Satellite Images Suggest North Korea May Have Resumed Nuclear Test Preparations

Satellite images of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site from April 19 indicate that North Korea may have resumed preparations for a possible imminent nuclear test.

According to 38 North, a North Korea analysis program at the Johns Hopkins University, probable trailers have been spotted near the North Portal, the tunnel that North Korea appears to have been preparing for a nuclear test. While no recent dumping is observed, there are at least five mining carts along the tracks leading to the spoil pile and one probable small equipment trailer adjacent to the support building. A net canopy remains in place, presumably concealing equipment, and the pumping of water out of the tunnel to maintain an environment optimal for instrumentation and stemming seems to have ceased.

Figure 1. Probable trailers observed near the North Portal.

At the Main Administrative Area, no volleyball games are observed, but the outline of the court in the north courtyard is still visible. There is a small truck or van present in the south courtyard along with several unidentified objects and activities. While the imagery is not high enough resolution to determine what these objects are, some may be supplies or equipment with tarps or netting draped over them.

Figure 2. Several unidentified objects and activities observed at the Main Administrative Area.

No activity of significance is noted at the West Portal, South Portal, Command Center Area or elsewhere in the facility.

As 38 North concludes, "It is unclear if the noted activity represents a “tactical pause” before a forthcoming nuclear test, a broader more prolonged “stand down” from testing or normal facility operations. Regardless, satellite imagery continues to indicate that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site appears able to conduct a sixth nuclear test at any time once the order is received from Pyongyang."

As a reminder, earlier today Reuters reported that South Korea was on a heightened state of alert ahead of a major army event in the North, set for next Tuesday, April 25.

"Although North Korea attempted a missile launch but failed on April 16, considering the April 25 anniversary of the Korean People's Army, there are concerns that it can make another provocation again at any time," South Korea's acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn told top officials on Thursday.

Also worth noting: April 25 is when the USS Carl Vinson is scheduled to finally arrive off the coast of the Korean Penninsula.