North Korea rebuilds nuclear test site

Communist North Korea may rehabilitate the former Punggye-ri nuclear test site, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday, citing satellite imagery showing activity at the site.

All six of North Korea’s known nuclear tests took place in Punggye-ri on Mount Mantap in the north of the country. After the last one in 2017, negotiations with the United States led to the communist regime claiming it was closing the site. In 2018, after tricking international journalists into paying $10,000 for the luxury of covering the event, Pyongyang staged a flashy “destruction” of the nuclear test site. Journalists were only invited to witness an explosion at the entrance of one of four known tunnels on the site.

Yonhap reported Friday, citing satellite images from Austria’s Open Nuclear Network that the images appear to show the construction of a new tunnel entrance.

“The DPRK has likely established a temporary entrance to Tunnel 3 and started excavating the tunnel structure,” the Open Nuclear Network report said in part. The report Yonhap relied on was released on Wednesday.

“On March 28, 2022, ONN reported signs of increased activity at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), particularly at Tunnel 3 (also known as the South Portal),” the report stated. “Since then, available satellite imagery has shown continued development at this site, including clear evidence of a newly uncovered tunnel entrance and new spoil piles, as well as other signs of vehicular traffic. These signs indicate that Tunnel 3 is progressing steadily.”

North Korea’s monitoring agency 38 North similarly reported last week that satellite imagery indicated “new excavation activity” at Punggye-ri, citing “snow patterns” showing significant vehicle traffic in the area and a “new tailings pile.”

“What appears to be a new tailings pile has formed opposite the Tunnel #3 complex… and leads to an area immediately east of the former tunnel entrance that was blasted as part of on-site mining operations in 2018,” noted 38 North. “While some reports suggest North Korea is attempting to build a shortcut to these test tunnels, it seems more likely that it chose to dig at a stable point rather than digging through the fractured rock surrounding the former entrance. “

A guard stands at the entrance to the north tunnel of North Korea’s nuclear test site just before it was scheduled to be blown up during a media tour to dismantle the test site, in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong province, North Korea, Thursday, May 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Rafael Wober)

The outlet described the images as “probably excavation activity.”

This image, taken from video of an undated still, broadcast by North Korea's KRT newscast on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a rocket launcher in North Korea.  North Korea's state television (KRT) aired video on Tuesday in which Kim appeared to be giving field tours during test firing of a Scud ballistic missile that reportedly took place the previous day.  Independent journalists have not been granted access to cover the event depicted in this photograph.  (KRT via AP video)

This image, taken from video of an undated still, broadcast by North Korea’s KRT newscast on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a rocket launcher in North Korea. (KRT via AP video)

The new evidence emerging this week poses a more pressing threat to South Korea and the international community, which is threatening a nuclear attack on South Korea this week, amid statements by Kim Yo-jong, sister of communist dictator Kim Jong-un. Kim Yo-jong made her statements through North Korean state media, claiming they were in response to a routine South Korean military update in which the nation’s defense minister expressed confidence in the country’s ability to thwart an attack from the north.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends the wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi March 2, 2019.  (Photo by JORGE SILVA / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends the wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi March 2, 2019. (JORGE SILVA/AFP via Getty Images)

“In the event of [South Korea] decides to engage in military confrontation with us, our nuclear combat force will inevitably have to do its duty,” Kim said in part. “A terrible attack is launched and the [South Korean] Army will have to suffer a miserable fate that amounts to total destruction and ruin.”

Kim added that Pyongyang “wouldn’t fire even a single bullet or shell at South Korea” if it were unchallenged “because we don’t see it as equal to our armed forces.”

Before the clear threat of a nuclear attack, Kim Yo-jong released another statement, in which he called Defense Minister Suh Wook a “scumbag guy” and a “confrontational lunatic engrossed in the confrontational mindset.”

Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president-elect, who will take office in May, is reportedly planning to bring Seoul closer to the United States and request “strategic means” of protection from a North Korean attack, a key avenue of the country’s policy incumbent left-wing President Moon Jae-in. Yoon this week sent a delegation to meet with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who reportedly requested such assets, a term South Koreans typically use for heavier long-range weapons.

US special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim told reporters this week he believes another nuclear test in the north, the first since 2017, is possible in the near future.

“Regarding the upcoming anniversary and the provocation – provocative actions of the DPRK [North Korea] It may take time, I don’t want to speculate too much, but I think it could be another missile launch, it could be a nuclear test,” Kim said, according to South Korea Joong Ang Ilbo. “What is important is that, in collaboration and coordination with our allies and partners, we stand ready to master whatever they undertake.”

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