Expert argues test won’t take place for at least six months
South Korea’s Defense Ministry believes North Korea is ready to carry out another nuclear test “at any time” at its Punggye-ri testing site, a spokesperson told reporters during a regular news briefing on Monday.
“The intelligence authorities of the United States and the South have judged the North was always ready for the additional test for now,” Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said.Last week’s nuclear test was its second of the year. An artificial earthquake with a magnitude likely over 5.0 on the Richter Scale was detected near the DPRK’s Punggye-ri testing site.
“The first nuclear test was conducted in tunnel 1 (arbitrary name), and from second to the fifth test in tunnel 2. If they conduct the additional test, it can be done in a branch of tunnel 2 and tunnel 3 for which is estimated as being prepared,” Moon said.
A source in the National Assembly, who wished to remain anonymous, told NK News on Friday that “peculiar movements in three mines have been detected” and that the country may be preparing for further tests later in the year.
38 North also revealed on Thursday that “a new small building was erected, approximately 60 meters to northeast of the (South) portal between July 8 and August 4”. The south portal in the article is presumed to be tunnel 3.
Military specialists based in South Korea and the United States reiterated that there was a high possibility of an additional test, due to a chasm between Kim Jong Un’s demand for a “hydrogen bomb” and the current development stage, but stipulated it wouldn’t necessarily take place within the year.
“Kim Jong Un’s primary demand for a nuclear weapon test has been for a much bigger exp
losion than demonstrated in any of the tests we have seen thus far,” Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, told NK News.
“Rather than testing a nuclear weapon again before the 7th Party Congress in May, Kim waited eight months to conduct his fifth nuclear weapon test, presumably pressuring his nuclear scientists to meet his demand for a much larger weapon yield so that he would not be embarrassed yet one more time.”
Another expert agreed that the failure to meet capability targets could mean another test is in the works.
“We judged that the North tested not an H-Bomb but boosted fission bomb this time. But the effectiveness of the boosted fission bomb even was very lower than normal one since the yield of the test was ten kilotons,” Kim Jin-moo, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), told NK News.
“The usual boosted fission bomb (known as a middle stage between the A-bomb and H-bomb) should yield more than ten kilotons, so it means there is a problem in equipment or design. Another nuclear test is needed.”
Bennett, however, said it’s unlikely the North will carry out another nuclear weapon test for at least six months.
“If his demand is mainly for a nuclear weapon test that clearly demonstrates fusion, he will most likely wait for his scientists to figure out what is going wrong in their nuclear weapon design and how to fix that problem,” he said.
Bennett argued that a test in anything less than six months to a year could indicate that Kim is facing a critical situation and is using a sixth nuclear test as a means to divert the public’s attention.
“I think Kim Jong Un is telling us that his demand has changed: he would be more concerned about internal instability and less concerned about demonstrating a nuclear weapon that clearly involves fusion.”
Kim also added that movement near the new tunnel called No.3 doesn’t necessarily indicate an imminent nuclear test, since the purpose of the newly-built building is obscure: it could be used as accommodation for the prisoners who clean up radioactive contamination after the fifth test.
Yonhap News Agency on Sunday said the ROK’s Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) could wipe out the Pyongyang district where Kim Jong Un possibly hides with mass ballistic missiles and TNT bombs.
Yonhap’s report drew attention with its description of KMPR, with some comparing it to the “decapitation strategy” used by the U.S. against Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The North’s state media Rodong Sinmun, coincidentally, legitimized possession of the nuclear weapon by comparing their situation with Iraq and Libya on Monday.
“We had to choose the path of a nuclear power state,” Rodong Sinmun said. “If we chose the way of step backing from the U.S. nuclear threats, we would end up with the situation like Iraq and Libya.”
The South’s defense ministry on Monday, however, refused to comment on Yonhap’s report.
“We can’t confirm who mentioned the word ‘raze’, but it’s inappropriate to provide further details at the planning stage…,” Moon told reporters. “However, we clarify that we have pushed ahead with ‘the firm determination’.” – NK News
(Dagyum Ji is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV)