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S. Korea dismisses report of possible North Korean nuclear test

All Headlines 16:29 June 21, 2010

By Chang Jae-soon

SEOUL, June 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea dismissed a news report Monday that North Korea could have conducted an atomic weapons test last month using nuclear fusion technology that the communist nation claimed to have mastered.

A local newspaper cited an unidentified government official reporting a spike on May 14 in the amount of noble gas xenon in the air near the border with North Korea. Xenon along with krypton are the two radioactive noble gases that are released from a nuclear test.

It was two days after North Korea claimed to have succeeded in producing a nuclear fusion reaction that could ultimately be used to build a hydrogen bomb. At the time, experts and officials dismissed the claim as a possible bluff, saying commercializing the nuclear fusion technology is still decades away.

Later Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said it is true that xenon was detected near the border with North Korea at the time, but that does not automatically mean there was a nuclear test.

"Regarding whether it was related to North Korea's nuclear test, my understanding is that there is no such possibility," Kim told reporters. "In particular, we can say so because no seismic activity was detected at the time. ... We believe the detection of xenon has nothing to do with a nuclear fusion test."

North Korea carried out nuclear test blasts twice, one in 2006 and the other in 2009, drawing strong international condemnation and sanctions from the United Nations.

Six-nation negotiations aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs have been stalled since the last round of talks in December 2008. Prospects for the resumption of the talks is in doubt due to tensions over the North's March sinking of a South Korean naval ship.

The China-hosted negotiations also involve the two Koreas, Japan, the United States and Russia.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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