Skip to main content

North Korea steps up activity at its nuclear site, South says

By Jethro Mullen and Stella Kim, CNN
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: It could be preparations for a test or deception, a South Korean official says
  • The reported activity comes just days before President Obama is due to visit Seoul
  • Pyongyang said last month that it wouldn't rule out "a new form of nuclear test"
  • North Korea's last nuclear test in February 2013 was widely condemned

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea has stepped up activity at its main nuclear test site, possibly preparing to carry out a fourth underground blast, South Korea said Tuesday.

The report comes just days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to arrive in South Korea as part of a visit to several Asian countries.

"We confirm that we have spotted several activities related to the nuclear test in Punggye-ri in North Korea," the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a statement. It declined to specify what the activities were, saying the information was classified.

The ministry said it had increased its military preparedness since Monday morning and was monitoring around the clock for signs of activity at the Punggye-ri site in a northeastern region of North Korea.

North Korea nuclear test 'quite likely'
N. Korea may be readying for nuke test

North Korea said last month that it wouldn't rule "a new form of a nuclear test" to strengthen its nuclear deterrent. Experts have speculated that that could refer to the testing of a uranium bomb.

3 previous tests

The reclusive regime in Pyongyang is known to have conducted three previous tests, all of them believed to be based on plutonium. The most recent one took place February 2013.

The past tests prompted international condemnation and the imposition of sanctions aimed at hampering the North's weapons program.

Since the last underground detonation, South Korean officials have repeatedly said that they believe North Korea is ready to carry out another test at any time, pending a political decision to go ahead with it.

"A lot of activity is currently being seen, so our forces are keeping in mind the possibility that North Korea may suddenly conduct a nuclear test in a short period of time, or as in previous cases, deceive us with what appears to be a nuclear test," Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry said Tuesday, according to the local news agency Yonhap.

Obama visit 'dangerous'

The reports of activity come ahead of Obama's South Korean visit, which begins Friday.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry on Monday described Obama's trip as "a reactionary and dangerous one as it is aimed to escalate confrontation and bring dark clouds of a nuclear arms race to hang over this unstable region."

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un's regime carried out a series of missile and rocket launches in March, prompting condemnation from the U.N. Security Council.

An artillery exercise on March 31 near the border with South Korea resulted in a brief exchange of fire between the two sides after North Korean ordnance landed in South Korean waters.

North Korea's series of provocative acts were seen as a response to joint U.S.-South Korean military drills in the region. The exercises take place each spring and regularly draw angry reactions from Pyongyang.

Are suspected North Korean drones a threat to South Korea?

CNN's Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong, and journalist Stella Kim reported from Seoul.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
As diplomats discuss a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait and hope.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 11:13 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing them of "perpetrating hostile acts."
updated 7:38 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
North Korea proposed that "all hostile military activities" with South Korea be halted, but it attached conditions that Seoul is likely to reject.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
North Korean state news is reporting the country test-launched "cutting-edge ultra precision tactical guided missiles."
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
James Franco won't be following Dennis Rodman into North Korea anytime soon.
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Don't you hate it when the weatherman gets it wrong? Apparently, so does Kim Jong Un.
updated 7:44 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
New signs show Russia and North Korea are developing a closer relationship.
updated 8:12 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
updated 9:25 PM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
Many North Koreans listen to illegal broadcasts on homemade radios, some are convinced to defect.
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Jang Jin-Sung, a North Korean defector and former regime insider, speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
updated 10:06 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
iReporter Kenny Zhu visited North Korea in April and was able to take video footage and photos with his Google Glass during the trip.
updated 2:42 PM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
North Korea loves saber-rattling. Here's a look at all the firepower they have stockpiled.
updated 8:03 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
CNN's Elise Labott reports on the new baby pictures of Kim Jong Un released by North Korean state media.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Tue March 18, 2014
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Mon March 17, 2014
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
updated 12:30 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
ADVERTISEMENT