North Korea may be getting ready to explode a sixth nuclear bomb in a development indicated by a “flurry of activity” at the mountainside facility where the country has carried out its five previous nuclear test explosions, a major national newspaper in Japan reported on Sunday. The Asahi Shimbun ran an article on June 11 stating that “activity has intensified” at the site, located in northeast Korea, about 1,100 miles from the country’s capital city of Pyongyang.
The Punnggye-ri facility, according to the Washington D.C.-based Nuclear Threat Institute, has “three visible tunnel entrances known as the South Portal, East Portal, and West Portal. Since the 2006 nuclear test, numerous satellite images have revealed on-going construction, excavation, and movement at the facility prior to testing,” the NTI said in its description of the facility.
According to the Asahi Shimbun report, “scientists who oversee nuclear materials as well as evaluate the nuclear tests have gathered at the Punggye-ri site. In addition, traffic to the site has been apparently shut down at the checkpoints leading to the area in northeastern North Korea. However, movement of vehicles and humans within the test site continues to be active.”
However, United States-based experts questioned the report, saying that publicly available satellite imagery did not show evidence of recent “intensified activity” at the remote site, which has been the location of North Korean nuclear test detonations in 2006, 2009, 2013, and twice in 2016.
— 38 North (@38NorthNK) June 13, 2017
The U.S. scientists based at Johns Hopkins University, however, warned that even if recent satellite images do now show evidence of unusual activity at the nuclear test site, that does not mean that North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is not readying a sixth nuclear test.
“Regardless of the veracity of the Asahi Shimbun claims, given the previous activities observed from the beginning of this year through mid-April, additional nuclear tests should be considered possible at any time the North Korean leadership makes the decision to conduct them,” wrote researchers Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. and Jack Liu on their group’s 38 North blog.
Last month, the North Korea government described their next nuclear test as “imminent,” but there has been no explosion of a nuclear device in North Korea since September of last year — a test that registered a 5.3 on the Richter Scale by the U.S. Geological Survey. That translates to a nuclear bomb with a force of up to 30 kilotons; that is, the force of 30,000 tons of TNT. That made the bomb the most powerful weapon yet tested by North Korea, and twice as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, by the United States in 1945, near the end of World War II.
A similar report of unusual activity at Punggye-ri also surfaced in April, prompting fears that North Korea was about to explode a sixth nuclear device at that time. But satellite imagery showed that the supposed unusual activity apparently consisted of workers at the site playing volleyball.
According to the 38 North scientists, the North Korea nuclear site now appears to be in “standby mode,” simply waiting for Kim Jong Un to give the go-ahead for a new nuclear blast there. At the same time, relations between North Korea and the United States continue to take a series of bizarre twists.
In Tuesday, North Korea released Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student who had been held in North Korea since his arrest there in January of 2016 after what North Korean authorities said was an attempt to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel. But Warmer was mysteriously in a coma when North Korea released him.
The following day, a North Korean soldier crossed the Demilitarized Zone — the two-and-a-half mile wide strip of land that partitions the North from the South, saying that he wanted to defect to South Korea. The soldier is currently being interrogated about his motives for the defection.
[Featured Image By KRT/AP Images]