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North restarts construction of former nuclear test site

Analysis of satellite images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province suggests the North has resumed construction work at the site, nearly four years after its high-profile demolition . [ARMS CONTROL WONK]

Satellite images show renewed construction activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, nearly four years after North Korea demolished most of its facilities there in front of global media in 2018, a group says American Think Tank Monday.

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, based in California at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said it analyzed satellite images of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong Province and found the construction of new buildings and repair of existing buildings.

The center told Voice of America (VOA) that changes to the site documented by satellite images taken by Maxa Technology on February 18 and March 4 allowed it to determine that new construction activity had taken place.

In particular, a vacant lot pictured on February 18 had been filled with building materials on March 4, suggesting the existence of work in progress in Punggye-ri.

A comparison of satellite images also showed a new building on the site of a previous structure, as well as a pile of wood likely destined for repairs at the site.

The changes were noted by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the James Martin Center, on his Arms Control Wonk blog.

“This is the first activity we’ve seen at the site since North Korea took it down in May 2018,” Lewis wrote in a post detailing the changes to Punggye-ri.

However, Lewis also noted that construction was taken “very early”, adding that “it is too early to say what they are doing or how long it will take to get the test site back to a state of readiness”. .

The sightings made by the James Martin Center follow similar activities detected at the Punggye-ri site by former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official Oli Hainonen, who told VOA in January that satellite analysis of the test site suggests that North Korea still maintains facilities. to the place.

“They maintain the site in such a way that you see the tracks of the cars, the cleaning of the snow and things like that. So they kind of maintain the buildings under certain conditions,” Hainonen said.

North Korea demolished its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Hamgyong province in May 2018 in the presence of South Korean, Chinese, Russian, British and American journalists.

38 North, a Pyongyang analysis site run by the Stimson Center, concluded shortly after the demolition that the last three remaining tunnels, as well as a number of buildings on the site, had been destroyed, but wondered if they could ever be rebuilt.

The demolition of the nuclear test site was seen as proof of North Korea’s sincerity about denuclearization as it planned the first summit between then US President Donald Trump and the leader North Korean Kim Jong-un, which took place in June 2018.

However, North Korea suggested earlier this year in January that it could end its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing. The end of the moratorium, which began in 2017, could lead to future nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri site, although it is unclear how quickly the regime could resume testing there, or whether it harbors other underground nuclear test sites.

BY MICHAEL LEE [[email protected]]