Monday, February 04, 2013

Japan Preparing for N. Korea Nuke Test 'Worst Case Scenario'

By Steve Herman

TOKYO — Japan's government is indicating it is preparing for all contingencies that would result from North Korea conducting a third nuclear test.

Japan's top government spokesman has told VOA the international community is making full preparations for another threatened North Korean nuclear test.

South Korea has warned the North it faces “grave consequences” if it goes ahead with another nuclear test.  Seoul has not explained what measures it might take; but some observers say South Korea may punish the North with some kind of military action.

In a VOA interview, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, was asked how Japan views the possibility of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula flaring into open conflict.

Suga said the government's job is to always protect its people's lives and assets, and Japan is doing its best in that regard.  He said Tokyo “will deal with the worst case scenario the Japanese people might face.”

He did not elaborate.

But the top spokesman pledged Japan will work closely with its partners in the long-stalled direct talks with North Korea--China, the United States, South Korea and Russia, as well as the U.N. Security Council--to apply more sanctions against Pyongyang, if required.

North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.  Those were believed to be plutonium-fueled devices.

Pyongyang has promised another nuclear test of a “higher level.”  Some scientists and analysts suspect North Korea will either try to increase the yield of the explosion or fuel the device with highly enriched uranium.

Such a detonation is widely anticipated, at any time, based on satellite imagery of the site where the reclusive country conducted its previous two underground tests.

In maneuvers being viewed in part as a timely show of force directed at Pyongyang, the United States and South Korea are holding a three-day naval drill off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. It includes a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine and a South Korean destroyer equipped with the advanced Aegis combat system.

North Korean state media have characterized the joint exercise as preparations for a pre-emptive attack on the country.

The foreign ministry of China, which is North Korea's sole significant remaining ally, is urging “all sides not to take any action that will increase regional tension.”

Concern about the security of the Korean peninsula has been rising since December when Pyongyang launched a rocket and satellite into space in defiance of U.N. sanctions prohibiting it from utilizing ballistic-missile technology.

Steve Herman is the Voice of America bureau chief and correspondent based in Seoul.