North Korea may be just days away from carrying out its sixth nuclear weapons test, a U.S. media outlet said Friday, citing unnamed government officials.
Defense officials believe Pyongyang has completed work on fresh tunnels at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, where five previous detentions were carried out, according to the report by Fox News. North Korean authorities, however, still need to move essential equipment into place for the test, which would violate numerous UN resolutions, the anonymously-sourced report said.
While the report could not be independently confirmed, Reuters on Friday quoted an anonymous South Korean military official as saying Pyongyang was ready to carry out a detonation “at any time,” although he declined to confirm if evidence pointed to an imminent test.
The warning comes after the isolated nation tested a new type of rocket engine last weekend and carried out a failed missile test on Wednesday.
North Korea has tested increasingly powerful nuclear weapons since 2006, defying decades of international censure, sanctions, and diplomatic overtures. In an indication of its accelerating capabilities, it carried out its fifth test in September, just months after the fourth. Prior tests were carried out at intervals of around three years. A major priority of Pyongyang, analysts say, is to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland, an eventually President Donald Trump has vowed “won’t happen.”
On a three-nation trip to Asia last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared an end to the previous Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience,” which involved pressuring the North with sanctions while shunning talks, suggesting that military action, though best avoided, was among a number of new measures under consideration.
Uk Yang, a defense analyst and adviser to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, said the next nuclear test should be seen in the context of its ICBM development.
“So in the sixth nuclear test, North Korea will show off that a nuclear warhead has the power of a H-bomb, so the detonated bombs should be more than 10-20 kilotons,” Yang said.
North Korea’s last nuclear test had an estimated yield of about 10 kilotons, two-thirds of the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Yang said Pyongyang’s next effort could be much more powerful.
“Its power will presumably be around 100 kilotons, or if less, maybe 50 kilotons, to show the world that they have more than an A-bomb,” he said.