North Korea to conduct nuclear test?

Satellite images suggest North Korea may soon conduct another underground nuclear detonation -its sixth test in the last decade.

Yoel Domb ,

North Korean flag
North Korean flag

New satellite images suggest that North Korea might soon conduct another underground detonation in its effort to learn how to producee nuclear weapons — its sixth explosive test in a decade and perhaps its most powerful yet, according to a New York Times report.

North Korea’s nuclear tests have grown steadily more destructive, and the country continues to pursue its goal of putting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile capable of reaching targets around the globe.

Experts examining satellite imagery observed a wide range of activity at Mount Mantap, a mile-high peak where North Korea conducts its nuclear tests. Beneath the mountain, a system of tunnels has been excavated for the past five detonations of the North’s nuclear bombs.

North Korea often marks significant dates with shows of military force, and analysts say it might detonate a nuclear weapon to celebrate the birthday this Saturday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un. North Korean sources have told foreign journalists located in the country to prepare for "something big and important."

Since late 2013, piles of rocky debris from the excavation of the site’s North tunnel system have grown quite large — now big enough to cover a football field, and quite high. It’s the largest pile ever observed there. Work on the excavation has recently slowed, quite likely signaling readiness for the next detonation.

Scientists at the Los Alamos weapons lab who have studied images of the large debris pile recently concluded that Mount Mantap could withstand a nuclear explosion of up to 282 kilotons – roughly 20 times stronger than the Hiroshima blast. Previously, the largest detonations were in the Hiroshima range.

No one outside of North Korea knows for sure what could take place or how big the blast might be. It’s a guessing game — a sophisticated one for Washington’s intelligence agencies, and less so for civilians armed only with unclassified information.

The spokesman for the joint headquarters of South Korea, Ro Gai-Chown, said to foreign correspondents that South Korea does not see signs that the North is preparing for a provocative move. However South Korean officials added that North was unpredictable and could perform a test without prior warning.

The United States recently ordered an aircraft carrier and other warships to sail toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of force intended to discourage the North from testing a nuclear weapon.

North Korea responded by stating Monday that it "sees the US as being solely responsible for catastrophic consequences" which could occur if the US takes military action in the area.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe warned that North Korea may have the technological capability of launching missiles carrying Sarin nerve gas in their warheads.