North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Caretaker Status Continues

Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site is still being maintained and patrolled. No activity to reactivate the site, such as portal re-excavation or support infrastructure rebuilding, has taken place to date.

Portal Area

In imagery from January 12, worn paths around the North and West Portals indicate that some level of security patrol and/or radiation monitoring—consistent with previous reports—continues. These portals have only been accessible by foot since their explosive demolition in May 2018, which left rubble blocking the roadway and bridge leading to these areas. Weather events in 2021 further eroded these roadways, and while portions have been restored to ensure they are passable, other portions have only been marginally repaired.

Figure 1. Overview of Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site Portal Area.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2022, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 2. Worn paths near the North and West Portals.

Roads remain snow covered and no footpaths are visible around the South Portal, or abandoned East Portal.

Figure 3. No activity around South Portal.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2022, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 4. No activity at abandoned East Portal.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2022, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

While the full extent of the May 2018 demolition of the test tunnels is still unknown, it is possible some parts remain undamaged. To date, no efforts to try to re-excavate the portals or rebuild the support infrastructure have been observed.

Main Support Area

At the Main Support Area, snow melt on the roofs of the two long buildings suggest they are in use by site personnel.

Figure 5. Snow melt on support buildings.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2022, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Southern Support Area

Snow cleared in front of the Southern Support Area’s administration buildings indicates the buildings are also in use. The access road to the security barracks and Command Center—which remains intact—has been cleared of snow and vehicle tracks are visible.

Figure 6. Close-up of Southern Support Area’s administration buildings.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2022, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Figure 7. Close-up of security barracks and Command Center.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2022, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
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