- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

North Korea’s second nuclear test was more successful than its first and shows that the country is on its way toward full membership in a club of unofficial nuclear-weapons states, U.S. nuclear specialists said Monday.

Estimates of the size of the explosion - which the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said triggered a measurement of magnitude-4.7, compared with 4.3 after North Korea’s first test in 2006 - varied from 1 or 2 kilotons to as high as 10 or 20 kilotons.

The higher estimate would match the power and potency of the bombs America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. In 2006, North Korea’s first nuclear test did not reach 1 kiloton.

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Russia said its measurements reflected the higher range. But the White House issued a statement saying, “The characteristics suggest a man-made event with an explosive yield of approximately a few kilotons [of] TNT.”

In 2006, the Bush administration estimated that Kim Jong-il’s regime wanted an explosion in the range of 3 to 4 kilotons, said Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asia on the Bush White House National Security Council.

“Kim is trying to prove they have the capability of a successful nuclear device,” Mr. Wilder told The Washington Times on Monday after the latest underground test.

“They’re learning, and they’re getting there,” agreed David Albright, a former nuclear inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank. “They’re not anywhere as good as Israel, but they could probably deploy a weapon on top of a Nodong missile and be fairly confident that it would work.”

The Nodong, a single-stage rocket with an estimated range of 600 miles or more, is capable of reaching all of South Korea and much of Japan.

Mr. Albright estimated that the North Koreans have about 30 kilograms of plutonium left - enough for many more tests or possible sale to other nations or organizations if, as the North Koreans claim, they are using 2 kilograms per weapon.

“It is important to take this as an urgent issue,” he said. “I think the Obama administration will now.”

The test served in some ways as North Korea’s full induction into a club of powers - India, Pakistan and, as widely assumed, Israel - that have nuclear weapons but are not acknowledged as weapons states under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

North Korea signed the treaty as a non-nuclear state but became the first member to withdraw from the pact in 2003 after the collapse of a 1994 accord with the United States.

“With this test, nobody can deny that North Korea can make a perfectly workable bomb, and they are not about to disarm,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank. “This evidence flies directly in the face of our presumption that somehow we can hug these people into diplomatic submission and get them to give up their bombs.”

Mr. Sokolski was referring to six-nation talks started by the administration of President George W. Bush and hosted by China. North Korea has refused to return to negotiations for nearly two years and has also rebuffed U.S. requests for bilateral talks with a special envoy, Stephen Bosworth.

In April, responding to a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning a North Korean ballistic-missile launch, the Korean regime said it would “never again take part in such [six-party] talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.”

North Korea then expelled international arms inspectors and announced that it would restart a reactor dismantled under a previous accord.

Nevertheless, Mr. Wilder said that he considered the talks to be a success because it got five countries with distinct interests - the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan - to unite on policy toward North Korea, urging it to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.

He acknowledged, however, that the talks failed to change North Korean behavior and said it was unlikely, after Monday’s test, that North Korea would agree to join any negotiations whose endpoint would be shuttering its nuclear program.

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