Having reportedly seen 200 North Koreans die following the collapse of a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site earlier in the year, Kim Jong-Un has officially (and intentionally) imploded the mountain-side facility overnight.
As a reminder, North Korea saw the mountain as an ideal location for underground nuclear experiments because of its elevation – it stood more than 2,100 meters (6,888 feet) above sea level – and its terrain of thick, gentle slopes that seemed capable of resisting structural damage.
While the mountain’s surface had shown no visible damage after four underground nuclear tests before 2017, the 100-kilotonne bomb that went off on September 3 vaporised surrounding rocks with unprecedented heat and opened a space that was up to 200 metres (656 feet) in diameter, according to a statement posted on the Wen team’s website on Monday.
And as shock waves tore through and loosened more rocks, a large section of the mountain’s ridge, less than half a kilometre (0.3 mile) from the peak, slipped down into the empty pocket created by the blast, leaving a scar visible in satellite images.
Three small earthquakes that hit nearby regions in the wake of the collapse added credence to his conclusion, suggesting the test site had lost its geological stability.
Kim then – coincidentally – shifted to his current position of agreeing to dismantle the highly unstable site and began to break down the the facility’s infrastructure.
Significant changes took place at the North and South Portals between April 20 and May 7 consistent with site closing.
And now, having apparently completed its tear-down phase, RT reports that North Korea officially demolished the test-site overnight, inviting a number of reporters to witness the event.
According to RT’s Igor Zhdanov, the journalists were shown three of four tunnels used for nuclear tests at the site. One of them, the northern tunnel, had been used extensively for recent nuclear testing, he said.
The North Koreans explained that the two other tunnels were new and would have likely been used for tests in the near future. Demolishing the tunnels, Zhdanov said, “was a real way of showing how they are ready to make real concessions.”
He said the explosions used to destroy the tunnels were “impressive,” describing them as “small eruptions of earth and rock.” All infrastructure at the site – including barracks and security checkpoints – were destroyed by the blasts, Zhdanov reports.
However, he noted that the buildings had been emptied before being demolished. “We were told that they got rid of the equipment earlier. But of course we have no way of verifying that.”
North Korea’s nuclear weapons institute said on Thursday that Pyongyang was committed to helping build a nuclear-free world.
However, there’s just one thing that few are talking about. As The Telegraph reports, “North Korea has designated remote Chagang Province as a Special Songun [military-first] Revolutionary Zone, fueling suspicions that the region is being turned into a mountain redoubt for the regime’s atomic weapons and missile programs despite Pyongyang’s promises to scrap its nuclear arsenal.” More:
Officials of the Ministry of State Security were informed of the new designation in April, the Seoul-based Daily NK news outlet reported, quoting a high-ranking source in Pyongyang.
The region will become “a strategic foothold for the military in the face of modern warfare”, the source said, adding that the ministry had decreed “the project must go forward without any issues because Kim Jong-un was doing it out of respect for his father’s and grandfather’s legacies”.
Covering more than 6,400 square miles on North Korea’s border with China, fully 98 percent of Chagang is mountainous, meaning it is relatively sparsely populated and has plenty of opportunities for underground excavations to conceal stockpiles of weapons and facilities to conduct further research.
One could be forgiven for thinking the implosion in Punggye-ri is nothing but a distraction, since as far back as 2013, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service warned in a report that Kim Jong-un had ordered that the domestic munitions industry be moved underground to protect it from observation and attack.
“Most of the facilities are located in Chagang Province and other remote inland areas and are partially or wholly underground to minimise damage in war”, the report said, identifying factories No. 65 and No. 81 in the city of Junchon, Chagang Province.
Intelligence reports stated that “Emergency shelters are under construction near factories and plants and mobilisation plans for persons and materials have already been completed to assure continued production even through the fires of war”.
Furthermore, 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.