Photos show N Korea nuclear readiness | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 29, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 29, 2012

Photos show N Korea nuclear readiness

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North Korea has repaired flood damage at its nuclear test facility and could conduct a quick atomic explosion if it chose, though water streaming out of a test tunnel may cause problems, analysis of recent satellite photos indicates.
Washington and others are bracing for the possibility that if punished for a successful long-range rocket launch on Dec. 12 that the UN considers a cover for a banned ballistic missile test, North Korea's next step might be its third nuclear test.
Rocket and nuclear tests unnerve Washington and its allies because each new success puts North Korean scientists another step closer to perfecting a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a missile that could hit the mainland United States.
Another nuclear test, which North Korea's Foreign Ministry hinted at on the day of the rocket launch, would fit a pattern. Pyongyang conducted its first and second atomic explosions, in 2006 and 2009, weeks after receiving UN Security Council condemnation and sanctions for similar long-range rocket launches.
North Korea is thought to have enough plutonium for a handful of crude atomic bombs, and unveiled a uranium enrichment facility in 2010, but it must continue to conduct tests to master the miniaturization technology crucial for a true nuclear weapons program.
Analysts caution that only so much can be determined from satellite imagery, and it's very difficult to fully discern North Korea's plans. This is especially true for nuclear test preparations, which are often done deep within a mountain. North Korea, for instance, took many by surprise when it launched its rocket this month only several days after announcing technical problems.
Although there's no sign of an imminent nuclear test, U.S. and South Korean officials worry that Pyongyang could conduct one at any time.
Analysis of GeoEye and Digital Globe satellite photos from Dec. 13 and earlier, provided to The Associated Press by 38 North, the website for the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said scientists are "determined to maintain a state of readiness" at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility after repairing flood damage.
The nuclear speculation comes as South Korea's conservative president-elect, Park Geun-hye, prepares to take office in February, and as young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marks his one-year anniversary as supreme commander.

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