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Saturday, September 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
No nuclear test near North Korea dam site
By Joe McDonald
South Korea, meanwhile, said a mushroom-shaped plume thought to be from the Sept. 9 blast was 60 miles away from the site where North Korea said it occurred and may have been a natural cloud formation.
Diplomats from seven countries were flown by the secretive communist state to its remote northeast, near the border with China, on Thursday to verify claims that the explosion was part of work on a hydroelectric dam, not a test of its contentious nuclear program.
"One thing is entirely clear: This was not a nuclear explosion that happened at this site," Sweden's ambassador to North Korea, Paul Beijer, said by phone from North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. "This is a site where thousands of people are working on dam building."
Beijer said North Korean officials at the construction site told the diplomats two unusually large blasts occurred there on the night of Sept. 8 and early Sept. 9. He said they explained how much explosive was used.
Independent video of the construction site was obtained by Associated Press Television News in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, hours after the ambassadors returned from their visit.
The video, apparently shot from a point high above the valley floor, showed a building complex intact near a place where rock had been blasted away, with scores of workers moving around.
A deep excavation with large pools of water and wooden shelters could be seen across the valley, apparently where the dam is intended to rise.
The incident came during efforts to arrange a new round of six-nation talks on demands for the North to give up its nuclear ambitions. The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
Experts say it's unlikely the North would conduct a nuclear test near its border with China, a major ally and aid donor to the isolated, impoverished country.
"There is a lot of fear-mongering going on about North Korea right now, but I think the probability of a test is very low," said Daniel Pinkston of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. "If they tested, they would only confirm what the U.S. already believes that they have nuclear weapons and they would use their small stock of fissile material."
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