North Korea resumes tunneling at nuclear test site

US report claims North Korea may have resumed tunneling at nuclear test site

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his visit to the newly built Mindulle Notebook Factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on April 19, 2016.

Satellite images show that North Korea may have resumed tunnel excavation at its main nuclear test site, activity seen ahead of the country's most recent nuclear test in January, a US North Korea monitoring website reported on Wednesday.

The 38 North website, run by the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said such activity could be carried out as part of preparations for a nuclear test, as was the case in January, or to conceal such preparations.

It said commercial satellite images of the West Portal of the Punggye-ri test site taken on Tuesday showed two small ore carts on a track crossing a road from a tunnel entrance.

"The presence of the two carts ... and the absence of any notable changes in the spoil pile suggests that tunnel excavation operations are about to resume, or have recently resumed, for the first time this year," the 38 North report said.

The report said the images also showed limited movement of vehicles and equipment at the site's North Portal, where the past three North Korean nuclear tests took place, compared to images taken on April 14.

"These activities by themselves do not establish that test preparations are imminent. However, the possibility of an impending test cannot be ruled out," the report said.

"Pyongyang has clearly demonstrated, with its fourth nuclear detonation this past January, the ability to conduct detonations on short notice while masking indicators of its preparations from satellite view."

The 38 North report also reported that in early December satellite photographs from the two previous months indicated North Korea was digging a new tunnel for nuclear testing.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and has vowed to conduct more, despite stepped up international sanctions.

Some experts expect North Korea to conduct a fifth nuclear test in the near future, possibly before a ruling party congress in early May, following an embarrassing failure in the test of an intermediate-range missile last week.

The top US diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region warned on Tuesday that a fifth North Korean nuclear test could trigger new sanctions including an effort to choke off hard currency earnings by its workers abroad.

TRTWorld, Reuters