North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Activity Continues Throughout the Site

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

Commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility from April 25 indicates an apparent resumption of activity (e.g., the pumping out of water) at the North Portal—the tunnel that North Korea seems to have been preparing for a nuclear test over the past few weeks—to maintain an optimal environment for instrumentation and stemming. Several probable mining carts appear to be present, although there does not seem to have been any significant dumping of new material on the spoil pile. The netting canopy previously sighted over probable equipment near the North Portal’s support building remains in place, but no vehicles or personnel are readily visible in the area.

Figure 1. Some activity still seen around the North Portal.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 2. Probable mining carts seen on the North Portal’s spoil pile, though no signs of recent dumping.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Numerous personnel are present in both the northern and southern courtyards of the Main Administrative Area. In the northern courtyard, the personnel are possibly engaged in a volleyball game. In the southern courtyard, what appears to be a small tarp-covered stack of supplies or equipment, sighted in previous imagery, is present. At the South Portal, personnel are visible outside the secondary portal.

Figure 3. Large groups of personnel seen in the main administrative area.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 4. Personnel seen outside the second tunnel entrance of the South Portal.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Further to the south, groups of individuals are seen in the courtyard of the Command Center Area and at the Guard Barracks, also possibly engaged in volleyball games. There are personnel also on the road between the two locations; however, no vehicles are readily visible on the main access road of the facility.

Figure 5. Personnel seen at the Command Center Area.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 6. Personnel seen in front of the Guard Barracks.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2017. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

Based on satellite imagery alone, it is unclear if this activity indicates that a nuclear test has been cancelled, the facility is in stand-by mode or that a test is imminent. The presence of a large number of people dispersed throughout the facility in the latest image, however, is unusual and almost assuredly a component of an overall North Korean deception and propaganda effort and the result of international media reporting on 38 North’s sightings of volleyball courts and games in progress on April 19 and 21.

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