North Korea on Tuesday conducted its third nuclear test in the northeastern part of the country, the Associated Press reported.
It was the first nuclear test conducted since Kim Jong Un assumed power in late 2011. The test was interpreted as a provocative response to a United Nations ultimatum for North Korea to end its nuclear program or face more stringent sanctions. It was also seen as a challenge of sorts by Kim toward the United States. The U.S., the U.N. and even China — a key regional ally to North Korea — all swiftly denounced the test.
Experts were still trying to gauge the magnitude of Tuesday's blast, as well as what it might mean for the long-term prospects of North Korea's nuclear capacity.
From the AP:
North Korea is estimated to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight bombs, according to American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker.
It wasn't immediately clear to outside experts whether the device exploded Tuesday was small enough to fit on a missile, and whether it was fueled by plutonium or highly enriched uranium.
In 2006, and 2009, North Korea is believed to have tested devices made of plutonium. But in 2010, Pyongyang revealed a program to enrich uranium, which would give the country a second source of bomb-making materials — a worrying development for the U.S. and its allies.
If Tuesday's test was indeed successful, as claimed, it would take North Korean scientists a step closer to building a nuclear warhead that can reach U.S. shores —seen as the ultimate goal of North Korea's nuclear program.