Satellite images taken over the weekend appear to indicate that North Korea is in the final stages of preparation for the nation’s sixth nuclear test.

38 North, a Washington D.C. based think tank that monitors intelligence out of North Korea released a report on Tuesday with evidence to suggest a good deal of activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri test sight, including multiple vehicles and trailers at the scene and what appears to be communication cables being run from the site to a nearby test tunnel.

Water can be seen being pumped from the area and drained down the hill, which 38 North postulates is “presumably to keep the tunnel dry for monitoring or communications equipment.”

“The combination of these factors strongly suggests that test preparations are well under way, including the installation of instrumentation. The imagery, however, does not provide any definitive evidence of either a nuclear device or the timing of a test.” The report states.

In contrast to the good deal of activity at the test site itself, the rest of the facility has been evacuated, showing no signs of people or equipment anywhere near the location of the potential nuclear test.  The absence of other activity may indicate that the North Koreans are in the final stages of preparation for such test.  The vehicles that have been seen coming and going from the site could have already delivered a nuclear device for detonation, or one could be delivered in the near future.  Using only satellite imagery, it can be almost impossible to tell until the weapon detonates.

Despite the strong evidence to suggest that a test is about to take place, 38 North is quick to recommend caution when making such predictions.

“Since North Korea knows the world is watching and is capable of deception, caution should be used before declaring that a nuclear test is imminent.” They wrote on their website.

Satellite image courtesy of 38 North

38 North has also recently reported on satellite images taken of North Korea’s nuclear research center at Yongbyon, where rail and vehicle movements have once again commenced, potentially indicating plans to resume the reprocessing of spent fuel rods to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made strong statements regarding North Korea during his recent visit to the Asian continent, claiming that “all options” were on the table when it comes to ensuring North Korea’s nuclear weapons program doesn’t put America or its allies at risk.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson told a news conference in Seoul.

North Korea conducted a test nuclear detonation on September 9th, 2016, the nation’s fifth such test.  This potential test would be the first since President Trump took office, and would certainly be intended as a statement directed at South Korean and American leadership amid joint military exercises along the North Korean border intended to shore up defenses in the event of a North Korean attack.

Last year, North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, announced that the country had mastered the ability to mount nuclear weapons on their existing missile platforms, and intelligence suggests that they have been working on producing more platforms capable of longer range strikes, including on the United States.

A series of shorter range missile tests last month were believed to demonstrate North Korea’s current ability to strike at American military installations in Japan.


Image courtesy of Reuters