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 »
The protest over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline turned violent overnight as the police and National Guard sought to remove the protesters, surrounding them with assault vehicles and officers in riot gear. The law enforcement officers used pepper spray and fired bean bags for more than six hours. In response, the protesters "lit debris on fire and threw Molotov cocktails in retreat." One woman pulled out a gun and fired at officers, narrowly missing before being arrested. The protesters claim the pipeline would be constructed on land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The House has scheduled leadership votes for Nov. 15, the day after members return from their election recess. "Since mid-September, members of the House Freedom Caucus have weighed whether they should ask leadership to push back the elections so they can see how House Speaker Paul Ryan performs at the end of the year," but leaders don't seem inclined to grant their request.
Gross domestic product "expanded at a 2.9% annual clip from July through September. That’s a marked improvement from the first half of the year when the U.S. grew just barely over 1%." The robust numbers make it more likely that the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates at its next meeting.
"A federal jury on Thursday found Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs through intimidation, threat or force during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The Bundy brothers and occupiers Jeff Banta and David Fry also were found not guilty of having guns in a federal facility." In a strange "coda" to the decision, Bundy's attorney Marcus Mumford was tackled and tasered by marshals in the courtroom as he argued that Bundy should be free to go.