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The government is preparing to issue the highest level of alert required for a nuclear power plant accident abroad if North Korea undertakes an underground nuclear test, government sources said Saturday.

The response would be comparable to that of a major earthquake or other large-scale natural disaster within Japan, because of the possibility of radiation reaching this country, the sources said.

If it is determined that Pyongyang has detonated a nuclear bomb, the government will declare an “emergency situation” and a task force will be set up at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, they said.

Arrangements call for the task force, which would be led by Takeshi Noda, deputy chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management, to discuss specific steps such as investigating the impact of radioactivity, they said.

On the diplomatic front, Japan plans to cooperate with the United States and other nations to introduce a resolution to seek sanctions against North Korea at the U.N. Security Council, according to the sources.

Japan would also take its own measures against Pyongyang, including blocking monetary transfers, in addition to those already taken following North Korea’s missile tests in early July, the sources said.

Citing U.S. officials, ABC News of the U.S. reported Aug. 17 that Pyongyang may be preparing for an underground test of a nuclear bomb. South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Aug. 19 that North Korea ordered residents near a nuclear test facility in the northeast to relocate in July, a move suggesting preparations for a nuclear experiment.

The Japanese government has since been stepping up surveillance and gathering of intelligence, the sources said. At this time, however, “we have not detected any specific signs of a nuclear test,” one source said.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Masahiro Futahashi is taking the initiative in coordinating the steps among relevant government offices in accordance with a guideline formulated last year on handling situations in the event of an accident at an overseas nuclear power plant.

For now, Japan will work together with the U.S. and South Korea in reinforcing surveillance via satellites of North Korea’s northeastern region, the sources said.

The government will also enhance monitoring of seismic activities and radioactive substances in the air, the sources said.

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