North Korea Continues Excavation of Nuclear Test Tunnel

John Kim, Dec. 31, 2015, 9:42 a.m.

North Korea is forging ahead with excavation of a new tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, a U.S. research institute said Wednesday. New high-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows a canopy set up at the entrance of the new tunnel to shield against falling debris as well as mining cart tracks used to transport spoil from excavation, 38 North said in a report.

"The presence of the mining cart tracks shows that excavation is continuing with no indication of when it will be completed," it said. 38 North also reported new activity at the North Portal at a test tunnel under excavation since May 2013, but said it is unclear whether the activity is associated with maintenance or some other purpose.

North Korea has so far conducted three nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013, all at the Punggye-ri site. In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North's ruling Workers' Party on Oct. 10, fears had grown that the country could conduct its fourth nuclear test or a long-range rocket launch, but no such provocations took place. In October, South Korea's main intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service, reported to lawmakers that the North is preparing for its fourth nuclear test, although a test is not imminent.

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