The dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in May might have been little more than a show.
In a move widely perceived as a concrete gesture of goodwill, North Korea demolished the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the presence of a few dozen foreign journalists, but no experts or international investigators. The North detonated explosives inside the tunnels, supposedly disabling the test site, but U.S. intelligence officials told CNN the blasts were not strong enough to completely collapse the tunnels.
“The explosions seem to have been too small” to have truly destroyed the test site, an international arms control official explained to reporters, “The fact that journalists were reportedly only around 500 meters from the explosions is a good indication that these were small blasts. And the amount of dust leads us to believe that they were quite superficial.” This assessment is reportedly based off of relevant seismic data.
CNN reporters were physically present for the “destruction” of the nuclear test site. (RELATED: North Korea Demolishes Its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site)
Researchers with 38 North, a North Korean monitoring site affiliated with the Stimson Center, recently noted that many questions remain about what exactly happened at the May 24 demolition.
“The incomplete data provided by the North Koreans, however, raises a critical question that goes to the issue of how irreversible the destruction of the test site really is,” Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu explained in a recently published analysis, “While the tunnel portals were clearly closed, the extent of damage to the tunnels internally is unverifiable.”
“The secure two-story Headquarters Building at the Command Center and numerous support camps within the test site appear untouched,” they wrote, adding, “The fact that these facilities remain leaves open the question of could they be part of a contingency plan to shorten time needed to resume nuclear testing at Punggye-ri at some point in the future.”
Commenting on the apparent destruction of the Punggye-ri test site, Sky News Asia correspondent Tom Cheshire described aspects of the event as “theatrical” and “spectacular.”
If the closure of the nuclear test site was all for show, as some now suspect, it would cast doubt over North Korea’s reported commitment to denuclearization.
The latest CIA assessment apparently states that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not interested in forfeiting his nuclear arsenal. “Everybody knows they are not going to denuclearize,” an intelligence official told NBC News. “He is not going to do anything that allows him to become vulnerable,” a separate U.S. official told CNN.
President Donald Trump, who expects “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” from North Korea, is expected to meet Kim in Singapore on June 12.