Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today that a huge explosion that took place Thursday on North Korea's border with China was likely "not any kind of nuclear event," but he said Washington was "monitoring" the country closely to see if a sudden burst of activity indicated the country was attempting to test a nuclear weapon for the first time. Mr. Powell's comments came as intelligence analysts and policymakers attempted to understand what happened on Thursday near a site where North Korea bases some of its long-range missiles. South Korean news reports said that an explosion that day, a national holiday in North Korea, created a mushroom-shaped cloud that was at least a mile across, and maybe larger. But there were no signs of radiation, according to American intelligence officials, and the leading theory now is an accident that may have involved liquid rocket fuel. Nonetheless, the explosion sent a ripple though intelligence networks that are already on high alert for any sign of a nuclear test, one that President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, warned today on the CBS News program "Face the Nation" would be "a very bad mistake." But in private, administration officials said there was little they could do other than let the North know that it is being watched, and ask the Chinese — the North's main supplier of food and energy — to put pressure on the country not to set off a nuclear explosion, reports the NYTimes. According to USATODAY, huge mushroom cloud that reportedly billowed up from North Korea was not caused by a nuclear explosion, South Korean and U.S. officials said Sunday, but they said the cause was a mystery. Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed that unusual activity had recently been detected at some of North Korea's atomic sites, but said there was no concrete evidence the North's secretive communist regime was preparing for its first nuclear test explosion. (Related story: Powell: N. Korea explosion wasn't nuclear ) The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Sunday that a mammoth explosion in North Korea produced a mushroom cloud more than 2 miles across Thursday. It said the blast was stronger than an April explosion that killed 160 people and injured an estimated 1,300 at a North Korean railway station when a train carrying oil and chemicals apparently hit power lines. "There was no indication that was a nuclear event of any kind," Powell said of Thursday's incident. "Exactly what it was, we're not sure." Yesterday, standing on the platform at Yongwang metro station in Pyongyang, the visitor would be struck by the beauty of the twisted coloured glass lamps hanging from the ceiling, and by the friezes running down each side of the platform, depicting the left and right banks of a river. Yongwang (meaning Glory) is indeed a marvel to behold. But there is something more sinister that catches the eye at the bottom of the escalator that dives sharply into the bowels of the city: the two sets of giant reinforced doors. For the Soviet-era metro has the dual purpose of serving as a nuclear bunker. North Korea has played the nuclear card for years to blackmail the international community into shoring up its communist regime. But when George Bush branded North Korea part of the "axis of evil" and warned in his state of the nation last year: "America and the rest of the world will not be blackmailed," the world moved a notch closer towards nuclear Armageddon. News of the massive explosion suggested that Kim Jong Il, the country's mercurial dictator, or 'the experienced and tested leader' as the Korean Central News Agency describes him, may have played another card in his game of nuclear blackmail. The explosion in an area near missile bases in Ryanggang province in the remote north-east, near the border with China, was much stronger than a train explosion that killed at least 170 people in April. If it turns out to be part of a nuclear experiment, and not an industrial accident, it could be the final proof that the regime was not boasting when it announced last year that it had developed an advanced nuclear weapons programme. Last night the news of the explosion and mushroom cloud spread through the diplomatic community in Pyongyang, causing a frenzy of activity. So secretive is the regime, and so unpredictable its behaviour, that every one thought it quite plausible that the North Koreans had carried out their threat to test a nuclear weapon, reports the NEWS.
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