Is N.Korea Poised for Another Nuclear Test?

North Korea's successful rocket launch on Wednesday has raised fears that the renegade country will conduct another nuclear test. The reason is that the North conducted its last two nuclear tests between one and three months after rocket test launches in 2006 and 2009.

Some South Korean government officials speculate that the North could try and test an A-bomb made with highly enriched uranium rather than plutonium in near future. They believe the North will try to save plutonium, which is now difficult for it to obtain since it shut down its nuclear reactor.

Intelligence authorities and experts here believe a nuclear test is imminent. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told the National Assembly on Wednesday, "North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and made considerable progress toward a third one."

He added North Korea may well conduct another test if it deems it "politically necessary."

Kim Hee-sang at the Korea Research Institute for Strategy said, "The success of the previous two nuclear tests by North Korea was disputed, so I believe there is a great chance of another nuclear test so that it can show that it not only succeeded in launching a rocket but also in making a nuclear bomb."

Nick Hansen at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University analyzed satellite pictures taken on Nov. 24 and found signs of cars moving frequently on the roads around the test site in Pungye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, and the tunnel pit of the test site under maintenance.

Hansen, an expert analyst of satellite pictures, said whether or not it succeeds in the rocket launch, North Korea will go ahead with the third nuclear test.

But others believe North Korea would rather avoid the sanctions that would inevitably follow a nuclear test and look for ways to extract international aid. Han Ki-bum at Korea University said, "If North Korea pushes ahead with a nuclear test at this moment, it will face greater international pressure and it will make the diplomatic situation harder for North Korea. The rocket launch could be wrapping up a year of hardline brinkmanship prior to more amenable policies next year."

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 13, 2012 13:49 KST