North Korea claimed on Wednesday to have successfully carried out a hydrogen bomb test, a move that—if true—would mark a notable advance in the country's nuclear capabilities and a significantly increased threat to the world.
The development was announced by North Korea's official KCNA news agency and has not been independently confirmed.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a seismic event measuring at a magnitude of 5.1 occurred 12 miles east-northeast of Sungjibaegam on Wednesday morning, with a blast yield in the 10 to 15 kiloton range. The BBC reports: "The estimated size of the blast suggests that they did not succeed in detonating a full thermonuclear device, experts say, because in that case you would expect a blast closer to 100 kilotons or more."
Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which works to prevent the spread and use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and other weapons of war, weighed in on social media:
I doubt DPRK exploded a real H-Bomb. More likely a "boosted" weapon with tritium added to increase the yield of a fission bomb.
— Joe Cirincione (@Cirincione) January 6, 2016
Regardless, the announcement drew immediate condemnation from world leaders. Italy's Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, for example, reportedly urged his Japanese counterpart to discuss "the necessary reactions of the international community" to what Rome called North Korea's "provocation" if it is confirmed that a nuclear test was carried out. Japan currently holds the rotating helm of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, of which Italy is a member.
But anti-nuclear activists warned against knee-jerk responses and rhetorical escalation in the wake of the detonation.
While it denounced the nuclear test, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said it was "another indication of the inability of the current nuclear regime to prevent states from seeking, possessing or modernizing nuclear weapons." The group urged states to go beyond condemning North Korea's actions, saying such censure "must be followed by the development of an international prohibition on nuclear weapons similar to the bans on chemical and biological weapons."
"All responsible states should negotiate new law on nuclear weapons, take a clear stand against the possession and reliance on this weapon of mass destruction and develop an unambiguous prohibition of nuclear weapons," said Beatrice Fihn, ICAN executive director.
In a post published Wednesday, Fihn added:
Nuclear weapons inflict indiscriminate and inhumane harm on humans and produce disastrous environmental impacts. Any detonation—either by intent or accident—would cause unacceptable humanitarian consequences, and no humanitarian relief agency could provide any meaningful assistance in the aftermath.
Despite this knowledge, the nine nuclear-armed states and the 28 members of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, believe that nuclear weapons are acceptable means of warfare and defense. The continued argument that nuclear weapons are essential to their security will only encourage other states to follow suit.
It is therefore urgent that states that are concerned about humanitarian law and humanitarian values act upon these beliefs and prohibit the most destructive and inhume weapon of them all. This must be done before a new arms race throws the world into duck and cover exercises all over again.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, demilitarization and peace organizer Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute, said the development pointed to the need for countries to go back to the negotiating table with Pyongyang.
A very unfortunate development in #DPRK but all the more reason to engage in peace talks and finally end the 63 ye old Korean War.
— Christine Ahn (@christineahn) January 6, 2016
She elaborated in a post on Facebook: "It's a very very unfortunate turn of events that North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb, but an even greater reason for the United States to end its futile policy of "strategic patience" (i.e. waiting for the North Korean regime to collapse) and engage. We need the peace movement that mobilized for the Iran deal to press for a peace treaty with North Korea, which Pyongyang has recently appealed for and was a promise made 63 years ago when Washington signed the armistice agreement with China and North Korea temporarily halting the war. It's what the South Korean peace movements have been calling for, and we need the U.S. [p]ublic to become aware of this history."
The United Nations Security Council was planning to meet on Wednesday morning in New York to discuss North Korea's nuclear test, council diplomats said. World leaders are set to meet next month in Geneva to conduct talks on developing new laws around nuclear weapons.