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U.S. website: Images suggest N. Korea preparing for nuke test

  • 38 NORTH VIA AP

    In this image provided by 38 North, shows a rail flatcar at radiochemical laboratory where North Korea separates weapons-grade plutonium from waste from a nuclear reactor. U.S. researchers see further signs from satellite imagery that North Korea is looking to produce more plutonium for nuclear weapons.

WASHINGTON » North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test in the near future, a U.S. website that monitors the isolated nation said today.

The website 38 North said commercial satellite imagery taken Thursday shows vehicles at a command center believed to control the underground explosions, which could be sign that a test is imminent.

The center lies nearly four miles from the test site at Punggye-ri. The website said the level of activity at the test site continues to be low, but vehicles are not often seen at the command center — except during test preparations.

Predicting North Korea’s nuclear tests is notoriously difficult. The last test, North Korea’s fourth since 2006, happened in January and was followed by a long-range rocket launch, drawing the toughest U.N. sanctions yet against Pyongyang.

Today, North Korea began a ruling party congress to cement the authority of its leader, Kim Jong Un.

South Korean officials say the North has finished preparations for a fifth nuclear test and it could happen any day.

A U.S. official said today the U.S. has seen activity at the site and wouldn’t be surprised if there was a test. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said the assessments have been mixed.

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