Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: No Indications that a Test is Imminent

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. and Jack Liu.

Summary

Recent commercial satellite imagery from October 29 and November 9 shows continued low-level activity at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility. This activity suggests that maintenance and minor excavation operations are taking place at the North and West Portals and that maintenance is likely underway at the Command Center. There are no definitive indications that another test is imminent, however, the site remains capable of further testing with little notice, once the decision to move forward is made.

North Portal

Commercial satellite imagery from October 29 shows several piles of what appears to be gravel or crushed rock adjacent to the net canopy south of the North Portal. By November 9, most of these piles were removed. This gravel or rock could have been spread as road base around the area in preparation for winter or as rail ballast; it could also have been used inside the portal itself.

During the past two months, activity has been observed on the mine rail track that leads from the portal out to the tailings pile. Occasionally, what appear to be mining carts have been spotted on the track, and there are some indications that track maintenance has taken place.

The road that curves west around the North Portal to a small sand and gravel quarry appears to have been used recently and there are indications of minor excavation activity within the quarry.

Finally, it appears as if the drainage ditch leading out of the portals has undergone maintenance. This may be in preparation for winter or an indication of increased activity within the portal.

Figure 1. Maintenance and minor excavation observed at the North Portal.

Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image © 2016 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 2. Piles of rocks/gravel partially removed.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

West Portal

Activity has been noted on the tailings pile at the West Portal where the presence of mining carts and changes to both the mine rail tracks and spoil pile suggest continuing minor excavation.

Figure 3. Minor excavation continues at the West Portal.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Main Administrative Area and South Portal

An analysis of the Main Support Area suggests that the facility’s greenhouse is being prepared for winter. No activity of significance has been noted at the South Portal.

Command Center Area

At the Command Center Area, down the valley from the test site, two small vehicles were present on November 9. While vehicles have occasionally been observed here, the public archive of imagery has not yet produced a direct correlation between their presence and preparations for conducting a test.

The support area immediately northeast of the Command Center has been cleared for winter, but the greenhouse has not yet been closed off.

Figure 4. Vehicles present at the Command Center Area.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
Stay informed about our latest
news, publications, & uploads: