SEOUL, South Korea -- Recent satellite images show North Korea is digging a new underground tunnel in what appears to be preparation for a third nuclear test, South Korean intelligence officials say.
The excavation at the northeast Punggye-ri site, where nuclear tests were conducted in 2006 and 2009, is in its final stages, according to a report by intelligence officials shared yesterday with The Associated Press.
Its release comes as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket that Washington and others say is a cover for testing missile technology that could be used to fire on the United States.
The Obama administration said Monday it would consider both a rocket launch and an underground nuclear test as highly provocative and leave Pyongyang more isolated.
"In each case this would be an indication of North Korea's decision at the leadership level not to take the steps that are necessary to allow North Korea to end its isolation, to rejoin the community of nations and to do something about the extreme poverty and depravation that its people suffer," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"North Korea is covertly preparing for a third nuclear test, which would be another grave provocation," said the intelligence report, which cited U.S. commercial satellite photos taken April 1. "North Korea is digging up a new underground tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in addition to its existing two underground tunnels, and it has been confirmed that the excavation works are in the final stages."
Dirt is piled at the tunnel entrance, the report said, something experts say is needed to fill up tunnels before a nuclear test. The dirt indicates a "high possibility" North Korea will stage a nuclear test, the report said, as plugging tunnels was the final step taken during its two previous underground nuclear tests.