New Excavation at N. Korea Nuclear Site Suggests Test Not Imminent

North Korean defectors on Saturday release balloons carrying leaflets denouncing North Korea's nuclear weapons work, near the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea. Newly detected excavation work at the North's atomic test site suggests a new underground explosion is not as imminent as was recently thought.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
May 5, 2014, 7:04 a.m.

Newly de­tec­ted dig­ging at North Korea’s nuc­le­ar test site sug­gests that an­oth­er atom­ic blast is not im­min­ent, ac­cord­ing to 38 North.

In an ex­am­in­a­tion of com­mer­cial satel­lite pho­to­graphs taken between April 25 and May 1 of the “West Portal” area of the Punggye-ri test site, 38 North im­age ex­pert Nick Hansen notes that the Kim Jong Un re­gime ap­pears to be “con­tinu­ing and per­haps step­ping up ex­cav­a­tion activ­it­ies re­sumed” late last month.

In his Fri­day ana­lys­is, Hansen notes that were North Korea pre­par­ing to con­duct an­oth­er un­der­ground nuc­le­ar test in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, it would be clear­ing the en­tire site of per­son­nel and equip­ment in­stead of open­ing a new phase of its tun­nel ex­pan­sion work.

Re­peated warn­ings by Py­ongy­ang of­fi­cials in re­cent weeks of a forth­com­ing “new” kind of nuc­le­ar test have had many North Korea watch­ers on ten­ter­hooks, wait­ing to see when the coun­try might con­duct its fourth atom­ic blast, and what form it could take. However, the North’s for­eign min­istry last week said there was “no stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions” for when it might con­duct a nuc­le­ar test.

Ap­par­ent pre­par­a­tions for a nuc­le­ar test have been de­tec­ted via satel­lite at the “South Portal” area of Punggye-ri. Hansen said the re­cent shift­ing of con­tain­ers near one of the South Portal tun­nel en­trances “re­in­forces the con­clu­sion that activ­ity is still on­go­ing in­side the tun­nel.”

At a sep­ar­ate South Portal tun­nel — where pre­par­a­tions for the sus­pec­ted com­ing test have ap­peared most evid­ent — it looked on Thursday like all crates had been re­moved from the en­trance, ac­cord­ing to Hansen. Still, “there is no evid­ence to sug­gest that the tun­nel has been sealed in pre­par­a­tion for a det­on­a­tion,” he said.

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