All evidence suggests that another North Korean nuclear test is coming soon, but this one may be different than the reclusive regime’s previous tests.
Recent satellite imagery shows heightened activity around the North Portal of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. Earlier this month, observers detected extensive tunneling around Mt. Mantap, where the test site is located. The testing area is believed to now be capable of supporting underground tests with higher explosive yields, reports 38 North, a research site run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
Observers spotted several large trucks stationed at the test site in satellite images from Saturday. Some researchers may have been there to offload “instrumentation or even a nuclear device.” Water is being drained from the North Portal, possibly to keep the tunnels dry for monitoring or communications equipment, and evidence suggests that communications cables have already been laid. Researchers suggest that “these factors strongly suggests that test preparations are well underway.” Furthermore, the lack of activity in other areas may signal “that test preparations are in their final stages.”
Despite heavy snowfall in recent days, North Korea has stepped up its activity around the North Portal. Satellite images from Tuesday show a large truck and a group of about 70 to 100 people standing in formation in the courtyard of the Main Administrative Area, 38 North researchers introduced. This type of behavior has not been seen since 2013.
“The North Koreans know when commercial satellites are passing overhead and typically try to avoid activities during that time,” researchers report. “The fact these formations can be seen suggests that Pyongyang is sending a political message that the sixth nuclear test will be conducted soon.”
The South Korean military expects a nuclear test in the near future; however, they suspect the North may carry out a “different type” of nuclear test this time around.
“Considering various possibilities, we are closely tracking and monitoring the North’s moves in cooperation with the United States,” Army Col. Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for the the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Yonhap News Agency.
Some analysts suspect that North Korea will attempt to detonate multiple bombs simultaneously. Others suggest that the North may try out a boosted fission bomb, which could have yields as high as 200 kilotons, much higher than anything the North has previously tested.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear weapons tests since 2006. The North believes nuclear weapons are essential to its long-term survival as a state.
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