New satellite images show activity at North Korean underground nuclear test site

Planet’s April 3 images show a new so-called crosscut tunnel, according to Jeffery Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“The telltale sign is the pile of soil in front of the tunnel. That’s rock from the mountain as they dig the new tunnel,” Lewis said.

The cut tunnel crosses one of the main tunnels behind the entrance, reducing the distance to the underground launch area. In 2018, North Korea detonated the tunnel’s original entrance, but likely did not destroy the entire underground structure.

This is because North Korea may be preparing to take “another provocative action” next week in connection with the April 15 holiday in Pyongyang, celebrating the birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, according to the special Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for North Korea, Sung Kim. †

Kim told reporters on Wednesday that he didn’t want to speculate on what specific action Pyongyang might take, but he did raise the prospect of a nuclear test, as well as another missile launch. North Korea has conducted more than a dozen missile tests this year, including several ballistic missile launches.

“We are concerned that in connection with the upcoming anniversary of April 15, the DPRK will be tempted to take another provocative action. Of course we hope not, but we will be prepared,” Kim said, referring to the People’s Democratic Republic. Korea, North Korea. The official name of Korea.

Kim reiterated that the US has publicly and privately delivered the message to North Korea that it is ready to engage in diplomatic cooperation, but he said the US has not yet received a response.

The United States and allies believe that North Korea is beginning to prepare for a possible underground nuclear test for the first time since 2017.

North Korea recently resumed tunneling and construction activities at its underground nuclear testing site, according to five US officials. Commercially available satellite images had shown some evidence of surface activity at the remote Punggye-ri nuclear test site in Pyongyang.

It’s not yet clear how soon the regime would be able to test a device at the site, as it depends on the pace of activity, officials say.

Preparations for a possible underground nuclear test come after North Korea tested its first suspected intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017.

“We remain concerned about the North Koreans — their effort to continue to improve their nuclear capabilities and their ballistic missile capabilities,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. Kirby declined to be more specific about what he meant regarding the regime’s nuclear capability.

In 2018, North Korea appeared to destroy at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at the Punggye-ri site, in a process overseen by invited international journalists reported by CNN at the time.
A CNN crew in the remote mountain location in the north of the country witnessed explosions in nuclear tunnels 2, 3 and 4, from observation decks about 500 meters away. They were among two dozen journalists invited to the country to observe the apparent destruction of the site.
The move was seen at the time as North Korea making a gesture toward denuclearization towards the Trump administration, but in the wake of the ongoing rhetoric, then-President Donald Trump canceled a planned meeting with leader Kim Jong Un.

Officials told CNN that US and allied intelligence agencies are assessing excavation work in previously closed underground tunnel areas, which would be critical to the resumption of underground nuclear testing.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests at the site, which is north of Pyongyang, the most recent and powerful of which was in September 2017.

There is also some evidence that North Korea’s next ballistic missile test could take place in the coming weeks, an official said, although the official would not specify the reasons behind that assessment, and US officials say they think Kim is likely testing it. of a nuclear weapon.

The US intelligence community estimates that North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test this year, according to the director of national intelligence’s annual threat assessment report published last month. The DNI said nuclear and long-range missile tests “lay the groundwork for an increase in tensions” by the regime.

The Defense Department is considering a package of military responses to North Korea’s recent test of improved intercontinental ballistic missiles that could range from flying bombers or sailing warships in the region to bolstering exercises and training, defense officials said. Japan and South Korea are being consulted on a possible decision and could be part of any show of force decided on, officials say.

Concerns that nuclear tests could resume in the near future come as North Korea demonstrated a missile that could potentially reach the US. The Pentagon is still assessing to what extent the missile is an improved version of previous launches.

North Korea reports that the missile had a maximum altitude of 3,905 miles and flew a distance of 681 miles with a flight time of 68 minutes.

The rocket test was accompanied by Hollywood-style edited video, complete with a soundtrack and footage from Kim.

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