|▲ Two satellite images of the Pungye-ri test site. The left image shows three test shafts (labeled ‘West’, ‘East’ and ‘South’), while the right focuses on the mound of excavated earth growing at the entrance to the ‘South Shaft’ (ⓒ Quickbird)|
North Korea has been conducting excavation work at its nuclear test site in North Hamkyung Province, increasing the likelihood, already widely presumed by experts, that Pyongyang plans to conduct a third nuclear test in the period following this month’s rocket launch.
“North Korea appears to be secretively preparing a 3rd nuclear test at the village of Pungye in Kilju County, North Hamkyung Province, the place where it conducted its previous two tests,” a source based in Seoul revealed to Daily NK over the weekend.
“Evidence from recent satellite images has confirmed that apart from the existing two test shafts at the Pungye test site, North Korea is excavating a new shaft, and that this work is in the final stages of completion,” the source went on.
In the satellite images from U.S. commercial earth observation satellite ‘Quickbird’, a growing mound of dirt can be seen near the new tunnel entrance. It has been constantly growing since last month, according to analysts.
In the case of past tests, the completion of the test shaft represented almost the final stage of preparations for the test, suggesting that, as speculated, North Korea is planning to use the pretext of international pressure that is sure to follow its rocket launch to undertake such a test.
“They are implementing their original plan, which was to test their nuclear weapons and delivery systems,” Korea Institute for National Unification researcher Cheon Seong Whun asserted to Daily NK by phone. “It is unrelated to UN Security Council resolutions pursuant to the rocket launch and all of that. They will conduct a nuclear test after the missile launch.”
Certainly, if North Korea fulfills Cheon’s expectations and goes ahead with a third nuclear test at Pungye, it would fit closely with an established pattern of behavior. The country conducted its first such test in October 2006, three months after the launch of the ‘Taepodong-2’ missile, and its second in May 2009, just one month after another high profile rocket launch.
This latest evidence also follows on from a rhetorical threat from Chosun Shinbo on the 4th, in which the pro-North Korea ‘Chongryon’ publication commented on the way international events played out in 2009 and accused the U.S. of driving a return to those days.