North Korea is capable of detonating another nuclear device anytime, South Korea’s defense ministry said Monday, just days after Pyongyang sparked worldwide condemnation with its fifth and most powerful test.
“An additional test could be conducted in a tunnel that branches off from the second tunnel or in the third tunnel, where preparations have been completed,” said ministry spokesman Moon Sang-Gyun.
The spokesman refused to say what specific evidence pointed to another possible test, citing intelligence matters, but said the South’s military is on full combat-readiness to respond to “further nuclear tests, ballistic missile launches or land provocation” by the North.
All five nuclear tests have been conducted at the Punggye-ri site in the country’s northeast. The initial one in October 2006 was in the first tunnel and the last four in the second tunnel, according to Seoul’s defense ministry.
In a statement hailing the “success” of its test on Friday, the North vowed to take “further measures” to increase its nuclear strike force “in quality and in quantity.”
The yield from Friday’s test was estimated at 10 kilotons, almost twice as much as the one Pyongyang conducted only eight months earlier.
The North also boasted that the test was conducted on a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on a missile.
The nuclear program’s “miraculous successes” mean that the North has not only U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific but also the U.S. mainland “in its clutches”, ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Monday.
Should Washington again launch a war against it, Pyongyang would “blow up the land of America and thus finally root out the source of war on the earth”.
The U.N. Security Council agreed Friday to start work on new punitive measures, even though five sets of U.N. sanctions since the first test have failed to halt the North’s nuclear drive.
Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, said Sunday during a visit to Japan that Washington and Tokyo would work closely to come up with the strongest possible measures.
He also suggested that the U.S. may launch its own sanctions.
Washington also plans to stage an overflight of South Korea by two B-1B Lancer supersonic bombers as a show of strength, Yonhap news agency said.
The U.S. also plans to send a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier — the USS Ronald Reagan — and five destroyers to South Korean waters next month for a joint naval exercise, according to Yonhap.
Seoul has long avoided harsh rhetoric against North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un but after Friday’s nuclear test, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Kim’s “mental state is spiraling out of control” and that his government has “fanatic recklessness.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. said that the death toll from severe flooding in a North Korean border region has risen to 133 with another 395 missing and tens of thousands left homeless.
Some 107,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the area along the Tumen River, it said in a statement and citing Pyongyang government figures.