North Korea expands work at nuclear test site to second tunnel, says report

Preparatory work on Tunnel 3 of the Pungeri Nuclear Test Site appears to be completed and ready for a possible nuclear test, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report, citing commercial satellite imagery.

North Korea conducted six underground nuclear tests at the site from 2006 to 2017.

The research team said that analysts first noticed new construction activity in the facility’s tunnel #4, “strongly pointing to an attempt to re-enable it for possible future testing.”

Outside tunnel number 3, images showed a retaining wall and a small landscape with small trees or bushes, likely awaiting a visit from high-ranking officials, the report said.

The two tunnels have never been used for nuclear testing before, and their entrances were demolished in 2018 when North Korea announced a voluntary moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Leader Kim Jong Un has said he is no longer bound by the moratorium due to the lack of retaliation from the United States during denuclearization talks, and North Korea has resumed ICBM testing this year.

South Korean officials said this week that North Korea is ready to conduct a nuclear test “at any time” and that the time will be determined by Kim.

A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, when asked about the report, said he was closely following the development of North Korea’s nuclear activity along with US intelligence agencies, but declined to comment further.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said on Monday after talks with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington that any provocation from North Korea, including nuclear testing, would be met with a unified, firm response.

He urged China, which for years was North Korea’s only major ally, to use its influence.

Park also pledged “as soon as possible” to normalize an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan to strengthen their response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

The agreement, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was the basis of the trilateral exchange of security information between South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

But South Korea considered abandoning the pact with Japan in late 2019, at a time of tense relations, before a last-minute decision was made to renew it in the face of US pressure.

South Korean officials said intelligence sharing with Japan has not been as smooth as it used to be since then.

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