Speaking at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday, Cho Myoung-gyon warned of the faster production a day after Japan had suggested the North might be preparing for a missile launch.
“Experts think North Korea will take two to three more years but they are developing their nuclear capabilities faster than expected,” the minister said. “We cannot rule out the possibility that Pyongyang may declare the completion of their nuclear program in a year.”
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3 and hasn’t launched a missile since lobbing one over Japan on Sept. 15.
Japan‘s Kyodo news agency reported late on Monday that the Japanese government was on alert after catching radio signals, suggesting a launch could come in a few days. The report also said the signals might be related to winter military training by the North Korean military.
“North Korea has not conducted an additional nuclear test or a missile test since Sept. 15. However, it has constantly showed movements, such as tests of missile engines and fuels,” Myoung-gyon said.
Citing a government source, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported signs of activity have been detected at North Korean missile bases in recent weeks. However, the unnamed source said more observation is needed to determine what the North is doing.
“More monitoring is needed to gauge whether the North is trying to launch a missile or is preparing for winter training that starts in December,” the news agency quoted the source as saying.
Earlier this month, U.S.-based North Korea watchdog 38 North reported “significant” activity at North Korea’s mountainous nuclear test site, in an area where little movement has been observed in several months.
Based on analysis of satellite imagery from Sept. 8 to Nov. 1, 38 North reported “significant movement of equipment, mining carts” at a tunnel in an area at the Punggye-ri test site.
Kim Jong Un and his regime’s Sept. 3 nuclear test was from an area the watchdog dubbed the “North Portal” of the mountain.
“While it is not possible to determine the exact purpose of these activities from imagery alone, they could be associated with new nuclear test preparations at the West Portal, further maintenance on the West Portal in general and/or the abandonment of the North Portal,” the group noted in a Nov. 6 blog post. “At the North Portal, where the last five of six nuclear tests were conducted, two temporary structures near the portal’s entrance that were likely associated with the September test have been removed, and no vehicles, mining equipment or materials have been observed in this area since the test.”
Reuters reported Tuesday U.S. government sources familiar with official assessments of the North’s activities said that while they were not immediately familiar with recent intelligence suggesting that North Korea was preparing to launch a new missile test, the U.S. government would not be surprised if such a test were to take place in the very near future.
–with files from Reuters