North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Activity Spotted at All Three Portals

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu.

Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from October 1 indicates continuing activity at all three tunnel complexes that could be used to conduct a nuclear test. Activity at the North Portal where the September 9 test occurred, may be for a number of purposes including collecting post-test data, sealing the portal or preparing for another test. There is also increased activity near one of the two entrances at the South Portal where excavation stopped in 2012. The purpose of this activity is also unclear although the portal is assumed to be capable of supporting a nuclear test once a decision is made to move forward.

North Portal

Commercial satellite imagery from October 1 shows a large vehicle, possibly a truck, near the entrance of the North Portal. The large canopy in the parking lot that has been present for the past two months remains in place. There is no evidence of new excavation but there appear to be boxes or material around the side of the main building. One possible reason for this activity is to collect data on the September 9 test although other purposes cannot be ruled out, such as sealing the portal or other preparations related to a new test.

Figure 1. Large vehicle near portal entrance and unidentified material around the main building at the North 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]

West Portal

While mining carts and furrows are evident on the spoil pile, it is unlikely that tunnel excavation has resumed since the pile has not grown over the past two months.

Figure 2. Mining carts and furrows evident on the spoil pile 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 Support Area

There is little activity except for the presence of a few carts or vehicles.

Figure 3. Carts or vehicles present at the Main Support 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]

South Portal

Imagery shows two small vehicles present on the road as well as what appears to be a group of people standing near one of the portal entrances, indicating ongoing work or maintenance. It is unclear if this activity is test related although this area may be fully capable of supporting a test since excavation stopped in 2012.

Figure 4. Increased activity near one of the South Portal entrances.

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]

South Command Center

A few crates and possible vehicles are visible at the main and support buildings.

Figure 5. Crates and possible vehicles are visible at the South Command Center.

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]
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