Activity spotted around N. Korea’s nuclear test site, think tank says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen in this undated photo from the Korean Central News Agency. Satellite images taken Oct. 1, 2016, at Punggye-ri in the communist country's remote northeast show "continuing activity" at all three of the complex's underground nuclear-test tunnels.


By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 7, 2016

Recent movements at North Korea’s underground nuclear-test site could indicate preparations for another blast, a Washington-based think tank says.

Satellite images taken Oct. 1 at Punggye-ri in the communist country’s remote northeast show “continuing activity” at all three of the complex’s test tunnels, according to an analysis by 38 North, a website run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies that monitors North Korean activities.

Activity at the north portal, where the North’s fifth and most recent nuclear test took place on Sept. 9, could be for a number of purposes, including “collecting post-test data, sealing the portal or preparing for another test.”

The images show a large vehicle, possibly a truck, near the portal’s entrance, and a large canopy in a nearby parking lot that has been in place for the past couple of months.

“There is no evidence of new excavation but there appear to be boxes or material around the side of the main building,” 38 North said.

At the south portal, where excavation stopped in 2012, images show a group of people standing near a tunnel entrance, indicating ongoing work or maintenance.

“The purpose of this activity is also unclear although the portal is assumed to be capable of supporting a nuclear test once a decision is made to move forward,” the report said.

At the west portal, mining carts or furrows are visible on a spoil pile, but it is “unlikely that tunnel excavation has resumed since the pile has not grown over the past two months,” the analysis said.

Little activity was detected at Punggye-ri’s main support area, and a few crates and possible vehicles were visible at the south command center.

South Korea's military is on high alert amid concern the North might stage another provocation to celebrate the 71st anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party on Monday.The communist regime conducted its first nuclear test a day before the 2006 anniversary.

North Korea completed five increasingly powerful nuclear tests at Punggye-ri in 2006, 2009, 2013 and twice this year — first in January and again in September. It claimed the fourth test was a hydrogen bomb — potentially much more powerful than the enriched uranium or plutonium weapons it has tested in the past — though experts have questioned that.

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un claimed during his country’s historic Workers’ Party Congress in May that he won’t use nuclear weapons unless his nation’s sovereignty is under attack.

The U.S. and South Korea agreed earlier this year to place a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, on the peninsula — plans that have been met with large local protests and opposition from China.

Earlier this month, 38 North said satellite images from late September strongly suggest North Korea may be building a new submarine that could launch ballistic missiles. In late August, the North test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew more than 300 miles at a high angle, suggesting it could have gone much farther.

Kim described the launch as “the greatest success” and said it put the U.S. mainland within striking distance.

Twitter: @kiddaaron

This satellite image provided by Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North shows a large vehicle near the entrance to the north portal at North Korea's underground nuclear-test site, along with unidentified materials around the portal's main building.

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