Despite earlier hope amid Tillerson’s comments on diplomacy with North Korea, a new batch of satellite images suggests that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ignoring warnings from Chinese (as well as American and South Korean) scientists and instead pressing ahead with the country’s nuclear testing regimen at Punggye-ri, a facility situated in the country’s mountainous northeast.
As scientist from several countries have tried to explain, satellite images suggest Punggye-ri is suffering from “Tired Mountain Syndrome” – a phenomenon first documented by spy satellites examining Soviet nuclear test sites. After being warned by Chinese scientists about the dangers, two tunnels collapsed near the testing chamber back in October, killing 200 North Korean workers.
According to 38North, a blog that closely tracks North Korea related news, work on what appears to be a new tunnel near the site’s West Portal is progressing, leaving the North Portal – where the last five tests were conducted—mostly dormant and likely abandoned, at least for the time being.
Meanwhile, recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that despite the continuation of small tremors near Mt. Mantap, a supervolcano not far from Pyunggye-ri, will probably raise the anxieties of Chinese living near the North Korean borderlands. A few months ago, Beijing increased radiation monitoring around the border and closed many crossing points, allegedly because of fears that Pyungge-ri might implode, sending a giant plume of radioactive dust into the sky.
The North conducted its sixth and most recent nuclear test in early September. The 300-kiloton explosion was the most powerful ever measured in North Korea, which held its first nuclear test in 2006.