North Korea appears to be in the final phase of preparing for a nuclear test, having placed a nuclear device in a tunnel at the country's nuclear test site, American officials said on early Thursday. A test appears imminent.
The Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong province has seen high levels of activity in recent weeks, but U.S. officials now believe that a nuclear device has been placed in a tunnel, a strong indication that preparations are in their final phase.
The news was first reported by the Voice of America (VOA), which added that other sources were also reporting that a nuclear device appears to have been placed in a tunnel. An official with the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) said it was "watching closely" but declined to comment further.
The North Korea monitoring project 38 North, in a new analysis released on Thursday morning, said commercial satellite imagery taken on Wednesday indicates that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is now "primed and ready" for a test.
Foreign officials believe a nuclear test could be carried out on Saturday morning, which marks the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung. Known as the "Day of the Sun," it is the country's most important holiday.
Tensions have been rising on the Korean Peninsula since North Korea carried out a series of ballistic missile tests.
U.S. President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, during which the two leaders discussed growing concerns over North Korea's advancing nuclear weapons program, which the White House has described as an 'urgent' threat.
Days later, the U.S. ordered a Navy carrier strike group to move towards the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against North Korea. The regime condemned the U.S. move and has warned against military action, saying that it is ready to respond with a nuclear strike against U.S. bases in South Korea.
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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