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Japanese expert forecasts major volcanic eruptions in N. Korea

All Headlines 11:31 May 24, 2012

CHIBA, Japan, May 24 (Yonhap) -- A volcanic eruption of North Korea's Mount Paektu could be similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in the United States, a Japanese expert said, after he claimed last week such an explosion was highly probable.

Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington State in May 1980 following a large earthquake, killing 57 people in the deadliest volcanic event in U.S. history. The eruption was rated as 5 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI).

The VEI scale ranges from 0 to 8 with an increase of 1 index point indicating an eruption 10 times more powerful.

Eruptions designated as having a VEI of 5 or higher are considered "very large" explosive events, and occur worldwide on an average of only about once every two decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, a scientific agency of the U.S. government.

Hiromitsu Taniguchi, a professor emeritus at Tohoku University and a renowned volcanologist, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency Wednesday that an eruption of Mount Paektu could reach 4 or 5 on the VEI, if it occurs.

He dismissed concerns a possible nuclear test by North Korea could trigger an eruption of the mountain near the border with China, saying a possible nuclear test is unlikely to affect the activity of underground magma.

Last week, Taniguchi claimed in the Japanese media there is a 99 percent chance the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula would erupt in the next two decades due to the impact of the 2011 massive earthquake in Japan.

However, Lee youn-soo, a volcanologist of the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, said it is difficult to predict the timing of any such eruption due to scarce observation data.

Experts outside the secretive communist country have warned since last year that the 2,744-meter Mount Paektu may still have an active core, citing topographical signs and satellite images.

Last year, experts of the two Koreas held talks on potential volcanic activity on Mount Paektu at the North's request, following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The two sides have since failed to hold further talks or conduct an on-site survey of Mount Paektu, which last erupted in 1903.

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