North Korea’s Punggye-ri Facility Appears Ready to Support New Nuclear Tests

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu.

Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates continued activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site that does not appear directed at further tunnel excavation but rather to maintain existing tunnels as well as to clean up after the January 2016 nuclear test. It is highly likely that site is capable of supporting additional tests at any time.

Maintenance and Clean Up at the North Portal

Commercial satellite imagery from March shows that the North Portal, the location of the January 2016 nuclear test, remains active with footpaths around the buildings and what appears to be water draining from the entrance along the drainage ditch. This may support the hypothesis that branching tunnels lead to other test chambers since the shaft used for the January test should have been completely sealed to prevent radioactivity leakage. That was the case with the February 2013 test, when the tunnel entrance was completely sealed and plowed over shortly afterwards. If there are other unused shafts at the current North Portal, they are being drained in order to maintain them for future detonations.

Figure 1. The North Portal tunnel entrance remains active.

Images include material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

Main Support Area

The Main Support Area, which is responsible for administration, shipping/receiving, housing and other activities, appears to be active with numerous vehicle tracks and footpaths visible.

Figure 2. Tracks and footpaths seen throughout the Main Support Area.

Images include material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

Snow Clearing at the South Portal

March imagery shows that snow has been cleared in the vicinity of the entrances to these tunnels, excavated in 2009 and 2012, indicating that they are being at least maintained for future tests. The cleared area could be to allow large vehicles to maneuver more easily in and out of the tunnel portal or for staging equipment going in or out of the tunnel. It is also part of the main access road to the facility, which runs through it.

Figure 3. Snow has been cleared from the South Portal tunnel entrance.

Images include material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

West Portal

There appears to have been no excavation activity at the West Portal since November 2015. The spoil pile has not grown in size according to recent imagery. Moreover, there are no footpaths or snow clearing evident at the tunnel entrance in March imagery. However, there are footpaths leading to and melted snow on the roof of a nearby support building indicating the presence of personnel.

Figure 4. Excavation of the West Portal appears stalled.

Images include material Pleiades © CNES 2016. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

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