Experts say Future Tests Likely at North Korean Nuclear Test Site
New satellite images indicate the North Korea regime is working on its nuclear test site despite ongoing tremors suggesting the region has been destabilized by previous underground tests.
According to recent commercial satellite photos and an analysis shared by 38 North—which specializes in information about North Korea—the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site is receiving significant tunnel work, with fresh spoil revealing the excavation taking place.
Work has apparently been concentrated at the West Portal. Earlier images had indicated the regime had shifted its focus to the West Portal after its most recent nuclear test on Sept 3.
Prior to that test—the communist regime’s sixth and by far its largest—the West Portal was “a yet unused tunnel complex where little or no activity had been seen for the past several months,” wrote 38 North.
That changed after North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb that has set off ongoing aftershocks in the region and reportedly caused a massive tunnel collapse that reportedly killed up to 200 people.
A seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed to The Epoch Times that two tremors were detected in the region last weekend.
“This has been ongoing,” said the seismologist Paul Earle, adding that the U.S. Air Force Technical Applications Center was responsible for monitoring events stemming from the nuclear test.
The aftershocks measured 2.9 and 2.4 magnitude, according to Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.
Zerbo tweeted that the events were tectonic in origin, meaning they were not from a new nuclear test.
#CTBT #IMS #Alert: Two Events Vicinity of #DPRK test site this morning (MI 2.9 /6:13 UTC & MI 2.4 / 6:40 UTC). Analysts confirm tectonic origin.
· Red dot/ 3 Sept 2017 #DPRK #nucleartest
· Green dots/ subsequent aftershocks
· Yellow dots/ today events
Unprecedented for region pic.twitter.com/8NUHCW01xL
— Lassina Zerbo (@SinaZerbo) December 9, 2017
A larger earthquake on Sept. 23 had a magnitude of 3.2. Around the time of that event, TV Asahi cited unnamed North Korean sources claiming a tunnel collapse had killed 100 North Koreans at the test site. During rescue operations, another collapse claimed another 100 workers, the outlet reported.
Ongoing tremors in the region have spurred speculation that the tectonic plates under the test site had been destabilized, rendering further tests in the region dangerous. Seismologists have also said the tremors could be the plates settling after the nuclear upheaval.
According to 38 North’s images, it appears North Korea has not abandoned the site and may be planning future tests.
In November, the images of the site revealed material, mining carts, and netting were being moved into the area of the West Portal.
“These efforts continue to be concentrated at the West Portal, leaving the North Portal—where the last five tests were conducted—mostly dormant and likely abandoned, at least for the time being,” read the earlier analysis from 38 North.
After September’s test, temporary structures near the North portal’s entrance were removed, and no mining equipment or materials have been observed in this area, the images suggest. The West Portal, however, has since had a “consistently high level of activity.”
Vehicles and personnel are photographed around the portal, and mining carts appear to be bringing spoil from inside the underground facility to growing spoil piles outside, according to 38 North’s new analysis, released Dec. 11.
“These activities suggest that tunnel excavation is underway at the West Portal, as the North Koreans expand the site’s potential for future nuclear testing,” reads the analysis.
38 North credited Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu for the analysis of the images.
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