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North Korea Possibly Prepping For 5th Nuclear Test

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea will resume plutonium production and a fifth nuclear test may be imminent, according to reports.

Korea is currently reprocessing spent fuel rods to extract nuclear material and is “on schedule” with its planned production of enriched plutonium for nuclear weapons and energy, the DPRK’s Atomic Energy Institute, told Kyodo News Wednesday.

International inspectors detected “activities related to the five-megawatt reactor, the expansion of enrichment facilities, and activities related to [plutonium] reprocessing” around the Yongbyon reactor, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano told ABC News. “We cannot say for sure, but we have indications of certain activities through the satellite imagery,” he added.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test January 6. The country was slapped with international sanctions shortly thereafter.

North Korea shut down the Yongbyon nuclear complex in 2007 after suspending its nuclear program in accordance with the Six-Party Talks agreement; however, the DPRK said that it would restart the reactor in 2013.

During the daily press briefing Wednesday, Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner said that the North Korea’s attempts to restart its nuclear program is a “clear violation of UN security council resolutions.” “These actions only serve to increase the international community’s resolve to continue to counter the DPRK, North Korea’s prohibited activities. Our commitment to our defense of our allies … remains ironclad. We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies,” Toner continued.

North Korea may simply intend to use the restarting of its reactor as diplomatic leverage, but the U.S. and others are concerned that North Korea may acquire the ability to turn a “theoretical” nuclear threat into a real challenge for the U.S. and its allies in the region. If North Korea is planning to conduct a fifth nuclear test, there is a legitimate cause for concern that the U.S. and its allies cannot ignore.

“When you have this many tests, you are eventually going to get it right … As soon as they have one test that they could classify as an extreme success, then we are talking about a whole different ballgame in their potential to threaten other sovereign nations in their area but also potentially parts of the United States,” CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling explained.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs also vowed to take action, with the assistance of the international community, to counter North Korean efforts to produce weapons-grade plutonium, reported the Yonhap News Agency.

“South Korea expresses grave concerns and regret over the act that challenges the international community’s peace and security,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Cho June-hyuck. Cho explained that “the government will take necessary steps in cooperation with major countries and relevant international organizations” to properly punish the North for its nuclear projects. Cho added, “I strongly urge North Korea to give up all its nuclear programs.” South Korea is already discussing countermeasures with allies.

Last year, the North Korea Nuclear Futures Project, a joint program involving National Defense University and the U.S.-Korea Institute in the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, predicted that an operational Yongbyon nuclear complex could result in a tenfold expansion of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile by 2020.

The U.S., South Korea and other regional allies will inevitably push for “hard-hitting sanctions,” but just in case that it isn’t enough, South Korea has a few other ideas in mind to check North Korean aggression.

In a show of force against North Korea’s actions, South Korea held its largest artillery drill ever Thursday. “Some 300 artillery pieces from 49 artillery battalions took part in the live-fire exercise,” the Ministry of National Defense reported.

“If provoked again, we will strike so hard that the North can never recover,” Lieutenant Colonel Lee Bang-hyung told Yonhap.

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