New satellite imagery "strongly suggests" that North Korea is preparing to carry out a nuclear test, a U.S.-based monitoring group said on Tuesday, just days after foreign governments said the regime is likely to carry out a test soon.
Commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong province showed multiple vehicles at the entrance to the site's North Portal, as well as evidence of equipment that would likely be used to initiate a test, collect data from the explosion and process the data.
"The combination of these factors strongly suggests that test preparations are well underway, including the installation of instrumentation," the North Korea monitoring project 38 North said. "The imagery, however, does not provide any definitive evidence of either a nuclear device or the timing of a test."
It also noted that water is being pumped out of the portal and draining downhill, presumably to keep the tunnel dry for monitoring or communications equipment. There is no indication of significant activity at other areas of the test site, which could indicate that test preparations are in their final stages.
The analysis comes just days after U.S. and South Korean officials said that North Korea is likely to carry out a nuclear test over the next few weeks. "It's assessed that North Korea is capable of conducting a nuclear test within hours after Kim Jong Un's order," a South Korean official told Yonhap last week.
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. A U.S. official told Fox News on Thursday that it believes a nuclear test could happen as early as the end of this month.
But nuclear tests have in the past been difficult to predict and the timing of a test - if one is carried out - remains uncertain. "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," 38 North said.
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.
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