New satellite imagery shows activity at North Korean underground nuclear test site

Images from Planet April 3 show a new cross-sectional tunnel, according to Jeffery Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“The telltale sign is the debris pile in front of the tunnel. That’s rock from inside the mountain as they dig the new tunnel,” Lewis said.

The cross tunnel intersects with one of the main tunnels beyond the entrance, providing a shorter distance to the underground launch area. In 2018, North Korea blew up the tunnel’s original entrance, but probably didn’t destroy the entire underground structure.

This comes as North Korea may be preparing to take “another provocative action” next week in connection with the April 15 holiday in Pyongyang that celebrates the birthday of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, according to the Department’s special representative. of State for North Korea, Sung Kim. .

Kim told reporters on Wednesday that he did not want to speculate on what specific action Pyongyang might take, but did raise the possibility that it could be a nuclear test, as well as another missile launch. North Korea has conducted more than a dozen missile tests this year, including several ballistic missile launches.

“We are concerned that in connection with the upcoming April 15 anniversary, the DPRK may be tempted to take another provocative action. Obviously we hope not, but we will be prepared,” Kim said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea. The official name of Korea.

Kim reiterated that the United States has publicly and privately sent the message to North Korea that it is willing to engage diplomatically, but said the United States has yet to receive a response.

The United States and its allies believe North Korea is beginning to prepare for a possible underground nuclear test for the first time since 2017.

North Korea recently resumed tunneling and construction activities at its underground nuclear test site, according to five US officials. Commercially available satellite images have shown some hints of surface activity at Pyongyang’s remote Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

It is not yet clear how soon the regime would be able to test a device on site, as it depends on the pace of activity, officials say.

Preparations for a possible underground nuclear test come after North Korea tested its first suspected ICBM since 2017 last month.

“We remain concerned about the North Koreans — their attempt to continue to improve their nuclear capability as well as their ballistic missile capability,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. Kirby declined to be more specific about what he meant by the regime’s nuclear capability.

In 2018, North Korea apparently destroyed at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal smelter, and homes at its Punggye-ri site, in a process watched by invited international journalists reported by CNN at the time.
A CNN crew at the remote mountainous site in the north of the country witnessed explosions in nuclear tunnels 2, 3 and 4, from observation platforms some 500 meters away. They were among two dozen journalists invited to the country to observe the apparent destruction of the site.
The move was seen at the time as North Korea’s gesture toward denuclearization to the Trump administration, but in the wake of ongoing rhetoric, then-President Donald Trump canceled a planned meeting with leader Kim Jong Un.

The officials told CNN that US and allied intelligence agencies assess that excavation activities are taking place in areas of previously closed underground tunnels, which would be critical to the resumption of underground nuclear testing.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests at the site, which is north of Pyongyang, the most recent and powerful of which was in September 2017.

There are also signs that North Korea’s next ballistic missile test could take place in the coming weeks, an official said, though the official did not specify the reasons behind that assessment, and US officials say they believe Kim is likely to continue to test a nuclear weapon.

The US intelligence community estimates that North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test this year, according to the director of national intelligence’s annual threat assessment report released last month. The DNI said the nuclear tests and long-range missile tests are “laying the ground for increased tensions” by the regime.

The Defense Department is considering a package of military responses to North Korea’s recent test of upgraded intercontinental ballistic missiles that could range from flying bombers or warships sailing in the region to enhanced exercises and training, according to defense officials. Japan and South Korea are being consulted on a possible decision and could be part of any show of force that is decided, officials say.

Concerns that nuclear tests could resume in the near future come as North Korea has demonstrated a missile that could reach the United States. The Pentagon is still evaluating the extent to which the missile is an improved version of previous launches.

North Korea reports that the missile had a maximum altitude of 3,905 miles and flew a distance of 681 miles with a flight time of 68 minutes.

The missile test was accompanied by a Hollywood-style edited video complete with a soundtrack and footage of Kim.

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