Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Quake Raises Fears of 2nd North Korea Test

A strong earthquake in northern Japan on Wednesday may have led the Tokyo government to suspect that North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test. In Washington, White House spokesman Blair Jones said U.S. officials had not detected any evidence of additional North Korea testing. "Japanese officials are now saying that this occurrence may be related to an earthquake in northern Japan," Jones said. The earthquake came at a time when the Japanese government and other countries in Asia were jittery about reports that North Korea planned a second nuclear test. "We have very real concerns that they may conduct another nuclear test and that they may do so very soon," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters on Wednesday, a day after he met with North Korean Ambassador Chon Jae-hong to condemn the atomic program. The scare began when Japanese media reported the government had detected tremors in North Korea, leading it to suspect Pyongyang had conducted a second nuclear test.Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's spokesman confirmed the government was checking whether the North had tested another nuclear device. Around the same time, the Japanese meteorological agency said a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 shook northern Japan Wednesday morning. The quake, which struck at 8:58 a.m., was centered off the coast of Fukushima, 149 miles northeast of Tokyo. The agency said that the tremor was a genuine quake and had nothing to do North Korean nuclear testing. Then Abe said he had no information to confirm North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test. "I have had not received information about any indications ... that a test has take place," Abe said at a parliamentary budget meeting. U.S. and South Korean monitors said they detected no new seismic activity Wednesday in North Korea. The U.S. Geological Survey said it had detected an earthquake in Japan but not in North Korea."There has been no activity in the last two hours," official Rafael Abreu told AP just after 9 a.m. in Korea. The agency can detect most tremors if they are above magnitude-3.5, he said. The head of South Korean seismic monitoring station said no activity has been detected in North Korea that could indicate a possible second North Korea nuclear test. "There's no signal from North Korea, even no small event," Chi Heon-cheol, director of the South's Korea Earthquake Research Center, told The Associated Press.