Is N.Korea Preparing for Another Nuke Test?

      October 21, 2010 09:14

      This image taken on Oct. 16, 2006 by South Korea's multipurpose satellite Arirang No. 2 shows Punggye-ri in North Hamgyong Province, believed to be the site of North Korea's nuclear tests. /Courtesy of Korea Aerospace Research Institute

      A U.S. reconnaissance satellite has detected signs of North Korea preparing for a nuclear test in North Hamgyong Province, where it had conducted two earlier tests in October 2006 and May 2009.

      A South Korean government source on Wednesday said "brisk movement" of vehicles and people has been detected in Punggye-ri recently, including signs of activity there to repair a tunnel that collapsed after the two earlier nuclear tests.

      However, it seems unlikely that the North will conduct a third nuclear test in the immediate future since current activities there suggest it will take "about three months" to prepare, the source added.

      There is speculation that the North will attempt to reach a deal with the South Korean and the U.S. governments to ease sanctions while giving the impression that it is constantly ready to perform another nuclear test.

      Others speculate that Pyongyang may go ahead with the test to bolster the standing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son Jong-un or to tighten controls now Kim junior has officially been established as the successor to the leadership.

      One South Korean security official said, "To consolidate the foundations for Kim junior's succession, the North will continue to try to bolster nuclear weapons and missiles in line with its "Songun" or military-first doctrine and its propaganda goal to become a "powerful and prosperous nation" by 2012, the centennial of regime founder Kim Il-sung's birth.

      David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S. think tank, said at a seminar hosted by the Institute for Corean-American Studies in Washington that the North may have already developed small nuclear warheads that can be fitted onto ballistic missiles.

      After Kim junior was officially established as the successor to the leadership on Sept. 29, the North's Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon told the UN General Assembly, "Our nuclear deterrent can never be abandoned, but should be strengthened further."

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