Is North Korea on the brink of its third nuclear test? New satellite image shows secretive state is step closer to launching US missile
- Discovery of repair comes from an analysis of satellite images
- World leaders fear that North Korea’s may be plotting its third nuclear test
- Country could trigger detonation in just two weeks
By Becky Evans
PUBLISHED: 14:53 EST, 28 December 2012 | UPDATED: 14:56 EST, 28 December 2012
North Korea is capable of conducting its third atomic explosion within two weeks now that it has repaired flood damage at a nuclear test facility, analysis of recent satellite photos indicates.
The revelation follows the secretive state’s December 12 rocket launch that proved it has the technology to fire a warhead more than 6,200 miles.
Washington and its allies fear a third atomic test would take North Korea one step closer to perfecting the technology required to make a nuclear warhead small enough to attach to one of its missiles and fire at mainland America.
A report on the GeoEye and Digital Globe satellite photos from Dec. 13 and earlier, provided by 38 North, the website for the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said scientists are ‘determined to maintain a state of readiness” at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility after repairing flood damage.
North Korea conducted its first and second atomic explosions, in 2006 and 2009, weeks after receiving U.N. Security Council condemnation and sanctions for long-range rocket launches.
If the UN decides to punish North Korea for its December 12 launch which it considers a cover for a banned ballistic missile test, it’s feared North Korea’s may well set up a third nuclear test.
North Korea is thought to have enough plutonium for a handful of crude atomic bombs, and unveiled a uranium enrichment facility in 2010, but it must continue to conduct tests to master the miniaturization technology crucial for a true nuclear weapons program.
‘With an additional nuclear test, North Korea could advance their ability to eventually deploy a nuclear weapon on a long-range missile,’ said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the non-government Arms Control Association.
Analysts caution that only so much can be determined from satellite imagery, and it’s very difficult to fully discern North Korea’s plans. This is especially true for nuclear test preparations, which are often done deep within a mountain. North Korea, for instance, took many by surprise when it launched its rocket this month only several days after announcing technical problems.
The nuclear speculation comes as South Korea’s conservative president-elect, Park Geun-hye, prepares to take office in February, and as young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marks his one-year anniversary as supreme commander.
Some analysts, however, question whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (pictured) will risk international, and especially Chinese, wrath and sure sanctions by quickly conducting a nuclear test
Kim has consolidated power since taking over after his father, Kim Jong Il, died Dec. 17, 2011, and the rocket launch is seen as a major internal political and popular boost for the 20-something leader.
Some analysts, however, question whether Kim will risk international, and especially Chinese, wrath and sure sanctions by quickly conducting a nuclear test.
The analysis also identified what it called a previously unidentified structure that could be meant to protect sensitive equipment from bad weather.
‘We don’t have a crystal ball that will tell us when the North will conduct its third nuclear test,’ said Joel Wit, a former U.S. State Department official and now editor of 38 North.
‘But events over the next few months, such as the U.N. reaction to Pyongyang’s missile test and the North’s unfolding policy toward the new South Korean government, may at least provide us with some clues.’
Another unknown is how China, the North’s only major ally, would respond to calls for tighter sanctions.
Washington views more pressure from Beijing as pivotal if diplomatic pressure is going to force change in Pyongyang.
South Korea retrieved and analysed parts of North Korean rocket fired on December 12 after debris fell into the waters off its west coast.
North Korea claimed it was putting a weather satellite in orbit but critics say it was aimed at nurturing the kind of technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry official said: ‘As a result of analysing the material of Unha-3 (North Korea’s rocket), we judged North Korea had secured a range of more than 10,000 km in case the warhead is 500-600 kg.’
North Korea is banned from testing missile or nuclear technology under United Nationas sanctions imposed after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests.
The UN Security Council condemned the launch earlier this month.
North Korea’s previous missile tests ended in failure.
The country, which regularly denounces the United States as a warmonger, has spent decades trying to develop technology capable of striking long range targets.
VIDEO: Launch of North Korean Unha 3 Rocket:
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