North Korea appears ready to conduct another nuclear experiment at its Punggye-ri test site “at any time,” despite signs of damage to some facilities there, South Korea’s spy agency said Thursday.
There are also signs that the regime may be preparing for another missile launch, the National Intelligence Service told lawmakers during a parliamentary audit, noting active movements spotted around the missile development institute near Pyongyang.
“The third portal at the Punggye-ri site appears to be fully ready for a nuclear detonation, while the fourth portal may take considerable time to reach such a level of preparedness,” read a press release released from the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee after the closed-door session.
Punggye-ri is where the North conducted all of its six atomic detonations. After its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, there were three small-scale earthquakes near the Punggye-ri site, which the NIS said suggests damage to the second portal.
The NIS said North Korea may seek to reprocess spent fuel rods at Yongbyon nuclear complex by the end of the year, as it tries to further nuclear technology to reduce the size of the nuclear warheads and come up with more models.
North Korea has directed its cyber capabilities to extortion, and hacking banks, securities companies and cyber currency exchanges.
According to the NIS, a hacker group under Pyongyang’s Reconnaissance General Bureau has made several attempts at cyber theft. The spy agency also said that it has reason to believe North Korean cyberwarfare units have been targeting financial institutions.
The spy agency’s claims fall in line with the recent revelation from the UK that North Korea was behind the WannaCry cyberattack in May.
At the time, UK’s National Health Service was subjected to an intense cyberattack that used software to lock users out of their computers. The software encrypted information on the affected devices, and those behind the attack demanded bitcoin payments in return for the data.
North Korea has denied the allegation.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Staff reporters Choi He-suk and Yeo Jun-suk contributed to this report.