North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Minor Activity Discernible in Recent Snowfalls

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Frank V. Pabian and Jenny Town

Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site revealed the presence of fresh footpaths and vehicle tracks in the snow around the Portal Areas and at the Main Administrative Support Area. In addition, snow had been cleared from the roads leading from the security barracks area to the Command Center. There are no indications of renewed excavation, construction or other activity that would suggest the North is trying to reopen the complex. Instead, track activity is more likely related to security patrols of the area.

Figure 1. Personnel tracks visible near closed North Portal.

Before: Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected] After: Satellite image © 2020 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. 

Figure 2. Recent snow plowing visible at the Main Administrative Support Area.

Before: Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected] After: Satellite image © 2020 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. 

Figure 3. Snow cleared around Command Center Support Area.

Before: Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected] After: Satellite image © 2020 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. 

Pedestrian footpaths are also observed in the snow leading up to the East Portal, the tunnel used to conduct the first nuclear test in 2006 that was abandoned shortly afterwards due to contamination. It is very rare to see evidence of activity at this portal area, as the roads leading to it have been blocked by landslides and displaced boulders for several years. While it is unclear why personnel would be in this area, one possibility is that it may be part of routine security patrols.

Figure 4. Personnel tracks visible near abandoned East Portal.

Before: Image Pleiades © CNES 2020, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected] After: Satellite image © 2020 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. 

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