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Report: N. Korea Digging New Tunnel at Nuclear Site

Graphic showing facts about North Korea's Nuclear Program
Graphic showing facts about North Korea's Nuclear Program

North Korea is digging a new tunnel at its nuclear test site, raising speculation in Seoul that Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct another nuclear test, a South Korean news media said on Friday.

Citing an anonymous government source, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said North Korea has stepped up activities at Punggye-ri nuclear test site on the country’s east coast, the location of Pyongyang’s previous three nuclear tests, in what appeared to be digging a tunnel.

“An increased movement of people and vehicles has been spotted at the nuclear site. North Korea appears to be in the process of digging another tunnel,” the source was quoted as saying by the news agency.

The site of the latest excavation work does not appear to be the sites of previous tests, according to the source.

New activities at nuclear site

Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said he could not confirm the report, adding Seoul and Washington are closely monitoring Pyongyang’s nuclear activity.

The news follows earlier media reports that Pyongyang might be preparing for the fourth nuclear test. Last week, South Korean lawmakers, who attended a closed-door intelligence briefing, told reporters South Korea’s intelligence agency believes the communist country is preparing another nuclear test. The agency made the assessment after monitoring activities at North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, according to the lawmakers.

Lee Ho-ryoung, a researcher at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a research arm of South Korea’s Defense Ministry, suggested Pyongyang might have long been preparing for another nuclear test.

“The possibility of North Korea’s preparing for the fourth nuclear test was raised when Pyongyang started working on a tunnel shortly after its third nuclear test in early 2013,” said Lee.

Lee added Pyongyang might have completed an additional site for another test.

Tension-raising behavior

Some are skeptical that Pyongyang is preparing another nuclear test. Kim Dong-yeop, a researcher at University of North Korea Studies, said the latest North Korean move might be timed for a trilateral summit of Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing on Sunday. During the meeting, the leaders of the three neighboring countries are expected to discuss ways to enhance cooperation on North Korean nuclear threats.

“Pyongyang might be trying to retain the world’s attention by escalating tension on the Korean peninsula ahead of the trilateral summit,” said Kim.

Kim said tension on the peninsula was eased after Pyongyang did not conduct a long-range rocket launch during the recent party anniversary despite widespread speculation that it would do so.

Analysts in Seoul and Washington believe Pyongyang is working steadily to enhance its nuclear capabilities. In May, Pyongyang claimed it has the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons. Washington remains skeptical of the assertion, but some U.S. military officials believe Pyongyang might be capable of miniaturizing a nuclear device.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.