North Korea dismantling nuclear test site, satellite imagery shows

Process demanded by West already ‘well under way’, says monitoring website

 North Korean leader Kim Jong-un discussing a nuclear weapons programme with officials  in a photograph released in  September 2017.  Photograph: KCNA via Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un discussing a nuclear weapons programme with officials in a photograph released in September 2017. Photograph: KCNA via Reuters


North Korea has already made considerable progress in dismantling its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri as promised, according to a report on the 38 North website that closely monitors activities in the North.

“After initial reporting of plans to allow experts and media personnel to observe the closing of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site . . . commercial satellite imagery from May 7th provided the first definitive evidence that dismantlement of the test site was already well under way,” the website said.

Last month, North Korea said it would shut its nuclear test site and halt nuclear weapons testing and missile launches ahead of a planned meeting on June 12th between Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump.

The 38 North website is one of the most respected monitors on North Korea. It is a programme of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

The government said it would allow foreign journalists into North Korea next week to witness the dismantling of the facility.

The safety of the Punggye-ri site has been a subject of concern and there had been reports that some areas of the test site have become unstable after the last nuclear test in September.

Buildings razed

The website said several key operational support buildings in the site had been razed since the last time it performed an analysis of the site.

“Some of the rails for the mining carts, which had led from the tunnels to their respective spoil piles, have apparently been removed. Additionally, some carts seem to have been tipped over and/or disassembled, and several small sheds/outbuildings around the site had been removed,” 38 North said.

Other buildings remain intact, and the tunnel entrances appear to remain open ahead of the final ceremony next week, it said.

The final closure ceremony would involve the “collapsing all of its tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts”.

The Koreas are due to hold high-level talks in the peace village of Panmunjom on the southern side of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) dividing them on Wednesday.

The North will send a 29-member delegation for the discussions, led by Ri Son-kwon, who chairs the North’s reunification agency.

Also in the delegation will be Kim Yun-hyok, vice railroad minister, and Won Kil-u, vice sports minister, along with journalists.

The delegation from the South will be lead by unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon. The delegation be composed of about five officials, but the final list has yet to be determined.

It’s the first time that senior officials from both Koreas will face each other since the April 27th summit between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Mr Kim.

Separately, Japanese media reported that senior level officials from the ruling Workers Party of North Korea had visited Beijing. As North Korea’s only major ally, China is keen to maintain a high-profile role in the efforts to secure peace in the region and make sure the US does not use the opportunity to leverage greater influence.