The assessment concludes that Kim Jong Un’s government is making preparations at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct a test by the end of the month. Signs of personnel and vehicle activity at the site have been seen through satellite imagery, but the officials do not know if the regime has placed nuclear material in one of the underground tunnels at the test site, which the US has been closely watching.
If North Korea conducts a test, it would be the country’s seventh underground nuclear test and the first in nearly five years.
North Korea has conducted six previous nuclear tests at the site, which lies north of Pyongyang, most recently in September 2017. In addition to its preparations for a possible nuclear test, North Korea has conducted repeated ballistic missile tests this year — the latest missile launch occurring on Wednesday.
According to the satellite imagery, the crosscut tunnel at the test site intersects with one of the main tunnels beyond the entrance, meaning there is a shorter distance to the underground launch area. In 2018, North Korea blew up the original entrance to the tunnel but likely did not destroy the entire underground structure.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday the Pentagon was “very deeply concerned” by North Korea’s missile tests, adding that the US and international community has condemned the provocations.
“There’s never a good time quite frankly for the DPRK to conduct these kinds of tests,” Kirby said. “We continue to call on the North to stop these provocative tests and to be willing to sit down, as we have offered we would be willing to do without pre-condition, and to discuss a diplomatic way forward here to de-nuclearize the North.”
Kirby told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a phone call Thursday with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook to discuss the security environment on the Korean Peninsula.
Wednesday’s missile test was North Korea’s 13th this year, compared to eight in 2021 and four in 2020. This year’s tests included a March ICBM launch, the first time Pyongyang had launched that type of missile in four years.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Kevin Liptak and Zachary Cohen contributed reporting.