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Satellite photos show intense activity at N. Korea nuclear site

April 27, 2012 |  5:43 pm

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Satellite images of North Korea's nuclear test site shows "lots of activity" in preparation for another underground bomb test, analysts who have studied the aerial surveillance of the prohibited weapons site said Friday.

The 38 North website of the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies posted three satellite photos showing the progression of work at the blast site over the last seven weeks.

"We can tell there has been a lot of activity at the site. You can see vehicles moving around, objects being moved around. They've been digging a lot of dirt out of the tunnel," said Joel Wit, a visiting scholar at the institute and editor of the website on North Korea. "But, at end of day, you can’t really tell whether it's ready or not."

Diplomatic and intelligence sources have been warning for weeks that a nuclear test -- in defiance of international warnings to Pyongyang -- appeared to be imminent.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned North Korea against further "provocative" actions as reports intensified this week that Pyongyang was on the brink of detonating a nuclear device for the third time since 2006.

On a trip to New Delhi, Ban said of North Korea's political and military leadership that he had "clearly urged them not to take any further provocative action, including nuclear tests."

China and South Korea also warned the regime of Kim Jong Un that there would be consequences if North Korea again defied the international community's strictures on its nuclear development.

North Korea tested plutonium devices in 2006 and 2009, provoking sanctions for violating United Nations resolutions against the reclusive nation's nuclear ambitions. The latest satellite image, captured last week by the commercial GeoEye company's surveillance technology, shows massive earth movement and tunneling in the area.

On April 13, North Korea launched a rocket that it said was taking a satellite into orbit. The delivery vehicle failed less than two minutes into its flight, dropping into the sea west of South Korea before even reaching its first-stage separation target. Intelligence analysts have predicted a brash show of defiance by Pyongyang in the form of a nuclear test after the embarrassing display of its inability to launch a long-range rocket.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this week added his voice to the chorus urging North Korea to refrain from another act of defiance of U.N. resolutions prohibiting nuclear weapons development. Panetta told journalists during a visit to Brazil that he had no specific information about a test blast but said he would "strongly urge them not to engage in any kind of provocation -- be it nuclear testing or any other act -- that would provide greater instability in a dangerous part of the world."

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-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles

Photo: A satellite image of the North Korean nuclear test site was taken April 18 by the GeoEye commercial satellite company and shows stepped-up activity in preparation for a nuclear test, say researchers at the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Credit: 38 North website

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