Satellite Imagery Shows North Korea May Be Preparing Sixth Nuclear Test

A satellite image of the area around North Korea's Punggye-Ri nuclear test site shows graphics pointing to what monitoring group 38 North says are signs of increased activity, in a photo released by the 38 North group October 7, 2016. Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North/Handout via Reuters
Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North/Handout via Reuters

A nuclear monitoring group called 38 North, based at Johns Hopkins University, believes the latest satellite surveillance shows North Korea may be preparing to conduct a sixth nuclear test detonation.

“One possible reason for this activity is to collect data on the Sept. 9 test although other purposes cannot be ruled out, such as sealing the portal or other preparations related to a new test,” said 38 North, as quoted by Reuters.

The nuclear detonation on September 9th was Pyongyang’s fifth, and most powerful, test device to date. October 10th will mark the 71st anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, which would seem an auspicious moment for a headline-grabbing, world-defying nuclear test.

Reuters notes that, while South Korea’s Unification Ministry sees no indications of an imminent test, the Yonhap news agency “cited an unidentified government official that there was activity at the North’s rocket launch station near the west coast that could be preparations for a long-range missile launch.”

The South Korean official said “chances are high that the North will conduct its sixth nuclear detonation or test-fire a ballistic missile ahead of the anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party and the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) scheduled in the US later this month,” according to Sky News.

Japan Times reports that Tokyo is also carefully watching North Korea’s test sites for either nuclear or ballistic-missile tests coinciding with the Workers’ Party anniversary, as well as upcoming U.S.-South Korean naval drills. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada warned that “another act of provocation cannot be ruled out.”

North Korea’s rhetoric has been getting a bit more explosive in the run-up to October 10th, with a statement from Pyongyang on Thursday declaring that America and her allies will soon face a “shuddering reality,” and denouncing the Obama administration as “rogues” for imposing sanctions, such as the Treasury Department’s recent action against a Chinese industrial firm for working with a banned North Korean company.

China is always a big player in stories about North Korea, and if Professor Zhe Sun of the China initiative at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs is right, Beijing is running out of patience with its unruly client on the Korean peninsula.

“Some Chinese scholars and policy makers began to talk about supporting ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘decapitation’ by the U.S. and South Korea as one policy option… More radical proposals indicate that China should change the leader, send troops across borders and station in DPRK, force DPRK into giving up nuclear and beginning opening up and reforming,” said the professor at a security forum in Washington on Thursday, according to a report at Korea Times.

He added that Beijing remains interested in maintaining the “stability of the North Korean regime, expressed in the ‘3 Nos policy (no war, no nuclear, and no chaos,” and is still very nervous about the consequences of a North Korean collapse but is beginning to wonder “how big of a price China should pay for supporting the Kim Jong-un regime.”


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