South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told a closed-door session of Parliament on Monday that signs of activity have been detected at North Korea’s Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site, possibly signaling that a new nuclear test is imminent.
CNN quotes a South Korean lawmaker who said satellite imagery indicates North Korean “has completed its preparation to carry out a nuclear test at Tunnel 2 and Tunnel 3 of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” while Tunnel 4 is apparently being expanded.
A report at The Australian states that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test within ten days possibly timed to coincide with the national holiday on September 9 commemorating the founding of the nation by current dictator Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung. North Korea’s last nuclear test was held in conjunction with this holiday in 2016.
The Australian suggests China would be profoundly displeased by another underground blast at Punggye-ri because such tests cause significant earth tremors and contaminate water and soil in China. If China is exceptionally angry at North Korea, they have yet to demonstrate it through any public statement.
North Korea has test-fired at least four missiles over the past few days, including the one that flew over Japan on Monday. Dictator Kim Jong-un has been photographed ostentatiously inspecting missile components and overseeing military exercises which appeared to simulate a North Korean attack on South Korean islands.
CNN notes that North Korea’s state-run media has been filled with belligerent messages about using nuclear weapons to “defend independence and justice,” while congratulating Kim for transforming the Communist nation into a “matchless nuclear weapons state in a short span of time.”
As always, North Korea has denounced the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercise now in progress.
“My country has every reason to respond with tough countermeasures as an exercise of its right to self-defense. The US should be fully responsible for the catastrophic consequences it will entail,” North Korea’s envoy to a U.N. disarmament conference in Geneva said on Tuesday, in the face of international condemnation for the test missile that flew over Japan.
Reuters cites analysts who say North Korea needs at least one more nuclear test to develop a bomb small enough to fit inside an ICBM. The missile that was just fired over Japan has been described as the first North Korean vehicle with the power and range to deliver a nuclear bomb.
If a test is indeed conducted soon, security analysts will no doubt be watching closely for indications that North Korea has achieved the miniaturization it needs to field nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
Reuters quotes two U.S. officials who suggest American intelligence does not concur with the South Korean report of heightened activity at Punggye-ri, although one of them said the site has essentially been ready for a test detonation since early this summer.
Another hopeful comment came from South Korea’s vice defense minister, who said his government believes North Korea is at least a year away from having the re-entry technology it would need to fire a nuclear missile at intercontinental ranges.