North Korea: Earthquake near nuclear site sparks fears of fresh hydrogen bomb test

Caroline Mortimer
The test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile from Pyongyang in August - which also flew over Japan: Korea News Service/AP

A 2.9 magnitude earthquake has been recorded close to a nuclear testing site in North Korea, a US-based monitor has said, fuelling fears the country has tested another hydrogen bomb.

The US Geological Survey said it had recorded the quake around 23km north-east of Sungjibaegam – a known North Korean nuclear testing site.

Although analysts cannot be 100 per cent certain the quake is the result of a nuclear test, it shares many "characteristics" with past tests.

Pyongyang's last known nuclear test occurred on 3 September but caused an earthquake with a much greater magnitude of 6.3. The action drew widespread condemnation including from the UN.

The North Korean regime has stepped up its nuclear and missile testing over the past year as tensions between it and the US become increasingly fraught.

On Thursday, the North Korean foreign minister accused US President Donald Trump of having "lit the wick of war" between the two countries and warned that America would be made to pay with a "hail of fire".

It is feared that the regime is close to being able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on the end of a missile.

Its missile tests have already demonstrated it is capable of hitting Japan and analysts say it will be able to reach the mainland US within two years.

In August, Mr Trump threatened North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it continued with its nuclear programme, to which it responded by threatening to attack the island of Guam – the nearest US territory to the country.

During an address to the UN General Assembly in September, Mr Trump claimed the US would "totally destroy North Korea" in the event of war and warned that while the US has "great strength and patience" its options for dealing Pyongyang could soon run out.

He went further by repeatedly mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, referring to him as "Rocket Man" and saying he was on a "suicide mission".

The test came as US White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly said he though the North Korean nuclear threat was "manageable".

Although Mr Trump thought diplomatic attempts to negotiate with North Korea were a "waste of time", Gen Kelly said he hopes diplomatic measures will work before the nation develops further weapons.

He said there's already "great concern" about Americans who live in Guam. North Korea in August threatened to fire a salvo of intermediate range missiles toward the US Pacific island territory, a major military hub home to US bombers that periodically fly missions over the divided Korean Peninsula.

"Right now we think the threat is manageable," he said, but added the situation would become more problematic over time if North Korea's capability "grows beyond where it is today".

"Let's hope that diplomacy works," he added.

Additional reporting by Reuters