On-going Activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Test Site
by David Albright, Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, and Priscilla Kim
May 10, 2014Download PDF
New Digital Globe high resolution commercial satellite imagery dated Friday, May 9, 2014 shows on-going activities at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site and a new relatively large roof structure near a potential test tunnel (see figure 1). While movement of possible vehicles, trucks, and containers is visible at the South Portal, a new large object – possibly a cover – is clearly visible at the West Portal. ISIS has been monitoring and updating its analysis of the site (see previous ISIS Imagery Briefs) using satellite imagery dated April 23, 25, 29, and May 1, 2014 which is included as figures 2, 3, 4, and 5.
The most significant new development is at the West Portal, where a very large, lighter-colored object – possibly a cover – appears close to the tunnel entrances. This object, which looks more like a large solid roof structure, was not present in previous imagery. Its purpose could not be determined from the image. Cars and containers are also visible at the West Portal area. Additionally, spoils are being spread out compared to earlier imagery (see figures 1 and 4) and excavation is taking place above one of the tunnel entrances.
On May 9, two black cars appear in the same location as they did on May 1 near the South Portal tunnel entrances (figures 1 and 2). On April 29, 2014, these cars and other vehicles were visible on the small road leading toward the South Portal tunnel entrance (see figure 3). A lighter-colored vehicle, possibly a relatively large white truck, visible in earlier images is no longer visible near the portals. The truck could be at the main support area but not distinguishable in the image, or it could have left the site. The possible tarp or other cover at the South Portal remains. Finally, the imagery shows the oddly shaped object with three radiating arms that had been previously identified in the South Portal area. This object remains unidentified, although some analysts have suggested to ISIS that it could be an antenna of some kind. However, its particular placement is not consistent with an antenna.
The activities ISIS detected at North Korea’s test site on May 9, 2014 cannot confirm media claims that a test is imminent. All these activities are consistent with the view that a test or tests will occur soon. However, the exact timing of a test or tests is difficult to construe from the on-going activity. Moreover, recent North Korean official statements have added to the uncertainty about when a test could occur. With more time, the United States and China have additional opportunities to press North Korea not to test.