Some key facilities remain intact and the tunnel entrances remain open, however. The authors speculate that may be because they’ll be blown up in front of members of the international media later this month.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced over the weekend it would invite journalists to watch the site’s shuttering as early as May 23.
The 38 North analysis was written by a former International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear chief inspector and long-time North Korea defense analyst.
Analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) shared with CNN satellite images that appear to show the North Koreans taking down facilities at Punggye-ri.
If accurate, the analysis of the images appears to show that North Korea has taken concrete steps to dismantle the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, pledged last month to refrain from conducting nuclear tests and close Punggye-ri, which is located fewer than 100 miles from North Korea’s border with China.
The country also vowed to stop testing missiles without notifying the international community Saturday.
The move is another notable step in North Korea’s diplomatic charm offensive, which comes after a year of constant weapons testing and heated rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.
Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the heavily militarized border that divides the two Koreas in late April and will hold a summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, the first ever meeting between a sitting US president and North Korean leader.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it is monitoring the developments at Punggye-ri closely, deputy spokesman Lee Jin-woo said at a news conference.
“North Korea has announced the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, so we assess that they will do preparatory work according to the planned schedule,” he said.
But it’s also possible North Korea no longer needs the site. After a half dozens tests over a period of more than a decade, some experts believe that Pyongyang is far enough along in its nuclear weapons development that it no longer has to detonate bombs underground to move its program along.
That test was the country’s most powerful to date, believed to be more than ten times more powerful than its test the previous year.
However, analysts say the last five nuclear tests were all conducted using the same tunnel, and that although that tunnel may be damaged beyond repair, the North Koreans could dig others for potential future tests.