Washington: North Korea appears to be expanding work at its nuclear test site to include a second tunnel, a US-based think tank said on Thursday.
Preparation work at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility’s Tunnel No 3 was apparently complete and ready for a possible nuclear test, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report, citing commercial satellite imagery, CNN reported.
North Korea conducted six underground nuclear tests at the site from 2006 to 2017.
The research group said that for the first time, analysts had spotted new construction activity at the facility’s Tunnel No 4, “strongly suggesting an effort to re-enable it for potential future testing”.
Outside Tunnel No 3, images showed a retaining wall and some minor landscaping with small trees or bushes, likely in anticipation of a visit by senior officials, it said.
According to the report, the two tunnels were never previously used for nuclear tests and their entrances were demolished in 2018, when North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
N Korea leader Kim Jong Un has said he was no longer bound by that moratorium because of a lack of reciprocal steps by the United States during denuclearization talks, and North Korea resumed testing ICBMs this year.
South Korean officials said this week that North Korea was poised to conduct a nuclear test “at any time” and that the timing would be decided by Kim.
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said on Monday after talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington that any provocation by North Korea, including a nuclear test, would be met with a united, firm response.