Foreign Affairs, Military, Nuclear Weapons

Preparations Before Scheduled Dismantlement of Nuclear Test Site

Newly acquired satellite imagery by Beyond Parallel on May 19, 2018 shows that preparations for the shutdown of the North Korean nuclear test site at Punggye-ri appear to be underway, and that a number of facilities have been shuttered. North Korea had announced on May 12, 2018 that it would dismantle the nuclear test site by collapsing the mountain’s tunnels and entryways, as well as removing all observation facilities and related research and security facilities. Pyongyang also announced it would allow foreign journalists to witness first-hand the dismantlement of the nuclear test site. New construction around the test facility suggests that preparations are ongoing to build viewing stands to allow foreigners to cover the shutdown.1

However, since the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) statement of May 16, 2018 contesting a “Libya model” of denuclearization and intimating that the June 12 Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un could be called into question, the DPRK regime has not publicly reaffirmed its commitment to the Punggye-ri shutdown scheduled for this week (May 23-25).

Reports now indicate that North Korea may be allowing a small group of journalists into the country to cover the operation this week. These developments suggest that a cancellation or postponement while still possible, is not in the offing despite the KCNA protestations last week.2

Key Findings

  • Overall activity: There is a low level of activity throughout the Punggye-ri nuclear test site facility.
  • Overview image: The satellite image is not as sharp as we would like because of the high off-nadir angle. Recent rains and the wet ground give the imagery a grey tint with streams and puddles giving off reflective glare (visible in bright white spots).
  • Command Center: Since the announcement of the pending dismantlement North Korea has removed the roof of one of the buildings and a shed at the command center. There appear to be two or three trucks present at the center.
  • South Portal: Since the announcement of the pending dismantlement several support buildings north of the portal have been removed.
  • Administrative Area: A small vehicle, and what might be several small crates or pallets of equipment are visible in the main courtyard. The greenhouse is half empty of plants.
  • West Portal: Since the announcement of the pending dismantlement several support buildings east of the portal have been removed, a new ramp has been graded up onto the spoil pile and a small structure has been erected on the spoil pile. During the past two weeks the mine carts that were present on the spoil pile have been removed. A small vehicle may be in front of the portal but its difficult to say due to the glint.
  • North Portal: Since the announcement of the pending dismantlement the support buildings south of the portal have been removed, it appears that some vegetation around the portal itself has been recently cleared (possibly to improve the view for the reporters), a truck is now present in front of the portal and two small structures have been erected on, or near, the spoil pile.

 

Image 1: There is a low level of activity throughout the Punggye-ri nuclear test site facility and at each of the portals.

Image 2: Two or three trucks are present at the command center. The roof from one of the command center buildings and a shed have been removed since North Korea announced the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Image 3: On the north side of the entrances to the South Portal several support buildings have been removed.

Image 4: There is minimal activity in administrative support area. It is possible to identify one small vehicle and several small crates or pallets of equipment that are visible in the main courtyard. The support buildings appear to be intact and the greenhouse is half empty of plants.

Image 5: Since the announcement of the nuclear test site dismantlement two new structures have been built to the east and west of the Administrative Area. Their purpose is unknown but potential uses could include: viewing stands for journalists or monitoring stations after the test site is dismantled.

Image 6: Since the announcement of the nuclear test site dismantlement a new structure has been constructed to the east of the administrative area which could be used as a viewing stand for journalists or a monitoring station after the dismantlement of the site.

Image 7: Since the announcement of the nuclear test site dismantlement several support structures to the east of the West Portal have been taken down and mine carts that were present on a spoil pile during the past two weeks were removed. A new structure has also been erected and a ramp has been graded up onto the spoil pile.

Image 8: Since the announcement of the nuclear test site dismantlement support buildings located south of the North Portal have been removed. It also appears some vegetation has been cleared around the portal itself perhaps to improve the view for visiting journalists. A truck is visible in front of the North Portal entrance and two other small structures appear to have been constructed near or on the spoil pile.

References

Show 2 Footnotes

  1. While dwindled ground activity on May 19 could be attributed to the fact that the images were taken during a weekend, the construction of these new structures around the test site indicates that low level activity has still continued.
  2. This post has been updated as of 5:50pm on May 21, 2018.