Analysis: Complex North Korean Nuclear Test Nearing

Increased activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, including the presence of command and control vehicles, raised alarms just prior to President Obama’s visit to South Korea last week. While the activity attracted high-level criticism from Obama and South Korean President Park Guen-hye, North Korea has yet to perform a test, but is showing all indications an involved and complex test is near, per the latest satellite imagery. An April 27 report at the US Korea Institute’s 38 North website, referencing new imagery, noted the pace of movement of vehicles has increased near tunnel entrances to the complex, indicating the North Koreans are unloading equipment related to a test and moving it into the tunnels, but they have not yet sealed the tunnels. With the presence of communications equipment on site, a test is “likely in the near future,” Jeffrey Lewis, East Asia Nonproliferation program director at the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Air Force Magazine on April 28. Lewis said the “most likely scenario is multiple tests” are coming. Many indications show North Korea is “digging multiple branches off the main tunnels” in order to facilitate Pyongyang’s threatened new form of nuclear test, he said. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, a Pentagon spokesman, told Air Force Magazine on Monday that “we are not commenting on our intelligence assessments,” when asked for comment on the North Korean activity.