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New Activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site

By
24 September 2015


A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.

Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates new activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, the location of Pyongyang’s previous three nuclear detonations. While there has been speculation that the North intends to conduct a fourth nuclear test to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on October 10, the purpose of this activity at this point remains entirely unclear. It could be related to anything from maintenance work to preparations for another nuclear test.

West Portal Area

Commercial satellite imagery from September 18, 2015, indicates new activity at the West Portal area—site of North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2009 and 2013—around the entrance to a new tunnel that the North has been excavating since May 2013. Four large vehicles, the purpose of which is unknown, are parked side by side near the tunnel entrance. Whether their location next to the spoil cart tracks, used by mining carts to carry away spoil debris created during tunnel excavation is related to the ongoing work is unclear. Camouflage netting is also clearly visible over the entrance as is the usual practice to conceal activity.

In addition, there are an unusually large number of vehicles at the Guardhouse Checkpoint leading to the West Portal, also indicating ongoing activities in the area.

Figure 1. New activity at the West Portal tunnel entrance.

 Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Figure 2. Activity spotted at the West Portal guardhouse checkpoint.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

South Portal Area

Recent imagery shows new activity at the South Portal. The area in front of the first tunnel dug prior to 2012 has been widened and graded on top of the spoil pile. This is indicated by the differently colored sand or gravel used to grade the surface. The vehicles or equipment probably doing the grading are visible. Moreover, the walls of the spoil pile appear to have been reinforced against erosion by the stream that runs below it. The only road to the nuclear site runs through this spot, so it is important that it not wash away as the result of heavy rains. Work on erosion control is being conducted at this time perhaps because the site is dry.

Figure 3. Activity at the South Portal over the past weeks.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Main Support Area

Imagery shows that construction of a new building has been completed. Trailers that are usually present at the main support area are back in their usual place. A black vehicle, the purpose of which is unknown, present in early September imagery is still in the support area’s parking lot.

Figure 4. Main support area.

Image includes material Pleiades © CNES 2015. Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image, all rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.

Reader Feedback

One Response to “New Activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site”

  1. keve says:

    Looks like NoKorea is preparing to respond to any UN Security sanction after their Rocket launch, in order to send a clear message that they will not yield to any political pressure from any non-Korean entity. This is typical normal response from NoKor or any other nuclear state around the world, responding to pressure and military threat.

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Credit for photo of young North Korean girl: T.M. All rights reserved, used with permission.