North Korea’s nuclear test site to be dismantled within weeks

The dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site will take place between May 23-25, North Korean state media says.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance with Ri Hong Sop (3rd L) and Hong Sung Mu (L) on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea''s Korean Central News Agency
Kim Jong-un announced a suspension of all nuclear and missile tests last month [File: KCNA/Reuters]

North Korea has announced it will dismantle its nuclear weapons testing site in less than two weeks, according to state media.

The dismantlement of the Punggyeri nuclear test site will take place sometime between May 23 and May 25, depending on weather conditions,  the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday.

It will involve the removal of all research buildings, observation facilities and security posts.

“The Nuclear Weapon Institute and other concerned institutions are taking technical measures for dismantling the northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK [The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] in order to ensure transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test,” KCNA said.

It added that North Korean media and reporters from South Korea, China, Russia, the US and UK will be allowed to attend the dismantlement ceremony.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to close the site during a landmark summit last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but experts have warned verifying any dismantling may prove difficult. 

Kim is also scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump next month.

‘Mission finished’

Prior to Kim’s meeting with Moon, the North Korean leader announced on April 21 that all nuclear and missile tests were to be suspended, saying the Punggyeri site had “finished its mission” after completing its nuclear programme.

Four days later, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper reported that the facility had collapsed, threatening an “unprecedented risk” of radioactive fallout.

The newspaper said the Punggyeri site, situated near Mount Mantap in northeastern North Korea, was “wrecked” beyond repair by a landslide.

It suggested the incident “may” have been the reason for Kim’s announcement of a suspension in testing.

Six nuclear tests – including North Korea’s most powerful test to date in September 2017 – have been carried out at the facility since Pyongyang began experiments in 2006.

Trump-Kim summit

The announcement of the site’s dismantlement comes ahead of a planned meeting between Kim and Trump in Singapore on June 12which, if it takes place, will mark the first summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

Trump is expected to push North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons at the meeting in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions and US assistance in rebuilding Pyongyang’s ailing economy.

The US president has pledged to try and make the summit “a very special moment for world peace”. This week, however, he faced international criticism after withdrawing Washington from a landmark multinational nuclear deal with Iran, signed under the government of his predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2015. 

On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would work to “achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends” for North Korea, if Pyongyang opts to “take bold action to quickly denuclearise”.

“If Chairman Kim chooses the right path there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korean people,” Pompeo said at a press conference alongside South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Pompeo has visited North Korea twice in the last six weeks in order to attend negotiations regarding the Trump-Kim meeting.

South Korea has said it hopes the summit will lead to “denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, as well as permanent peace on the peninsula”.

Last month, Kim and Moon pledged to formally end the 1950s Korean War and pursue “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula in the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

The two leaders signed a joint statement that committed both to deepening ties and working towards reunification after the meeting on April 27, which saw Kim become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the Korean War, which took place from 1950-1953 prior to an armistice agreement.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies