Punggye-ri Update: Waiting for Kim
- There is no new activity 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.
- There is minor activity observed in the main administration and support area, primarily consisting of workers/troops moving about the main courtyard and evidence of vehicle movements.
- 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 South Korean National Intelligence Service has assessed that the seventh nuclear test could be carried out sometime between October 16 and November 7, after the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and before the U.S. midterm elections.1 Consistent with this assessment and given the recent series of provocations, the office of South Korean President Yoon has been “in standby mode” with “a sense of alertness” for the upcoming nuclear test, which could be “two or three consecutive” tests in a row.2
This report addresses observable activities at the northern section of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility as of October 17, 2022, as part of Beyond Parallel’s ongoing detailed coverage of North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile developments.
Tunnel No. 3
As with our previous report, a high-resolution Airbus Neo satellite image collected on October 17, 2022, shows no significant changes to the area immediately outside the portal to Tunnel No. 3 (also known as the South Portal). This lack of new external developments is expected, as both the United States and South Korea assess North Korea as having finished all preparations for conducting its seventh nuclear test.
A short distance to the southeast of Tunnel No. 3 is an open-air lumber mill and a small storage yard. No changes of significance are noted in this latest image.
Tunnel No. 4
The construction of the access road to Tunnel No. 4 (also known as the West Portal) appears to have been once again suspended and the road remains open to the area in front of the collapsed former portal. There is no evidence in the October 17, 2022, image of any activity to reopen the portal. To make Tunnel No. 4 viable again, the extensive support cribbing previously seen above would have to be rebuilt. 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.
Main Administration and Support Area
Only minor activity is observed in the main administration and support area, primarily consisting of workers/troops moving about the main courtyard and evidence of vehicle movements. The two unidentified objects believed to be piles of drying grain present in our previous report are no longer present.
Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2
The October 17, 2022, satellite image continues to 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).
- “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. ↩
- Ibid; Jeongmin Kim and Yeji Chung, “North Korea could conduct more than one nuclear test in a row: Experts,” NK News, October 17, 2022, https://www.nknews.org/2022/10/north-korea-could-conduct-more-than-one-nuclear-test-in-a-row-experts/. ↩