North Korea nuclear fears: Kim testing for first time in years – new satellite images

US identifies ‘secret military base’ in North Korea

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US analysts are concerned the images may be a sign that North Korea is preparing the use of nuclear weapons as their only known nuclear test site shows signs of activity. The Punggye-ri site was closed in 2018 and some parts of it were even blown up, with analysts saying it could be years before it is ready for tests again.

However the images, taken by satellite company Maxar, appear to show “very early signs of activity” according to a report by analysts from the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).

The report states that in the last few days, satellite images show construction of a new building, repair of an existing one, as well as lumber and sawdust at the site.

Bringing the site back to a position where it could resume nuclear testing would align with a statement issued by North Korea in January to “examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities,” the report said.

The report added: “The construction and repair work indicate that North Korea has made some decision about the status of the test site.

“One possibility is that North Korea plans to bring the test site back to a state of readiness to resume nuclear explosive testing.”

The new movement at the site comes just after North Korea tested a record number of missiles in January.

These included its largest weapon since 2017. The country also appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite.

North Korea’s main nuclear reactor facility in Yongbyon also appears to be in operation according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and could be creating fuel for nuclear weapons.

Kim Jong-un has stated that he no longer feels bound by his country’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests in 2018.

Denuclearisation talks have stalled since 2019.

When the nuclear tests were cancelled in 2018, North Korea stated that they were closing the Punggye-ri site’s tunnels with explosions, blocking it’s entrances and removing observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.

While some foreign media was able to observe the demolition, international inspectors were refused, resulting in speculation that the facilities could be left in a state where they could easily be restored.

The CNS report stated: “How long it would take North Korea to resume explosive testing at the site depends on the extent of the damage to the tunnels themselves, something we do not know with confidence.

“It is also possible that North Korea will resume nuclear testing at another location.”

The National Security Council for South Korea said last Sunday that it was paying particularly close attention to Yongbyon and Punggye-ri, although didn’t elaborate further.

Six nuclear weapons tests in tunnels in Punggye-ri took place from 2006 to 2017.

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The last and largest nuclear test appeared to trigger geological instability that caused multiple small earthquakes.

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Marty Meiners declined to comment on the subject of intelligence or commercial imagery analysis.

However, he did add to Reuters: “We have been very clear on the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea missile programs, and our commitment to the defence of the ROK, Japan, and the U.S. homeland, and our commitment to uphold regional peace and stability.”

The Republic of Korea is the official name for South Korea.

The US has stated that they are open to talks, but North Korea said that Washington and its allies must first stop their “hostile policies”.

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