Satellite Images Show North Korea Starts To Dismantle Nuclear Test Site

Just days after North Korea said it would start dismantling its (potentially collapsed) nuclear test site, satellite images from The Wall Street Journal and 38 North show that, for now, Kim is living up to his word, removing buildings and "sanitizing" the site.

A satellite image captured Monday, indicating where buildings have been removed or are being removed at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear-test site.

While this makes for positive headlines, it is worth remembering that, as we noted previously, six months after a group of Chinese scientists warned that the North Korean Punggye-ri nuclear test site was on the verge of collapse, and following reports from Japan's Asahi TV that more than 200 North Koreans had died when a tunnel collapsed at the test site, the South China Morning Post reported that North Korea’s mountain nuclear test site has completely collapsed, putting China and other nearby nations at unprecedented risk of radioactive exposure, two separate groups of Chinese scientists studying the issue have confirmed.

The collapse also likely explains the sudden willingness of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to declare last Friday that he would freeze the state’s nuclear and missile tests and shut down the site, a researcher cited by the SCMP said.

And now, as WSJ reports, North Korea has begun to remove buildings from around its nuclear-test site in a step toward dismantling the facility, new satellite imagery shows, as the regime seeks to build trust with the U.S. after declaring its nuclear arsenal complete.

Pyongyang appears to be “sanitizing” the site, at the foot of Mount Mantap in the country’s northeast, to protect secrets before journalists arrive, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif.

Steps beyond dismantling Punggye-ri will be needed to demonstrate a bona fide commitment to denuclearize, said David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“Closing the Punggye-ri underground test site, while welcome, is not sufficient,” Mr. Albright said.

However, while several key operational support buildings, located just outside the North, West and South Portals, have been razed since our last analysis - with some of the rails for the mining carts, which had led from the tunnels to their respective spoil piles, have apparently been removed...

Significant changes took place at the North and South Portals between April 20 and May 7 consistent with site closing.

Before...

Source: 38North

After...

Source: 38North

But, 38North reports  that other more substantial buildings around the facility remain intact, including the two largest buildings at the Command Center, and the Main Administrative Support Area.

Support buildings at the Main Administrative Area have been taken down.

Before...

Source: 38North

After...

Source: 38North

Moreover, no tunnel entrances appear to have yet been permanently closed.