New satellite imagery may indicate North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test at its Punggye-ri test site and could do so at any time, according to a new report by Beyond Parallel, a project focused on Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Analysis of images from Sunday, June 12, shows ongoing work at one tunnel area, called Tunnel No. 3, and new construction at another, Tunnel No. 4, said the authors of the report.
The rebuilding and preparation at Tunnel No. 3, which began approximately four months ago, appears to be complete, said the authors, and it is “ready for an oft-speculated seventh nuclear test.”
The report also found that the new construction activity at Tunnel No. 4 strongly suggests “an effort to reenable it for potential future testing.”
“The timing of a seventh nuclear test now rests solely within the hands of Kim Jong un,” said the report.
Earlier this week South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Jin Park said North Korea appears to be ready to test. “It is being observed that preparations for a nuclear test are completed, so now only a political decision remains,” he said.
U.S. officials also believe North Korea could be planning an underground nuclear test this month.
The new construction activity at Tunnel No. 4 began since the last Beyond Parallel report on May 17, 2022, which the authors said indicates the work is recent. The imagery shows a new caisson wall under construction and construction materials are seen near the entrance to the portal.
Tunnel No. 4 was believed to have collapsed when North Korea disabled the site in 2018, but the report found that “the extent of actual damage inside the tunnels due to the disabling was unclear and these new indicators of activity suggest that the disabling was not complete, as is the case with Tunnel No. 3.”
The report also said the new imagery suggests possible preparation for a VIP visit. Senior North Korean military leaders and even Kim Jong Un himself often watch tests or visit after tests. “A close-up view of the portal area shows the actual concrete portal with an adjacent caisson retaining wall and some minor landscaping with small trees or bushes — likely in anticipation of a visit by senior officials,” the report said.
Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.