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No Signs of New Test Tunnel Excavation at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site

By
06 November 2015


A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu

Recent commercial satellite imagery from September 27 and October 25, 2015 of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicate no signs that North Korea is excavating a new tunnel at the existing test areas. The main observable activity is the construction of a new building at the Main Support Area.

West Portal

Activity at the West Portal has been at a low level and is probably mainly for tunnel maintenance. One indication may be the small piles of spoil alongside the spoil cart tracks that may be dumped by workers at the site. Construction of this tunnel began in May 2013, and major excavation work on it was completed by the fall of 2014. (Previous tunnel entrances for the 2009 and 2013 tests have been sealed and the current cart tracks pass over those entrances.) Activity in the sand pit—equipment or vehicles—a short distance away from the tunnel entrance may be related to building construction since sand is necessary to make concrete.

Figure 1. Low level activity at the West Portal.

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

South Portal

With the advent of fall, the lengthening shadow of the mountains obscures the South Portal tunnel entrances. Still, the low level of activity in the immediate surrounding area throughout the year points to the likelihood that the North continues to focus largely on maintenance work.

Figure 2. South Portal activity appears largely maintenance related.

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

Main Support Area

Recent commercial satellite imagery shows the construction of a new building at the Main Support Area with the foundation put in place in late September and work nearly completed one month later. The sawdust from the newly cut lumber is evident as are stacks of lumber. Because of the new building, vehicle traffic must now make an awkward detour around this building to reach the rest of the Main Support Area and the West Portal. The North Koreans may construct a road bypass to correct this potential problem but there are no signs of such an effort yet.

Figure 3. New building completed at the Main Support Area.

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

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