UNITED NATIONS (TNZT) – UN experts report that North Korea is testing “nuclear activation equipment” and preparations for another nuclear test in June were in their final stages, citing information from unnamed countries.
The panel of experts said in new excerpts from their latest report obtained Friday by The The New Zealand Times that they were “unable to identify the test sites and data” for the tests of nuclear activation equipment reported by a UN member state.
In extracts obtained Thursday, the experts said North Korea is paving the way for additional nuclear testing with new preparations at its northeastern test site and continuing to develop its ability to produce a key ingredient for nuclear weapons.
In the new excerpt, the panel said: “Since the beginning of June, two Member States have judged preparations for nuclear tests to be at an end stage.”
On other issues, the panel said in Thursday’s excerpts that North Korea carried out two major hacks this year, resulting in the theft of cryptocurrency assets worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Pyongyang also continues to illegally import oil and export coal in violation of UN sanctions, using the same companies, networks and ships, it said.
South Korean and US intelligence officials have said they have uncovered North Korean attempts to prepare its northeastern Punggye-ri test site for another nuclear test. It would be the seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb that would fit its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The report from the panel of experts to the UN Security Council provides some details about the work being done at the site by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.
The experts said they noted that in March the DPRK began re-excavations at the entrance to Tunnel 3 in Punggye-ri “and reconstructed the supporting buildings that were originally dismantled in May 2018.”
“Satellite images showed an increased number of vehicle tracks around this secondary entrance from mid-February 2022, followed by the construction of a new building adjacent to the entrance in early March,” the panel said. “At about the same time, a pile of wood was also discovered, for possible use in the construction of the tunnel structure.”
It added: “During this period, piles of earth from the tunnel excavation were observed around the entrance.”
“The work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site paves the way for additional nuclear tests for the development of nuclear weapons,” the experts said, adding that this is a target set at the Eighth Congress of Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party in the country. January 2021.
Robert Floyd, head of the UN’s nuclear test-prohibition agency, told a UN news conference on Friday that its monitoring facilities have detected North Korea’s six previous nuclear tests. “If there’s a seventh time, I’m confident that our system will pick it up, we’ll characterize it, and that information will then be shared with the states of the world,” he said.
Floyd attends the high-level conference reviewing the landmark Non-Proliferation Treaty, which began Monday and ends August 26. Under the terms of the NPT, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France — agreed to one day negotiate eliminating their arsenals and countries without nuclear weapons. promised not to acquire them in exchange for a guarantee to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Floyd questioned whether the possibility of a seventh DPRK nuclear test will strengthen or weaken non-proliferation and disarmament regimes, “and the willingness of states to see these things in place.”
“I wonder how much that actually adds to the tone we heard this week at the review conference, where there was quite a bit of accommodation for various functions,” he said.
“I wonder if at a time like this the states are recognizing that it’s really important to be able to strengthen the NPT and come together around some of these very important issues, rather than, ‘Oh, this is a reason why we need something as important as the cornerstone of nuclear architecture,” Floyd said.
In another aspect of the DPRK’s nuclear program, analysts said satellite images from last September showed North Korea was expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, a sign that it wanted to ramp up production of the key bomb material. .
The UN experts said in the new report: “DPRK continued to develop its nuclear fissile material production capacity at the Yongbyon site.”
Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the DPRK’s demand to lift crippling US-led sanctions and Washington’s demand for major steps by Pyongyang toward nuclear disarmament.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has expanded his ballistic missile program during the diplomatic hiatus, and analysts say a new nuclear test would escalate him, aimed at bolstering the north’s status as a nuclear power, and negotiating economic and security concessions from a strong position.
The panel of experts said the DPRK continued to accelerate its missile programs by launching 31 missiles “combining ballistic and guidance technologies”, including six ICBMs and two “explicitly described as ballistic weapons”. It said the DPRK also claimed to have made progress in developing “tactical nuclear weapons”.