N. Korean rocket or nuclear test around Oct. 10 anniversary impossible: US institute

October 6, 2015

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) — Recent satellite imagery shows no signs of North Korea making rocket or nuclear test preparations, rendering it impossible for such a test to happen on or before a key national holiday this week, a U.S. research institute said Monday.

Concerns have persisted that the North could conduct such tests around the 70th anniversary on Oct. 10 of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions after Pyongyang strongly hinted at such possibilities.

But commercial satellite imagery, taken as recently as Sept. 27, shows that there is no such preparation going on at the North’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station or the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, making it impossible for such tests to take place this week, said Joel Wit, editor of the website 38 North.

“I think the bottom line here is that all these reports about possible long-range rocket or nuclear tests on or before Oct. 10th are just all wrong, all speculation. No evidence to support it whatsoever,” Wit said at a press briefing.

“I would even go as far to say that the North Koreans are probably having a lot of fun with their periodic interviews, talking about how it’s their right to launch a space-launch vehicle and explore space and everyone runs off and writes a story about it as if it’s going to happen tomorrow and it isn’t,” he said.

Wit said, however, that it’s important to note that the North has been constructing new buildings at its rocket engine test site, possibly to test larger engines that could be used in larger rockets.

“It’s very clear that these buildings are for fuel and oxidizer and they are much larger than the buildings that were at this facility before. What does that mean? It means that the North Koreans are getting ready to test much larger rocket engines than they have tested in the past.

“What does that mean? It means much larger rocket engines mean larger rockets. It may be ones with longer ranges. It’s very clear,” he said.

Wit said, however, that it would take time for the North to test-fire a rocket with a larger engine. If Pyongyang conducts a new long-range rocket launch in the not-too-distant future, it would likely involve the existing Unha-3 rocket, he said.

North Korea says its rocket launches are aimed at putting satellites into orbit, claiming it has the right to peaceful use of space. But Pyongyang is banned from such launches under U.N. Security Council resolutions as it has been accused of using them as a cover for testing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Experts say long-range rockets and ICBMs are basically the same with differences only in payloads.