North Korea Explosion Not Nuclear
South Korean and U.S. officials said Sunday that a massive explosion that generated a billowing cloud of smoke on North Korea’s northern border with China on Thursday was an unspecified accident and apparently not a much-feared nuclear test. “We are investigating the size and the reason of the accident, but we do not believe North Korea conducted a nuclear test,” Kim Jong Min, the South Korean presidential spokesman, said Sunday.
Details of the blast remained sketchy. Some in U.S. intelligence circles had expressed increasing concern in recent weeks that North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear test, but South Korean officials said they did not record seismic activity that likely would accompany a nuclear test. In Washington, U.S. officials scrambled Saturday night to gather more information about the blast and to study satellite photos of the site, but as dawn broke Sunday, Bush administration officials played down the significance of the explosion. Making the rounds of the Sunday news shows, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said there was no indication that the blast was related to a nuclear test. “We don’t think, at this point, it was a nuclear event, but we’re looking at it and will get further analysis,” Rice said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “There are all kinds of reports and all kinds of assessments that are going on. Maybe it was a fire, some kind of forest fire.” Powell acknowledged that the administration has been studying reports of suspicious activity at a possible nuclear test site, though officials have said the activity was at a different location than that of the explosion. “We’re monitoring this,” Powell said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have been watching it. We can’t tell whether it’s normal maintenance activity or something more. So it’s inconclusive at this moment.”
Nevertheless, the date of the blast — a day commemorating the 1948 founding of North Korea — had U.S., South Korea and Japanese officials scrambling to determine what might have caused the huge explosion. North Korea is known to put great importance on historic dates, using them to conduct high-profile military exercises and parades.
One official in Washington said the Americans were examining satellite images of the explosion, which South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency said generated a mushroom formation as large as 2 1/2 miles in diameter. The official said further information had been provided to the U.S. government by a diplomatic source in Beijing.