North Korea appears to have finished preparations to carry out another nuclear test, South Korean and U.S. officials said on Thursday, adding that a test could be carried out within days if the order is given.
U.S. defense officials told Fox News that North Korea had completed digging new tunnels around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong province, which is where all five of the country's previous tests have taken place.
"The test could come as early as the end of the month," one U.S. official said. As a result, the U.S. military has sent a surveillance aircraft to Japan to patrol the area off the Korean Peninsula and to take air samples once a nuclear test is carried out.
South Korean defense officials confirmed the assessment, telling the South Korean news agency Yonhap that North Korea appears to have finished preparations and is ready to carry out a test once the order is given.
"It's assessed that North Korea is capable of conducting a nuclear test within hours after Kim Jong Un's order," one official told Yonhap. "We are keeping close tabs on its nuclear-related facilities with combined assets with the U.S."
North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test in September 2016, leading to a new round of UN sanctions that aimed to impede the country's ability to further develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Other tests took place in January 2016, 2013, 2009, and 2006.
Earlier on Thursday, the United Nations Security Council "strongly condemned" North Korea's ballistic missile launches earlier this month and called on the reclusive country to comply with UN resolutions, reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to commit to denuclearization.
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