Construction spotted at Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea

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SEOUL — North Korea appears to have begun repairing a closed nuclear test site, satellite images show.

The Punggye-ri site was closed in 2018 and parts exploded, after leader Kim Jong-un promised to stop all nuclear testing.

The new finding by US analysts comes amid predictions that the country could resume testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

But analysts also say it could be years before Punggye-ri is ready for testing.

Satellite images showed ‘very early signs of activity’ which has only taken place in recent days, including the construction of a new building, the repair of an existing building, and lumber and sawdust in Punggye-Ri, according to a report by analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).

The photos were taken on Friday by satellite imagery company Maxar.

The work indicates that North Korea “has made a decision on the status of the test site”, the analysts said.

One possibility could be a plan to return the test site to a state of readiness to resume testing of nuclear explosives.

The move would align with an earlier statement issued by North Korea in January to “consider the issue of restarting all temporarily suspended activities”, they said.

But analysts called the new activity spotted at Punggye-ri “preliminary”, stressing that it could be “months or even years before North Korea is ready to conduct nuclear explosions”. They added that this would depend on the extent of damage inflicted on the site’s tunnels when it is closed.

Another possibility, they said, was that North Korea could resume nuclear testing at another location.

Punggye-ri, located in the northeast of the country, was declared closed and was reportedly dismantled in 2018, in what was seen as part of a diplomatic rapprochement with South Korea and the United States.

International media were invited to witness a series of explosions that Pyongyang said would block tunnels and entrances, but authorities refused to allow entry for international inspectors. Some feared at the time that the damage caused could be easily reversed.

Punggye-ri is believed to be North Korea’s main nuclear facility, and until 2018 it was the world’s only active nuclear test site. North Korea has conducted six known nuclear tests since 2006 at the facility.

In August, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the North appeared to want to restart its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, raising fears that plutonium for nuclear weapons was being produced at the reactor complex. —BBC

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