- Based on the latest satellite image obtained on November 7, 2022, a day before the U.S. midterm elections, there is no new activity of significance observed at Tunnel No. 3. This is expected because both the United States and South Korea assess North Korea as having finished all preparations for conducting a nuclear test using this tunnel.
- The ongoing construction activity of the road leading to Tunnel No. 4 has been suspended. The construction may be either an expansion of North Korea’s nuclear testing capabilities beyond Tunnel No. 3 or a component of a strategic deception plan.
- Minor new activity is observed within the main administration and support area, including the presence of unidentified equipment/supplies and a volleyball net.
- North Korea’s seventh nuclear test will almost assuredly take place at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility. However, the nation possesses the technical capability and resources to conduct such a test from another location, although a specific site has yet to be identified.
- The world is waiting to see when Kim Jong-un will authorize North Korea’s seventh nuclear test.
Over the past week, North Korea has shown an unprecedented level of provocations – including 25 missile tests in one day on November 2, 2022, one of which landed just 26 kilometers south of the Northern Limit Line. On the same day, North Korea also fired approximately 100 artillery shells into South Korea’s maritime buffer zone.1 The activity is largely considered to be a response to Operation Vigilant Storm, the largest U.S.–ROK joint air training event to date, which occurred between October 31 and November 4.2
As tensions rise, eyes are also on Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, where all preparations for a seventh nuclear test are complete and “ready to go.”3 In mid-October, the South Korean National Intelligence Service presented an assessment that the test will likely happen by the U.S. midterm elections on November 8.4
This report provides an update on the northern section of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility with an image from November 7, 2022, a day before the midterm elections, as part of Beyond Parallel’s ongoing detailed coverage of North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile developments.
Tunnel No. 3
The new portal for Tunnel No. 3 is deep in shadow in the high-resolution Airbus Neo satellite image collected on November 7, 2022. Despite this, a close examination of the image shows no significant changes to the area immediately outside the portal to Tunnel No. 3 (also known as the South Portal). Consistent with the lack of new external developments in this area, preparations for conducting a test are assessed to have been completed for several months.5
Main Administration and Support Area
Minor activity continues to be observed in the main administration and support area. Notably, new unidentified equipment and supplies, along with minor work on the recently constructed buildings, are visible in the image. A volleyball net is installed in the courtyard.
Tunnel No. 4
The construction of the access road to Tunnel No. 4 (also known as the West Portal) appears to remain suspended. Additional work, such as the installation of extensive support cribbing above the tunnel, is required to make the tunnel viable again. As noted previously, experts believe that the 2018 disabling only collapsed a small section of the entrance to the tunnel, as was the case at Tunnel No. 3. It remains unclear whether the activity at Tunnel No. 4 is designed to expand North Korea’s nuclear testing capabilities beyond Tunnel No. 3 or a component of a strategic deception plan.
Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2
The November 7, 2022, image show no activity at either of the remaining two tunnels at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility—Tunnel No. 1 (East Portal) and No. 2 (North Portal).
- Kwon Hyuk-chul, “South, North Korea exchange missile fire across NLL,” Hankyoreh, November 3, 2022, https://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_northkorea/1065612.html. ↩
- “U.S. Air Force and ROK Air Force Conduct Large-Scale Joint Air Training Event Vigilant Storm,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, October 31, 2022, https://www.pacom.mil/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/3205401/us-air-force-and-rok-air-force-conduct-large-scale-joint-air-training-event-vig/. ↩
- Camilla Schick, “North Korea set to conduct tactical nuclear test anytime, U.S. and South Korean officials say,” CBS News, October 27, 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/north-korea-set-to-conduct-tactical-nuclear-test-anytime-u-s-and-south-korean-officials-say/. ↩
- “Yoon’s office on 24-hour standby against possible N. Korea nuclear test,” Yonhap, October 16, 2022, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20221016002900315?section=nk/nk. ↩
- “U.S. assesses North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test this month,” Reuters, May 6, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-assesses-north-korea-could-be-ready-conduct-nuclear-test-this-month-2022-05-06/. ↩