the future might hold.

Iran’s Gulf Arab adversaries were silent on news of the nuclear deal’s implementation, in what was perhaps a sign of unease at the rapprochement.

Israel’s opposition was evident in a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, which said that even after signing the nuclear deal, Iran had not yet “abandoned its aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ruled on Saturday that Iran had fulfilled last year’s agreement with six world powers to curtail its nuclear program, triggering the end of sanctions.

Minutes after the IAEA’s ruling, the United States formally lifted banking, steel, shipping and other sanctions on Iran. The EU likewise ended all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against the country. Most U.N. sanctions also automatically ended.

The end of sanctions means more money and prestige for Shi’ite Muslim Iran as it becomes deeply embroiled in the sectarian conflicts of the Middle East, notably in the Syrian civil war where its allies are facing Sunni Muslim rebels.

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Sam Wilkin in Dubai, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Yeganeh Torbati, Joel Schectman, Arshad Mohammed, Kevin Krolicki, David Lawder and Peter Cooney in Washington and Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney; Editing by William Maclean, Dominic Evans, Janet McBride, Kevin Liffey and Jonathan Oatis)

North Korea says peace treaty, halt to exercises would end nuclear tests

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Saturday called for the conclusion of a peace treaty with the United States and a halt to U.S. military exercises with South Korea to end its nuclear tests.

The isolated state has long sought a peace treaty with the United States, as well as an end to the exercises by South Korea and the United States, which has about 28,500 troops based in South Korea.

“Still valid are all proposals for preserving peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia including the ones for ceasing our nuclear test and the conclusion of a peace treaty in return for U.S. halt to joint military exercises,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency cited a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry as saying early on Saturday.

Asked if the United States would consider a halt to joint exercises, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said it had alliance commitments to South Korea.

“We are going to continue to make sure the alliance is ready in all respects to act in defense of the South Korean people and the security of the peninsula,” he told a regular news briefing.

Asked earlier this week about North Korea’s call for a peace treaty, the State Department reiterated its position that it remained open to dialogue with North Korea but said “the onus is on North Korea to take meaningful actions toward denuclearization and refrain from provocations.”

The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

North Korea said on Jan. 6 it had tested a hydrogen bomb, provoking condemnation from its neighbors and the United States.

Experts have expressed doubt that the North’s fourth nuclear test was of a hydrogen bomb, as the blast was roughly the same size as that from its previous test, of a less powerful atomic bomb, in 2013.

Pyongyang is under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs.

(Reporting by Tony Munroe in Seoul; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, editing by Andrew Roche and Tom Brown)

South Korea calls for ‘bone-numbing’ sanctions on North for nuclear test

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea warned North Korea on Wednesday that the United States and its allies were working on sanctions to inflict “bone-numbing pain” after its latest nuclear test, and called on China to do its part to rein in its isolated neighbor.

With tension high on the border after the North’s fourth nuclear test on Wednesday last week, South Korean forces fired shots toward what Yonhap News Agency said was a suspected North Korean drone.

It returned to the North after the shots, South Korean military officials told Reuters.

The North’s nuclear test has angered both China and the United States and again raised questions about what can be done to stop its development of nuclear weapons.

The World Economic Forum withdrew its invitation for North Korea’s foreign minister to attend its annual Davos meeting, which was to have been the country’s first participation in the event in 18 years, because of the nuclear test.

North Korea said it had tested a powerful hydrogen bomb but the United States and various experts doubt that, as the blast was roughly the same size as that from its previous test, of an atomic bomb, in 2013.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously on Tuesday to pass legislation to broaden sanctions on the North.

But apparently unperturbed by the prospect of further international isolation, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for an expansion of the size and power of his country’s nuclear arsenal, urging the “detonation of more powerful H-bombs”, the North’s state media reported.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said more “provocations” by the North including “cyber-terrorism” were possible and new sanctions should be tougher than previous ones. She did not give specifics.

“We are cooperating closely with the United States and allies to come up with effective sanctions that will make North Korea feel bone-numbing pain, not only at the Security Council but also bilaterally and multilaterally,” she said in a speech.

Park said South Korea and China were discussing a U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea, noting that China has stated repeatedly that it would not tolerate the North’s nuclear program.

China is the North’s main ally and trade partner but it has made clear it opposes its bombs, while China’s ties with South Korea have grown increasingly close in recent years.

“I am certain that China is very well aware if such a strong will isn’t followed by necessary steps, we will not be able to stop the North’s fifth and sixth nuclear tests and we cannot guarantee true peace and stability,” Park said.

“I believe the Chinese government will not allow the situation on the Korean peninsula to deteriorate further.”

Sung Kim, the special U.S. representative for North Korea policy, met with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul on Wednesday and said the three agreed that a “meaningful” new sanctions resolution is needed from the Security Council.

“I hope the Chinese authorities agree with us that we simply cannot take a business as usual approach to this latest provocation. We will be working very closely with them to come up with a meaningful resolution,” he said.


China rejects complaints it is not doing enough on North Korea. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China’s efforts toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula would continue.

“This is in everyone’s interests and is everyone’s responsibility, including China and South Korea,” he said.

The U.S. House sanctions measure passed by 418-2 and Senate leaders expect to consider a similar bill shortly.

The House bill had been introduced in 2015 but was not brought up for a vote until after North Korea’s latest test.

“(The bill) uses targeted financial pressure to isolate Kim Jon Un and his top officials from the assets they maintain in foreign banks, and from the hard currency that sustains their rule,” said Republican Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an author of the measure.

To become law, it must be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.

The 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea have been put on high alert as a noisy propaganda battle is played out across the heavily fortified border with the North.

South Korea, still technically at war with the North since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty, has for days been blaring propaganda through loudspeakers across the border.

South Korea’s military said it had found anti-South leaflets in the Seoul area, which it suspects were dropped by North Korean hot air balloons.

South Korean financial regulators met computer security officials at 16 banks and financial institutions and urged vigilance in the face of possible cyber attacks by North Korea, although none has been detected.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim, James Pearson, Jee Heun Kahng, Hooyeon Kim, Dahee Kim and Se Young Lee in SEOUL, Tom Miles in GENEVA, Patricia Zengerle in WASHINGTON and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

End ‘business as usual’ with North Korea, U.S. tells China

By Lesley Wroughton and Ju-min Park

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States called on China on Thursday to end “business as usual” with its ally North Korea after Pyongyang defied world powers by announcing it had tested a hydrogen bomb.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he made clear in a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China’s approach to North Korea had failed.

“China had a particular approach that it wanted to make, that we agreed and respected to give them space to implement that,” Kerry told reporters. “Today in my conversation with the Chinese I made it very clear that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual.”

China is the North’s main economic and diplomatic backer although relations between the two Cold War allies have cooled in recent years.

The vast majority of North Korea’s business dealings are with China, which bought 90 percent of the isolated country’s exports in 2013, according to data compiled by South Korea’s International Trade Association.

North Korea carried out a nuclear test on Wednesday, although the U.S. government and weapons experts doubt Pyongyang’s assertion that the device it exploded was a powerful hydrogen bomb.

The test angered both the United States and China, which was not given prior notice.

As of Thursday morning, “sniffer” planes and other sensors had yet to detect any evidence, such as particles in the air, that would substantiate the North Korean assertion that it had set off an H-Bomb, a U.S. government source said.

North Korea also said it was capable of miniaturizing the hydrogen bomb, in theory allowing it to be placed on a missile and threatening the U.S. West Coast, South Korea and Japan.


U.S. Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives could join forces in a rare display of unity to further tighten sanctions on North Korea.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, told reporters that Democrats would support a North Korea bill likely to be brought for a vote by Republicans next week. A congressional source said it was expected as soon as Monday.

The legislation was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last February but it was stalled until Pyongyang jolted the world by setting off an underground nuclear bomb test.

The House measure would target banks facilitating North Korea’s nuclear program and authorize freezing of U.S. assets of those directly linked to illicit North Korean activities. It would also penalize those involved in business providing North Korea with hard currency.

“We understand Republican leadership plans to move a bill strengthening U.S. sanctions on North Korea. That will have strong bipartisan support,” Pelosi said, adding that “we will support it.”

It was unclear how more sanctions would deter North Korea, which has conducted four nuclear tests since 2006 while paying little heed to international pressure.

The United States and its ally South Korea are limited in their military response. After North Korea last tested a nuclear device, in 2013, Washington sent a pair of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers on a sortie over South Korea in a show of force. At the time, North Korea responded by threatening a nuclear strike on the United States.

The test also alarmed Japan. Its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, agreed with U.S. President Barack Obama in a telephone call that a firm global response was needed, the White House said.

Obama also discussed options with President Park Geun-hye of South Korea.

A South Korean military official told Reuters that Seoul and Washington had discussed the deployment of U.S. strategic assets on the divided Korean peninsula, but declined to give further details.

A White House spokesman said there had been no talk with South Korea about any introduction of the so-called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, a move opposed by China.

“There have been no discussions or consultations with the South Koreans” about the deployment of anti-ballistic missile capability,” the spokesman, Josh Earnest, said.

The system has radars that can track multiple ballistic missiles up to 2,000 km (1,200 miles) away, a range which would reach deep into China.

In response to the latest test, South Korea said it would resume propaganda broadcasts by loudspeaker into North Korea from Friday, which is likely to infuriate its isolated rival.

The South raised its military alert to the highest level in areas along the border near its propaganda loudspeakers, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday.

“Our military is at a state of full readiness, and if North Korea wages provocation, there will be firm punishment,” a South Korean national security official, Cho Tae-yong, said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Meeyoung Cho, James Pearson, Se Young Lee, Christine Kim, Jee Heun Kahng and Jack Kim in SEOUL, Patricia Zengerle, Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed in WASHINGTON,; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S., experts cast doubt on North Korea’s H-bomb claim

By Ju-min Park and Mark Hosenball

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea said it successfully tested a powerful nuclear bomb on Wednesday, drawing criticism from world powers even though experts and the U.S. government doubt that the isolated nation’s atomic weapons capability is as advanced as Pyongyang claims.

It was the fourth time that North Korea has exploded a nuclear device. It unnerved neighbors South Korea and Japan and prompted an emergency meeting on Wednesday of the U.N. Security Council in New York.

While a nuclear test had long been expected, North Korea’s assertion that it exploded a hydrogen device, much more powerful than an atomic bomb, came as a surprise. The White House said North Korea might not in fact have tested a hydrogen bomb.

The explosion caused an earthquake that was measured by the United States Geological Survey.

Pyongyang also said it was capable of miniaturizing, allowing a nuclear device to be adapted as a weapon and placed on a missile, potentially posing a new threat to the United States and its allies in Asia.

“Let the world look up to the strong, self-reliant nuclear-armed state,” leader Kim Jong Un wrote in what North Korean state TV displayed as a handwritten note.

While the Kim government boasts of its military might to project strength globally, it also plays up the need to defend itself from external threats as a way to maintain control domestically.

The test drew world criticism, including from China and Russia. China, the major trade partner of North Korea, said it will lodge a protest with Pyongyang.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said any nuclear test would be a “flagrant violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions. “The initial analysis is not consistent with the claim the regime has made of a successful hydrogen bomb test,” he told reporters.

Conventional atomic bombs split atoms from heavier elements such as uranium or plutonium. They occur in one stage. The process is called fission. Hydrogen bombs have a second stage after fission. This fusion stage releases much more energy.

North Korea has been under U.N. Security Council sanctions since it first tested an atomic device in 2006 and could face additional measures.

The Security Council said it would begin working immediately on significant new measures in response to North Korea, a threat diplomats said could mean an expansion of U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.

It likely will take several days to determine more precisely what kind of nuclear device Pyongyang set off as a variety of sensors, including “sniffer planes,” collect evidence.

South Korean intelligence officials and several analysts also questioned whether Wednesday’s explosion was a test of a full-fledged hydrogen device, pointing to its having been roughly as powerful as North Korea’s last atomic test in 2013.

Stocks across the world fell for a fifth consecutive day as the North Korea tension added to a growing list of geopolitical worries and China fueled fears about its economy by allowing the yuan to weaken further.

No countries were given advance warning of a nuclear test, South Korea’s intelligence service said, according to lawmakers briefed by intelligence officials.

In previous such tests, Pyongyang had notified China, Russia and the United States beforehand, they said.


North Korea became a topic on the U.S. presidential campaign with the first state nominating contests weeks away and the election in November.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton condemned the test as a “provocative and dangerous act” that the United States should meet with sanctions and strengthened missile defenses.

“North Korea must have no doubt that we will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan,” she said in a statement.

Republican candidate Donald Trump said the onus was on China to solve what he called the North Korean “problem”, and if it did not, the United States “should make trade very difficult for China.”

North Korea has long coveted diplomatic recognition from Washington, but sees its nuclear deterrent as crucial to ensuring the survival of its third-generation dictatorship.

The North’s state news agency said Pyongyang would act as a responsible nuclear state and vowed not to use its nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty was infringed.

Michael Madden, an expert on North Korea’s secretive leadership, said, “With Iran being off the table, the North Koreans have placed themselves at the top of the foreign policy agenda as far as nation-states who present a threat to the U.S.”


The device had a yield of about 6 kilo tonnes, according to the office of a South Korean lawmaker on the parliamentary intelligence committee – roughly the same size as the North’s last test, which was equivalent to 6-7 kilo tonnes of TNT.

“Given the scale, it is hard to believe this is a real hydrogen bomb,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

Joe Cirincione, a nuclear expert who is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security organization, said North Korea may have mixed a hydrogen isotope in a normal atomic fission bomb.

“Because it is, in fact, hydrogen, they could claim it is a hydrogen bomb,” he said. “But it is not a true fusion bomb capable of the massive multi-megaton yields these bombs produce”.

The USGS reported a 5.1 magnitude quake that South Korea said was 49 km (30 miles) from the Punggye-ri site where the North has conducted nuclear tests in the past.

The North’s previous claims of miniaturization have not been independently verified. Many experts also doubt whether the North possesses missile technology capable of reliably delivering a warhead to the continental United States.

(Additional reporting by Meeyoung Cho, Ju-min Park, James Pearson, Se; Young Lee, Christine Kim, Jee Heun Kahng, Jack Kim in Seoul,; Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations, Ayesha Rascoe and in; Washington, Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing and Takashi Umekawa in; Tokyo; Writing by Tony Munroe and Alistair Bell; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Mike Collett-White and Howard Goller)

FBI Sting Uncovers Russian Smugglers of Nuclear Material

An FBI sting was caught on video in Moldova as Russian linked smugglers attempted to sell nuclear and radioactive materials to undercover agents posing as ISIS operatives.

A Moldovan minister said that the FBI helped Moldovan authorities three times in the last five years to stop potential smuggling of nuclear and radioactive material.
According to an investigation by The Associated Press [AP], one case that was uncovered was an attempt to sell bomb-grade uranium to a real buyer from the Middle East, the first known case of its kind.

A list compiled by the Terrorism Research Initiative details more than 360 smuggling and security “incidents” in the Black Sea region from 1990 to 2011 — by far the most stemming from Russia. This list also goes on to say that from 1993 to 2013, 664 incidents of theft or loss of nuclear or radiological materials were reported. It says it doesn’t know how many times these materials were subsequently sold.

Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with the AP in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the black market has become. They say a breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it is much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials.