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Pyongyang may soon conduct 6th nuclear test

Mar 25,2017
Pyongyang is in its final stages of preparing for its sixth nuclear test, according to U.S. and South Korean defense officials, which may take place before the end of the month.

South Korean defense officials said Friday that North Korea appears to have finished preparing for their next nuclear test and is awaiting leader Kim Jong-un’s command.

“We believe North Korea can conduct a nuclear test within hours after leader Kim Jong-un issues the command,” a South Korean military official said Friday, responding to a U.S. report of an impending nuclear test within the next several days. “The South Korean and U.S. combined assets are keeping close watch on its nuclear-related facilities.”

Fox News reported Thursday that another North Korean nuclear test could come in the next few days, citing U.S. officials with knowledge of the most recent intelligence from the region.

One U.S. defense official was quoted by Fox as saying a nuclear test “could come as early as the end of the month.” The official also cited a U.S. defense official who said North Korea has completed digging new tunnels around its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in Kilju County, North Hamgyong Province, but still has to move more equipment into the area for a possible test.

The report said that in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear preparations, the U.S. military is moving its surveillance aircraft, which is used to test the air following nuclear explosions, to the region. According to a separate official, the nuclear sniffer plane Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix arrived in Japan to patrol the area off the Korean Peninsula.

Similarly, a U.S. defense official told AFP on the condition of anonymity that “a level of activity that’s similar to what they’ve done before other tests” could be observed at sites that it monitors. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff feels that as soon as the North Korean leadership makes the decision,” a Seoul defense official said, “a nuclear test can be conducted anytime.”

He added that South Korean and U.S. military have determined that whenever Kim Jong-un makes a decision, another nuclear test can be conducted at either at the No. 2 or No. 3 tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

The North Korea monitoring website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said earlier this month that, based on satellite imagery, Pyongyang may be preparing for a sixth nuclear test. North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006 was conducted in the No. 1 tunnel, while the following three nuclear tests in 2009, 2013 and early 2016 were conducted in the No. 2 tunnel. The cite of the fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, likewise was conducted at the No. 2 tunnel around 500 meters away from the site of the fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 earlier that year.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]