North Korea is ready to conduct its third underground nuclear test, with the timing a matter of politics and diplomacy, analysts said yesterday.
"They've put the dirt back over the entrance to the test site," said Choi Jin-wook, senior specialist on North Korea at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. "That means they are ready."
Adding to the sense of an impending test, Reuters reported from China quoting a "source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing" as saying "preparations are almost complete" for a test in the near future.
North Korea was reportedly moving toward testing another nuclear device after unleashing a torrent of invective against South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak and threatening to turn the South into "ashes".
Mr Choi said North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un, evidently wants to conduct the test quite soon in order to compensate for having "lost face" as a result of the failure of a long-range missile that broke up 90 seconds after its launch on 13 April.
North Korea last conducted a nuclear test in May 2009, six weeks after firing an earlier version of its long-range missile. The North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.
The difference between the third test and the two previous ones is that it may be the first in which the device is produced with highly enriched uranium rather than plutonium. North Korea has shut down its five-megawatt reactor at its nuclear complex at Yongbyon but is fabricating centrifuges with enriched uranium at a new facility on the same site.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, said he doubted the Chinese "were co-operating" with the North Koreans on nuclear projects, but questioned if they were trying stop them. The Chinese are not believed to support the North's programme but do not seem inclined to cut off the fuel and food on which the North relies.