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North Korea ‘preparing’ for nuclear test

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Location of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea (Credit: Google)

Construction is underway at the partially demolished nuclear test site in North Korea, an indication that the country is preparing for its most provocative act in nearly five years, according to South Korean government sources.

Signs detected by military and intelligence agencies in South Korea indicate that North Korea is working to restore Tunnel 3 at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which was partially demolished in 2018, when diplomacy allowed tensions to ease on the Korean Peninsula.

“[The North] abruptly stopped its initial construction work to restore the entrance to Tunnel 3 and it’s [now] digging up the side [of the tunnel],” a South Korean government source told Yonhap. “In this way, it seems like it will be possible to restore [the facilities] in a month.”

Experts believe that North Korea could test a tactical nuclear weapon which is small enough to be loaded on ballistic missiles. Major events are often carried out around key holidays and Military Foundation Day, which falls on April 25, is seen as a possible date for the test.

Sunday’s report comes just days after a joint statement from the U.S., the UK, Japan, South Korea, and 11 other countries expressed “alarm” about construction at North Korea’s nuclear test site, which it said could suggest preparations for a nuclear test.

North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday, its biggest missile test since 2017. This week’s test demonstrated an improved capacity with an estimated range of up to 15,000 kilometers, putting all of Asia, Europe and North America within reach, although the weight of a warhead would likely reduce its reach in practice.

North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests to date, all of which were carried out at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong province. The most recent test happened in 2017 and was the country’s most advanced test yet with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons TNT, nearly 17 times as much as the bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.

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