North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Back to Work We Go

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

Commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from April 19 indicates probable trailers near the North Portal, the tunnel that North Korea appears to have been preparing for a nuclear test. While no recent dumping is observed, there are at least five mining carts along the tracks leading to the spoil pile and one probable small equipment trailer adjacent to the support building. A net canopy remains in place, presumably concealing equipment, and the pumping of water out of the tunnel to maintain an environment optimal for instrumentation and stemming seems to have ceased.

Figure 1. Probable trailers observed near the North Portal.

Image © 2017 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image © 2017 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

At the Main Administrative Area, no volleyball games are observed, but the outline of the court in the north courtyard is still visible. There is a small truck or van present in the south courtyard along with several unidentified objects and activities. While the imagery is not high enough resolution to determine what these objects are, some may be supplies or equipment with tarps or netting draped over them.

Figure 2. Several unidentified objects and activities observed at the Main Administrative Area.

Image © 2017 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image © 2017 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

No activity of significance is noted at the West Portal, South Portal, Command Center Area or elsewhere in the facility.

It is unclear if the noted activity represents a “tactical pause” before a forthcoming nuclear test, a broader more prolonged “stand down” from testing or normal facility operations. Regardless, satellite imagery continues to indicate that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site appears able to conduct a sixth nuclear test at any time once the order is received from Pyongyang.

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