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Quake raises fears of 2nd N. Korea test

CARL FREIRE Associated Press | October 11 2006

TOKYO — A strong earthquake in northern Japan on Wednesday may have led the Tokyo government to suspect that North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test.

In Washington, White House spokesman Blair Jones said U.S. officials had not detected any evidence of additional North Korea testing.

"Japanese officials are now saying that this occurrence may be related to an earthquake in northern Japan," Jones said.

The reaction to the earthquake underscored the jitters in Asia over reports that North Korea planned a second test after it announced Monday it had conducted its first nuclear test. Some analysts expect the regime to conduct more tests amid suspicion the first, relatively small explosion might have partially failed.

"We have very real concerns that they may conduct another nuclear test and that they may do so very soon," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters on Wednesday, a day after he met with North Korean Ambassador Chon Jae-hong to condemn the atomic program.

A senior State Department official said the U.S. would not be surprised if there were multiple tests, but so far there is no sign of one. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Alarm was triggered when Japanese media reported early Wednesday that the government had detected tremors in North Korea, leading it to suspect Pyongyang had conducted a second nuclear test.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's spokesman confirmed the government was checking whether the North had tested another nuclear device.

Shortly after that, the Japanese meteorological agency said a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 shook northern Japan.

The quake, which struck at 8:58 a.m., was centered off the coast of Fukushima, 149 miles northeast of Tokyo at a depth of about 19 miles. The agency said that the tremor was a genuine quake and had nothing to do North Korean nuclear testing.

The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said Japanese broadcaster NHK called the USGS to check on seismic activity in the region at about 7:40 a.m. local time, more than an hour before the earthquake.

Later Wednesday morning, Abe said he had no information to confirm North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test.

"I have had not received information about any indications ... that a test has taken place," the prime minister said at a parliamentary budget meeting.

U.S. and South Korean monitors said they had not detected any new seismic activity Wednesday in North Korea.

The U.S. Geological Survey said it had detected an earthquake in Japan but not in North Korea.

"Either it was very small, or it didn't happen at all," USGS official Bruce Presgrave said of the reports on North Korea. "If the event would have been 2.5 or bigger, we would have seen something."

The North Korean nuclear test on Monday registered the same force as a magnitude-4.2 earthquake.

The head of South Korean seismic monitoring station said no activity has been detected in North Korea that could indicate a possible second North Korea nuclear test.

"There's no signal from North Korea, even no small event," Chi Heon-cheol, director of the South's Korea Earthquake Research Center, told AP.

The earthquake off Japan's coast was centered approximately 780 miles from the site where North Korea conducted its nuclear test. It occurred about 740 miles from the closest point on the North Korean coast.

There were no reports of damage or injuries.

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