SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea is building a new missile launch site capable of firing an even longer-range missile than the country has tested in the past, South Korea's defense minister said Tuesday.
Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told parliament that construction on the new missile site on North Korea's west coast, which began eight years ago, was about 80 percent complete.
Lee said he believes the new site is designed to fire "a bigger-sized missile or satellite projectile" than rockets deployed on the North's existing east coast facility.
North Korea's missile program has been a key regional concern, along with its nuclear weapons program.
In 2006, the North launched a long-range Taepodong-2 missile from its east coast site. The missile, considered the country's most advanced rocket, has a range of more than 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometers) — far enough to strike the western U.S.
The test, however, was considered a failure because the rocket plunged into the ocean shortly after liftoff.
In September, South Korean and U.S. officials said the North tested the engine of a long-range missile at its new missile site in what appears to be the first acknowledgment of use of the new facility.
North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium to produce about half a dozen bombs, but it is not believed to have acquired the technology needed to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile.
The communist nation conducted an underground nuclear test in 2006, a few month after its Taepodong-2 launch.