Seoul: North Korea is undertaking construction work at its main nuclear weapons test site for the first time in about four years, according to an analysis of satellite imagery, raising fresh security concerns as South Korea elects a new leader.
Images captured Friday show “very early signs” of activity at the mountainous area of Punggye-ri, including the construction of a new building and repairs to another structure, weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote on his Arms Control Wonk website. “North Korea uses a substantial amount of wood at the site both for buildings and shoring up tunnels. These changes have occurred only in the past few days,” Lewis wrote Monday.
I made a .gif with @DaveSchmerler showing the changes at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site. We've caught the construction very early, which means it's too early to tell what they're up to or how long it would take to get the test site back to a state of readiness. pic.twitter.com/Th75GP1NyM
— Dr. Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) March 7, 2022
North Korea often links its provocations to political events, such as the presidential election Wednesday in South Korea and global uproar over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The nuclear test site has been under the eyes of government and commercial satellites for years and North Korean officials are likely aware that any activity there would be quickly seen by the outside world.
Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out what it said was the demolition of the test site in May 2018, bringing in foreign journalists to witness the event that helped lay the ground for an unprecedented summit a few weeks later between then U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
North Korea said it conducted detonations to disable the tunnels at the site used for all six of its nuclear tests. The last test was in September 2017, when it set off its most powerful nuclear device by far. While Kim has held off on nuclear weapons testing since then, he has been busy adding fissile material to his atomic arsenal and threatening to ramp up tensions unless the U.S. eases up on sanctions choking his state’s paltry economy.
North Korea may believe it can escape some of the harsh penalties imposed on it after a series of tests in 2017 of nuclear devices and missiles to carry warheads as far as to the U.S. mainland. Traditional allies China and Russia, which have veto power at the United Nations Security Council, have called for winding back some of the sanctions already imposed on Pyongyang and might not have much appetite to tighten economic penalties now as global pressure is being applied to the Kremlin for its war in Ukraine.
The next big event on North Korea’s political calendar is the April 15 national holiday to celebrate what would have been the 110th birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, who is also the grandfather of the current leader.
North Korea appears to be preparing to roll out heavy weaponry, including missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads, for its largest military parade in over a year, North Korea-monitoring service NK Pro reported Tuesday, also citing satellite imagery. The parade could coincide with the birthday celebrations for the former leader.
Kim Jong Un has conducted one of his biggest series of missile tests to start this year since he took power about a decade ago. In the past week, his state launched two ballistic-capable missiles it said were part of tests to deploy military reconnaissance satellites.- Bloomberg