Punggye-ri Update: Flood Mitigation
- No significant activity is observed at Tunnel No. 3 of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility. This is not unexpected as both the United States and South Korea assess that North Korea has finished all preparations for conducting a nuclear test at this tunnel.
- Road construction to Tunnel No. 4 remains suspended, and flood damage to the facility’s sole access road is observable, both likely a result of the heavy rains during the past two months.
- As a result of recent heavy rains and flooding over the summer, a new bypass was added to the facility’s sole access road connecting the Command Center to the nearby support facility, providing unobstructed access in case of future flooding.
This report is part of Beyond Parallel’s ongoing coverage of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), ballistic missiles, and economic developments. It presents an update of the currently observable activities at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility based on seven satellite images acquired between June 24 and August 24, 2022, providing an opportunity to update the status of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility and efforts to address challenges with recent heavy rains.
Satellite imagery from August 24, 2022, shows no significant developments or changes to the area outside the portal for Tunnel No. 3 (also known as the South Portal), within which the United States and South Korea have assessed that North Korea has completed all preparations for conducting a nuclear test. These sources have also assessed that the decision to conduct a seventh nuclear test remains solely within the hands of Kim Jong-un, who announced that the country’s “nuclear war deterrent is also fully ready to demonstrate its absolute power” in late July.
Additionally, there is only limited evidence (e.g., widened riverbeds, minor erosion, etc.) that flooding from heavy rains during the past two months significantly impacted the operational status of the northern test area. However, there is evidence of flood damage which may have temporarily restricted movement along the facility’s sole access road, which runs along the valley south of the northern test site. This is especially true where small mountain streams join the Changuk-chon (Changuk stream) and the numerous fords across the stream. This, and the North Korean response to the flooding, is most obvious in the Command Center area.
Command Center Area
Undoubtedly due to the recent heavy rains and resulting flooding, a new bypass was added to the facility’s sole access road between late July and early August. This approximately 740-meter-long section of road runs entirely on the west side and slightly above the Changuk-chon, connecting the Command Center to the support facility immediately to its south. The original road section in this area ran along the sides of the riverbed and crossed the Changuk-chon four times—making it susceptible to flooding from even minor storms. The new section should provide unobstructed access to the command center during future flooding events.
Tunnel No. 3
Compared to an image from June 14, 2022, featured in our previous report, the August 24, 2022 image does not show any new activity of significance in the area around the new portal for Tunnel No. 3 (the original portal was collapsed by the May 2018 disabling). It is unclear in the available imagery whether there have been any significant changes to the nearby open-air lumber mill or small support sheds and buildings. No vehicles, equipment, or personnel are observed in the general area of the new portal. What appears to be some minor changes to the riverbed due to recent heavy rains are noted within the streambed northeast and east of the portal.
Tunnel No. 4
No activity of significance is noted with the project to rebuild the access road and associated retaining wall leading to the collapsed portal to Tunnel No. 4 in the August 24, 2022, image. This suggests that construction activity continues to be temporarily suspended—likely due to the recent heavy rains. What appears to be some minor changes to the riverbed due to recent heavy rains are noted within the streambed to the east of the access road and portal.
We would like to reiterate that while the purpose of this construction towards Tunnel No. 4 may be the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear testing capabilities, there have been claims that North Korea is carrying out unnecessary construction for deception purposes. As with the new portal to Tunnel No. 3, no vehicles, equipment, or personnel are observed in the area.
Main Administration and Support Area
Within the main administration and support area, construction of several new buildings has slowly continued, and roofs have been applied to several buildings constructed in June-July. Vehicle tracks similar to those previously observed remain visible within the area’s courtyard. No vehicles, equipment, or personnel are observed within the area.
Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2
As with our previous report, the August 24, 2022, satellite image shows no indicators of activity at either Tunnel No. 1 (East Portal) or Tunnel No. 2 (North Portal), both of which remain abandoned and collapsed. Tunnel No. 1 is believed to have collapsed as a result of North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006, while the portal to Tunnel No. 2 was collapsed by the May 2018 disabling.