A U.S. official tells Fox News that North Korea may be in the final stages of preparing its sixth nuclear weapons test as South Korean officials insist Pyongyang may already have the capacity to launch a nuclear weapon test at any time, executing it within hours of dictator Kim Jong-un’s command.
“The test could come as early as the end of the month,” the American official tells Fox News, which adds that multiple officials have warned that there is evidence of North Korea having completed the construction of various tunnels surrounding a nuclear test site used to transport necessary materials.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap cites South Korean defense officials making a similar warning as their American counterparts Friday. “It’s assessed that North Korea is capable of conducting a nuclear test within hours after Kim Jong-un’s order,” an anonymous official told the outlet. “We are keeping close tabs on its nuclear-related facilities with combined assets with the U.S.”
Another anonymous South Korean official told Reuters that North Korea is not only preparing a new nuclear test but is ready to execute one on a moment’s notice. “North Korea is ready to carry out a nuclear test at any time, depending on the leadership’s decision. We are keeping a close eye on its nuclear activities,” the unnamed official said.
The South Korean Unification Ministry has confirmed these anonymous reports. “South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities evaluate that North Korea is prepared for a nuclear test anytime on the leadership’s decision,” spokesman Lee Duk-haeng said on Friday.
Pyongyang itself has been working to create the impression that it can launch a nuclear weapons test at any time. In a separate report Friday, Yonhap notes that North Korean state media has claimed that the nation is “conducting ballistic missile launching drills on a regular basis to counter what it called the United States’ nuclear war threats.” “Our strategic force is conducting a ballistic rocket launching drill on a regular basis,” the North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported.
North Korea’s insistence that the United States is a constant threat is not new. A year ago, Foreign Minister Lee Su-yong issued a warning that “we have fully transferred our army from the form of military response to the form of delivering a pre-emptive strike and we state resolutely about the readiness to deliver a pre-emptive nuclear strike” on America. His remarks followed threats in North Korean media that Pyongyang would deliver a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice” on U.S. soil soon.
Reuters notes that the American military is currently shifting its assets in the region to prepare for any potential violence. The Russian military also appears to have activated a surveillance aircraft intended to detect any biological, nuclear, or chemical agents, according to Reuters.
North Korea attempted to test a missile on Wednesday, launching it off its east coast near Wonsan city. Observers have not been able to predict what the missile’s intended target was, as it exploded seconds after launch.
North Korea has reportedly been working to generate enough nuclear fuel for another weapon for at least two months. In January, the website 38 North reported that new satellite photos indicated that Pyongyang had ordered the reactivation of a plutonium reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear facility – trace amounts of water flowing around the facility indicated that the reactor was operational.
Thae Yong-ho — a high-ranking former North Korean diplomat who defected and now helps media understand Pyongyang’s behavior — warned in December that Kim appeared to be seeking to fully develop a functioning nuclear weapons arsenal by 2018.
“Due to domestic political procedures, North Korea calculates that South Korea and the US will not be able to take physical or military actions to deter North Korea’s nuclear development,” Thae argued. Months later, Thae argued that Kim’s success at such a feat would cause significant strain within his own government, as many high-ranking North Korean officials appear to distrust the young dictator. Yet another nuclear test could “break the country in two pieces,” Thae warned last week.
North Korea completed its last nuclear weapon test in September, detonating what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb. Nuclear experts argued that the weapon was likely a hybrid fission-fusion bomb, however, noting that its seismic impact was too small to be that of a pure fusion weapon like a hydrogen bomb.