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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
ORDER REMAINS BLOCKED
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Against Travel Ban
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals "has upheld the nationwide block of President Donald Trump's executive order restricting travel from several predominantly Muslim countries. ... It upholds the suspension of a revised version of the executive order that the Trump administration crafted to better hold up to legal scrutiny than an earlier version."

Source:
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
14 hours ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login