New activity detected at North Korea’s nuclear testing facility

Satellite images suggest work is underway on a second tunnel at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, according to US think tank.

A North Korea People's Army (KPA) soldier standing at the entrance to a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility ahead of its demolition in 2018.
The entrances to the tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility were destroyed in 2018 ahead of a flurry of diplomacy [File: News1/Dong-A Iibo via AFP]

North Korea has essentially completed restoration work at its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility and appears to be expanding construction activity into a second tunnel, according to a new analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The Washington DC-based think tank said commercial satellite imagery it obtained from June 14 showed “minor new activity” at Tunnel No 3 “, indicating that the refurbishment and construction work during the past four months [was] essentially complete, and the tunnel is now ready for the oft-speculated seventh nuclear test”.

It added that there appeared to be “new construction activity” at Tunnel No 4, “strongly suggesting an effort to reenable it for potential future testing”.

After conducting a record number of missile tests this year, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the United States, South Korea and Japan believe Pyongyang is gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years. Punggye-ri was dismantled in 2018 – with North Korea sharing eye-catching pictures of the tunnel entrances being blown up – as the country embarked on a brief period of high-level diplomacy over denuclearisation.

The CSIS analysis said the images showed new construction materials near the entrance to the portal at Tunnel No 4, which was destroyed in 2018.

“The extent of actual damage inside the tunnels due to the disabling was unclear, and these new indicators of activity suggest that the disabling was not complete, as is the case with Tunnel No. 3,” the think tank said.

Punggye-ri was used as a nuclear test site for more than 10 years from 2006, with six tests taking place there.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said last week that there were indications that one of the passages known as adits at Punggye-ri had been reopened, possibly in preparation for a nuclear test. It said the country also continued to expand key facilities at its main Yongbyon nuclear site.

Source: Al Jazeera