North Korea announced on January 06 at it successfully carried out its first hydrogen bomb test, a development that would mark a stunning step forward in its nuclear development and a significant advance in the isolated state's technological capability. "The republic's first hydrogen bomb test has been successfully performed at 10 am on 6 January, 2016, based on the strategic determination of the Workers' Party," a state television news reader announced.
A hydrogen, or thermonuclear device, uses fusion in a chain reaction that results in a far more powerful explosion. Any confirmation of the test will trigger widespread international condemnation of North Korea, which has already conducted three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 -- all at Punggye-ri. Wednesday's detonation was North Korea's fourth nuclear test, and second since young leader Kim Jong Un came into power in 2011. The isolated country last tested a nuclear device in 2013.
South Korea obviously has become vulnerable. In Seoul, the presidential Blue House called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, as officials scrambled to confirm the precise nature of the tremor.
The surprise test was personally ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and came just two days before his birthday. "With the perfect success of our historic H-bomb, we have joined the rank of advanced nuclear states," the announcer said, adding that the test was of a "miniaturized" device. The announcement followed after South Korean officials detected an "artificial earthquake" near North Korea's main nuclear testing site.
The test would also mark another big step toward Pyongyang's goal of building a warhead small enough to be mounted on a missile capable of reaching mainland America's shores.
Only last month, during remarks made during an inspection tour, Kim had suggested Pyongyang had already developed a hydrogen bomb — although the claim was greeted with skepticism by international experts. "The latest test, completely based on our technology and our manpower, confirmed that the newly-developed technological resources are accurate and scientifically demonstrated the impact of our miniaturized H-bomb," the TV announcer said.
The announcement will leave the international community scrambling to verify the accuracy of the North's claims.
Most experts had assumed Pyongyang was years from developing a thermonuclear bomb, while assessments were divided on how far it had gone in mastering the technology to miniaturize a device that could fit on a ballistic missile.
While vowing to stick by a no-first use policy, latest statement said Pyongyang would continue to pursue an advanced nuclear strike capability. "As long as the vicious anti-North policy of the US persists, we will never stop development of our nuclear programme," it said
Suspicions over a possible nuclear test — Pyongyang's fourth — were first raised by seismologists who said they had detected a 5.1 magnitude tremor next to its main atomic test site in the northeast of the country. The website of the China Earthquake Network Centre described the seismic activity as a "suspected explosion", while the Japanese government said there was a strong possibility that "this might be a nuclear test".
The US Geological Survey said the epicentre of the quake — detected at 10 am Pyongyang time (0130 GMT) — was in the northeast of the country, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of Kilju city, placing it right next to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Researchers at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said last month that recent satellite images showed North Korea was excavating a new tunnel at Punggye-ri. "While there are no indications that a nuclear test is imminent, the new tunnel adds to North Korea's ability to conduct additional detonations over the coming years if it chooses to do so," they said at the time.
A nuclear test is as a major slap in the face to the North’s chief ally China and extinguishes any chance of a resumption of six-country talks on North Korea's nuclear program that Beijing has been pushing for.
After its last nuclear test in 2013, the North restarted a plutonium reactor that it had shut down at its Yongbyon complex in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord. The Yongbyon reactor is capable of producing six kilograms (13 pounds) of plutonium a year — enough for one nuclear bomb Pyongyang is currently believed to have enough plutonium for as many as six bombs, after using part of its stock for at least two of its three atomic tests to date.
It is still unclear whether the 2013 test used plutonium or uranium as its fissile material. A basic uranium bomb is no more potent than a basic plutonium one, but the uranium enrichment path holds various advantages for the North, which has substantial deposits of uranium ore.
Uranium enrichment carries a far smaller footprint than plutonium and can be carried out using centrifuge cascades in relatively small buildings that give off no heat.
Lassina Zerbo, head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) - an international body set up to monitor a planned ban on nuclear testing condemned North Korea's fourth nuclear test and called it a "wake-up call" for the international community. "This act constitutes a breach of the universally accepted norm against nuclear testing”. More than 160 countries have ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) since 1996. India and Pakistan have also conducted nuclear tests since then and are among eight countries including the United States and China preventing the treaty coming into force.
South Korea said it would take all possible measures, including possible United Nations sanctions, to ensure Pyongyang pays the price after its fourth nuclear test. "Our government strongly condemns North Korea ignoring repeated warnings from us and the international community and pushing ahead with the fourth nuclear test, which clearly violated the U.N. resolutions," Cho Tae-yong, a senior security official at the South Korean presidential office said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan absolutely could not tolerate North Korea's nuclear testing and the nation would make a firm response to North Korea's challenge against nuclear non-proliferation, calling its latest nuclear test a threat to Japan's security.
Meanwhile, The US vowed to respond appropriately to North Korea's provocations. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, "We will continue to protect and defend our allies in the region, including the Republic of Korea, and will respond appropriately to any and all North Korean provocations."
The UN Security Council is planning to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss North Korea's reported test of a hydrogen bomb, the US mission to the United Nations said. The diplomats said the meeting would likely be held behind closed doors.
The hydrogen bomb testing would certainly result in a tightening of international sanctions imposed after the North's previous nuclear and ballistic missile tests. However, North Korea would certainly feel proud of its nuclear achievements against tremendous pressure from USA and UNSC, among others. But nuclear war is not the best solution for conflicts, ideological or military.
Time, therefore, is running out for UNSC to find credible ways to eliminate all WMD in a sustained manner with a time frame.
Unless total denuclearization is achieved it is ridiculous to ask the non-nuke powers not to pursue their legitimate nuclear ambitions or impose non-sense sanctions crippling the national economy and life of ordinary people.