US Korea Institute

Sunday April 30th 2017
Subscribe to Our RSS feed@38NorthNK on Twitter
38 North offers informed analysis of events in and around the DPRK.

Subscribe for latest



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

28 March 2017

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

New commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from March 25 shows the continued presence of three to four vehicles or equipment trailers at the entrance to the North Portal. The texture of the ground from the portal entrance past the vehicles or equipment trailers suggests that communications cables may have been laid on the ground. This equipment would likely be used to initiate the test, collect data from the explosion and process the data. Also notable, water is being pumped out of the portal and draining downhill to the east and west, presumably to keep the tunnel dry for monitoring or communications equipment.

The combination of these factors strongly suggests that test preparations are well underway, including the installation of instrumentation. The imagery, however, does not provide any definitive evidence of either a nuclear device or the timing of a test.

Apart from several mining carts at the West Portal, there is no significant activity at the other areas of the test site. The lack of activity may mean that test preparations are in their final stages. However, since North Korea knows the world is watching and is capable of deception, caution should be used before declaring that a nuclear test is imminent.

Figure 1. Probable cabling and water drainage seen at the North Portal.

Image © 2017 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact

Image © 2017 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact

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