North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: No Sign of Test Preparations

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu and Nick Hansen

Summary

Despite new speculation about the possibility of a fourth North Korean nuclear test, recent commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site show no signs of preparations for another detonation. As a result, a fourth nuclear test seems unlikely in the near-term, for at least the next two to three months. However, it is quite possible that one or more tunnels at the facility are sufficiently complete to be readied for another nuclear test should Pyongyang make the political decision to move forward.

Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site Assessment

Commercial satellite imagery from January 1 and January 11, 2015 indicate a low level of activity at the nuclear test facility’s main areas.

West Portal

The excavation of a third test tunnel at the West Portal, begun in 2013, is continuing at a slow pace. In imagery from January 1, mining carts appear on the spoil pile with freshly dumped spoil—a lighter color than the rest of the pile—nearby. The pile, however, has not grown appreciably since last viewed in December 2014.

Along the track, closer to the tunnel entrance, small piles of material or boxes are present, perhaps related to excavation. Unidentified work also continues above the tunnel entrance; four objects or pieces of equipment can be seen in the lightly excavated area. By January 11, the carts are gone and there appears to be no new spoil on the pile.

Figure 1. Construction in January at the West Portal.

Note: images rotated. Image before includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. Image after © 2015 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

South Portal

The South Portal area remains in deep shadow at this time of year. A sunlit portion of the spoil pile in the January 1 imagery, just across the road from a probable tunnel entrance, reveals an unidentified group of white objects.

Figure 2. The South Tunnel in deep shadow.

Note: images rotated. Image before includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. Image after © 2015 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

Main Support Area

Imagery from January 1 and 11 reveal no activity except the removal of a tarp roof from a structure at the area. (For reference, the Main Support Area was very active prior to the February 2013 nuclear test.)

Figure 3. Little activity at the Main Support Area.

Note: images rotated. Image before includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. Image after © 2015 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

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