North Korea is preparing to carry out two nuclear tests, either simultaneously or in rapid succession, to demonstrate to the world the advances it has made in its weapons programme, according to intelligence reports.
Analysis of recent satellite images has shown new activity on the southern edge of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, while preparations at a second tunnel to the west were apparently completed earlier, a South Korean government source told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
The paper quoted a military official as saying, “There is a chance that the southern tunnel is a decoy, but we are not ruling out that the regime will conduct nuclear tests simultaneously at both tunnels.”
There is a widespread belief that North Korea will go ahead with what would be its third nuclear test in the near future, with the regime still angrily denouncing criticism by the United Nations Security Council for the launch in December of what Pyongyang claims was a rocket to put a satellite into orbit.
That protestation has been undermined by North Korea putting on display in Pyongyang a section of fuselage from an identical vehicle and labelling it as a ballistic missile.
The South Korean military and international intelligence agencies have prepared for the North’s anticipated nuclear test and hope that data they can retrieve will provide new pointers on just how far Pyongyang has advanced in its efforts to develop a nuclear warhead that is small enough to be attached to a ballistic missile.