Mysterious New Digging Work Seen at North Korea Nuclear-Test Site

South Korean passengers at a Seoul train station watch television coverage of North Korea's third nuclear test on February 12, 2013. New satellite images show a marked uptick in the pace of digging of a new tunnel at the North's Punggye-ri nuclear testing grounds, an image expert said on Thursday.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Feb. 14, 2014, 9:57 a.m.

Signs of a large amount of dig­ging at North Korea’s nuc­le­ar test site can be seen in new satel­lite im­ages, though the pur­pose is not yet clear.

A “sig­ni­fic­ant ac­cel­er­a­tion in ex­cav­a­tion activ­ity” can be seen at the “West Portal” area of the Punggye-ri test­ing grounds, wrote im­age ex­pert Jack Liu in a Thursday ana­lys­is pos­ted on the spe­cial­ist web­site 38 North, which mon­it­ors de­vel­op­ments at North Korea’s nuc­le­ar weapons-re­lated sites.

Com­pared to im­ages of the nuc­le­ar test site taken in Decem­ber, “the size of the pile of spoil ex­cav­ated from a new tun­nel ap­pears to have doubled in a peri­od of a little over a month,” Liu wrote. “Spoil” refers to ex­cav­a­tion debris.

“When last viewed in early Decem­ber 2013 there were no signs of test pre­par­a­tions,” said the re­port by “38 North,” a web­site pro­ject of the U.S.-Korea In­sti­tute at Johns Hop­kins Uni­versity.

Still, it is doubt­ful, ac­cord­ing to Liu, that North Korea would use the emer­ging tun­nel for a fourth un­der­ground atom­ic ex­plo­sion, when it already has two oth­er fin­ished tun­nels ready for use in the south­ern part of the test­ing grounds.

There could be a num­ber of reas­ons for the faster dig­ging speed, the im­age ana­lyst said, such as a need to meet a dead­line for com­plet­ing the tun­nel or be­cause the rock and dirt be­came easi­er to shift.

South Korean De­fense Min­is­ter Kim Kwan-jin earli­er this week said Py­ongy­ang did not ap­pear to be plan­ning a nuc­le­ar test in the im­min­ent fu­ture, though it was tech­nic­ally ready to carry one out.

Were North Korea to make the polit­ic­al de­cision to con­duct a test, cer­tain pre­par­a­tions would likely be taken at Punggye-ri in the weeks and days be­fore­hand, such as the place­ment of cam­ou­flage net­ting over the tun­nel en­trance and the erec­tion of a satel­lite dish nearby in or­der to trans­mit tech­nic­al data from the blast site, Liu said.

There also prob­ably would be a gen­er­al up­tick in the per­son­nel activ­ity and vehicle traffic at the test site. No such in­dic­at­ors of an im­min­ent nuc­le­ar ex­plo­sion can be seen in the most re­cent pho­to­graphs, he said.

While in­ter­na­tion­al sci­ent­ists view the North’s first two atom­ic tests to have been par­tial fail­ures at best, the third nuc­le­ar blast last Feb­ru­ary was seen to be more suc­cess­ful, due to its sub­stan­tially great­er yield. De­fense spe­cial­ists say that with every test it con­ducts, Py­ongy­ang is ad­van­cing to­ward the abil­ity to build nuc­le­ar war­heads small enough for mount­ing on mis­siles.

What We're Following See More »
FIRST CHANGE IN FOUR DECADES
Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

Source:
NO MORE INDEPENDENT VOTERS?
GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Source:
LEVERAGE
Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

Source:
EFFECTIVE NEXT MONTH
House GOP Changes Rules for Spending Measures
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.

Source:
LOST BY HALF A PERCENTAGE POINT
Sanders Wants a Recount in Kentucky
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.

Source:
×